The Malaysian solution, or why Gillard will never have my respect and trust

17 Jul

‘To shelter the other in one’s own land or home, to tolerate the presence of the land-less and homeless on the “ancestral soil” so jealously guarded, so meanly loved – is that a criteria of humanness? Unquestionably so.” Emmanuel Levinas.

In the Sydney Morning Herald today there’s an article revealing that in the last three months taxpayers have funded flights from the Christmas Island detention centre to the mainland totalling over $3 million. These chartered flights have transported asylum seekers from the over-crowded Christmas Island centre to other detention centres on the mainland.

Figures from Senate Estimates also reveal that for the 11 months to the end of May, health costs in detention centres exceed $95 million.

2010 Australian of the Year, psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, described Australia’s detention centres as “factories for producing mental illness and mental disorders.” In response, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “We believe mandatory detention is necessary for security reasons.”

And those security reasons are?

Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are security threats how?

Australia is the only country signatory to the UN Refugee Convention that detains asylum seekers until a decision is made on their application to be accepted as refugees. All other signatory countries allow community placement while the assessments are made. The only signatory country in the world that subjects asylum seekers to indefinite imprisonment in “factories producing mental illness and mental disorder” is Australia.

In Australia as in no other signatory country the asylum seeker, the ultimate foreign other, is co-opted as an imprisoned and criminalized scapegoat. This is intended to strengthen the boundaries of our nation state by uniting Australians not in recognition of our shared humanity with the stranger, but rather in a common rejection of the foreigners’ human rights and needs in the interests of maintaining a politically expedient ideology of sovereignty.

Julia Gillard has gone further than even John Howard in her proposed treatment of asylum seekers. She wants to send them “to the back of the queue” in Malaysia. No other Australian politician has proposed the trade in vulnerable human beings that Gillard is engaged in organizing.

The refugees from Malaysia we will resettle in exchange for the 800 boat arrivals Gillard plans to transport to that country have not “queued” in order to be granted visas to live here. They have applied for re settlement along with thousand of others, and they have been selected not based on a position they hold in a non existent queue, but on their suitability as citizens.

Does Australia select refugees on the basis of how long they have been in camps? No, it doesn’t.

Yet Gillard continues to misinform and mislead the Australian people on the matter of a mythical “queue” because it is politically expedient for her to do so. The fact that it is a lie is as irrelevant to her as it is to Alan Jones, and it serves both their purposes to continue to feed this lie to the public. To the PM and shock jocks alike, the stranger seeking asylum via the boat is assumed to be morally corrupt, a criminal and possibly a terrorist, by virtue only of the dire circumstances in which he or she finds themselves in their homeland. This is utter nonsense.

In the moral world of Gillard and the shock jocks, having the gumption to get yourself out of a high risk situation by entering into another high risk situation, all in the pursuit of life, liberty and safety, makes you a criminal and possibly a terrorist. The fact that you manage to get enough money together to pay for your dangerous boat journey is only further evidence that you should be hanged by the neck when you get here, metaphorically speaking.

Imprisoning boat arrivals is a dishonest, cruel, wicked and discriminatory practice. It does nothing to improve our society, and does everything to morally and ethically damage us. It does nothing to assist the thousands of refugees in camps around the world.

“He said to me: ‘You are an animal. We will deal with you like an animal.” Guard to asylum seeker detained in Villawood Detention Centre.

Julia Gillard is engaged in a process of dehumanizing both the boat arrivals and the Australian electorate. Our attitude to those seeking asylum is a measure of our humanness, just as Levinas claims. Our political leaders should care about our collective and individual capacity for humanness because no society can thrive and survive without this quality.

“We are not animals! We have eyes like you, we have hands like you! We are not criminals!” Thirteen-year-old male detainee.

The very thing the Gillard government does not want acknowledged is that the people in detention are in any way like us. If the humanity we have in common with asylum seekers is recognized, indefinite mandatory detention would become intolerable. The demonization of boat arrivals is a morally repugnant practice, and one which Gillard fully endorses. Politicians have always sought to demonize and scapegoat human groups in the pursuit of their own political interests, and she is no exception.

We drive these people mad through the use of  indefinite mandatory detention. Then, when they act out their mad despair, we punish them for it. Now Julia Gillard like Pontius Pilate, has decided to wash her hands of the fate of the boat people and send them to Malaysia, a non-signatory country where we will have no control over what happens to them. Indeed, singling out a particular group for some kind of “special” UN protection is likely to make them even more vulnerable to attack and discrimination in a country where there are tens of thousands of displaced people, all of whom are struggling for survival in an environment that is hostile to them.

What Gillard is doing makes the Howard government’s off-shore policies look reasonable. Many refugee advocates now prefer the Pacific solution to Gillard’s Malaysian plans. That Julia Gillard should have brought us to such a choice!

I should respect this woman? I should support her? I should trust her?

I should be a proud feminist because Gillard is our first female PM?

The Malaysian solution is a bloody disgrace to this country. Nothing Gillard achieves in other areas will do anything to mitigate the immorality and inhuman cruelty of her plan. Neither will anything mitigate her continued support of indefinite mandatory detention while refugee claims are being processed. Gillard continues this, despite everything we know after ten years of the practice about how it damages and destroys the human beings we incarcerate.

