It was with a certain contempt that I watched footage of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott piously declaring that he would hold his forked tongue for twenty four hours while the bodies of drowned asylum seekers were recovered and taken to a makeshift morgue on Christmas Island.
And I noted the absence of any comment, pious or otherwise, from Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison. Perhaps they’ve put the muzzle on in case he comes out with observations somebody might construe as racist.
However, it seems inevitable that all gloves will be off when Parliament resumes today, and we will be subjected to the self-interested politicising of the plight of asylum seekers that began with John Howard and hasn’t stopped since.
No doubt the government will attempt a revival of its Malaysia plan. This surely will necessitate re-negotiations with that country, as the initial agreement covered only 800 boat arrivals, after which, presumably, we went back to how things always were.
Mr Abbott will no doubt adhere to his demands that the government re-open his beloved Nauru detention facilities, because, he will argue, when they were operative they stopped the boats. Quite how the Nauru option will stop the boats is unclear to me, after all, practically everyone who got to Nauru was found to be a refugee and resettled. Hardly seems like a disincentive.
What both major parties apparently fail to grasp is the desperation of people who undertake these journeys. The dangers they face are no deterrent. They risk their lives to have a life. An inability to comprehend desperation is fairly typical of most politicians. They lack the imagination, and are far too occupied with saving their own arses than they are with the plight of human beings in dire circumstances, at home and abroad. Lack of political will is responsible for some of the most obscene travesties on the planet.
What we urgently need is a regional approach to managing people movements. This will require a degree of co-operation between the government, the Coalition and the Greens. This possibility looks as likely as Gina Rinehart funding care and housing for homeless children.
What we will get is yet another extended brawl that will achieve nothing. Then there will be another catastrophe in which more lives are lost. Then we will have another extended brawl that achieves nothing. Then there will be another catastrophe in which more lives are lost.
As well as the asylum seekers, you know who I feel sorry for? The good people of Christmas Island who have to deal with the stark reality of these events in their back yards.
This piece from the Castan Centre unpacks the complexities with clarity. The author addresses the notion of saving lives by deterring asylum seekers from embarking in the first place. Perhaps, if our objective really is to save lives, we would supply safer boats? Or is the saving of life a cover for deeper concerns about border protection and just stopping the boats?
Thus far our politicians have proved themselves entirely inadequate on this matter. It isn’t good enough. Refugees are not going away. The numbers seeking resettlement here are miniscule compared with many other countries. It is a regional problem, but how can Australia take a responsible role in addressing it at this level when our politicians continue to domestically exploit widespread human misery to further their own interests?