23 Responses to “The Malaysian solution, or why Gillard will never have my respect and trust”

  1. Julia July 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    And yet…we are told this inhuman demonisation & cruel treatment of men, women and children is for their own good. To stop the next boatload of desperate people from “pandering” to the monetary interests of people smugglers.

    Yeah right!


  2. paul walter July 17, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    All I can really say here, is to point to the Levinas quote, which gets as close to a good explanation of a difficult phenomena as any one. Levinas shows his credentials as a successor to and reviser of Heidegger, in the wake of the failed experiments of the first half of last century; points to a change of heart needed in the wake of those lessons.
    I know many are hoping for a repeat of Gillard on carbon tax, on refugees, they want her to turn and face down her opponents, eg Abbott, on refugees, as she has with the carbon tax. If she continued to get on top of her new job changes might happen, but I couldn’t bet on it. The risk of another mauling from Abbott on race, is in the back of Labor’s mind and Labor is engaged in a life and death struggle with Abbott and the Murdoch press which only gives them limited wiggle room for issues as esoteric as “policy”.
    Jennifer, you seemed to think they shot themselves in the foot over carbon pricing with a recalcitrant electorate- how much worse on refugees, when you admit yourself the public is “tuned” by media on refugees even more than taxes, if that’s possible.
    If trying some thing worthwhile as to policy gives you a poll rating of 23%, what do you think a liberal approach to refugees will do?


    • Jennifer Wilson July 18, 2011 at 8:23 am #

      I find myself in the incredible position of thinking, well, Abbott is unlikely to attempt to rescind the carbon tax legislation as that will be intolerably difficult and expensive to sell, and he will probably re-open Nauru, so????

      I’m wondering why Labor chose to introduce the carbon tax at this point – only a bit more than 12 months ago they persuaded Rudd to drop his precious ETS, then saw a plunge in the polls as a consequence because people were accepting of an ETS and mad with Rudd when he backed down. Then Gillard said she wouldn’t introduce a carbon tax 12 months ago, and now they decide to do that? What is missing from this picture?


      • Jennifer Wilson July 18, 2011 at 8:57 am #

        Mrs Chook says the Greens made them do it … so does the Dominick Knight on the Drum


      • Steve at the Pub July 18, 2011 at 11:51 am #

        I’ll disagree with what is (I think) your second point.
        After ditching the ETS Labor sank in the polls. But not because the population were clamouring for such a scheme and were bitter/disappointed that an ETS had not been implemented (I think that was what you meant).

        It was not so much what the policy was (in this case ETS) but that it had been presented as urgent and crucial to our survival (the phrase “greatest moral challenge of our time” was used). Then it was dropped overnight for reasons of political expediency.

        Labor had admitted that in their eyes the reasons for an ETS were a sham.

        The current… displeasure with a carbon tax/scheme/whatever would indicate that the popluation actually most vehemently opposes such a policy.

        Which really does cause one to wonder why they press on with it.


        • Jennifer Wilson July 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

          I don’t know how one would tease out the many reasons for dropping the ETS, and the public’s reaction to that via the drop in polls.
          I certainly felt at the time that there was public support for the ETS to a much greater degree than we’re seeing now about the carbon tax. But Rudd was persuaded to drop it, probably because others realized how hard it would be getting it up.

          I have to agree that the polls currently indicate extreme displeasure with the tax. I think Gillard presses on with it because she agreed to Greens demands for a carbon tax when she found she was forming a minority government. Gillard herself opposed the ETS, declared in election mode that she wouldn’t have a carbon tax, then when she discovered after the election that she had a minority government very quickly did a back flip on that undertaking, despite knowing how difficult it would be to sell it and despite knowing how she’d get clobbered for breaking promises. The Greens had the upper hand otherwise Gillard would never have back flipped.

          She can’t back down now, they must press on.

          I don’t have an issue with a carbon tax, I support it. I just think GIllard is the last person who’s going to be able to sell it.


      • Steve at the Pub July 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

        It is safe to assume that the ETS was dropped because it was a vote loser. That it was not going over well with focus groups, or with private polling. This is a more direct way of saying your statement: That it would be “hard to get up.”

        Malcolm Turnbull lost the leadership of the Liberal Party for much the same reason. A member revolt against his position on ETS/carbon tax. This is rather an achievement for a party that is traditionally a top downward hierarchy.

        Labor was already in trouble, hence the ditching of Rudd. They’d not been living up to promises, had emptied the piggy bank, & were making a hash of everything in sight. Or so it seemed, which is all that matters if one is focus group/poll driven.

        There is no doubt why Gillard is now pushing a carbon tax. It is a Green demand, & she hasn’t got what it takes to stand up to the Greens.

        If the Green demand had been for women to be prohibited from wearing makeup in public, or something equally as offbeat, she’d have done that with equal gusto.

        She can’t back down or she’s finished.
        She can’t continue with it or she’s very likely finished.

        The sooner an election is held the lighter the thrashing Labor will receive. The longer until an election, the less Labor seats there will be afterward, and the longer Labor will be out of power. It is already likely to be a generation.

        Who is prepared to live with the arrogance this will breed in the Liberal Party?


        • Jennifer Wilson July 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

          Well, when you put it like that – liberal arrogance, they’re bad enough without winning government for the next decade. All in all it’s a bloody dog’s breakfast. They should have kept Rudd and dealt with their issues with him.
          The ETS /carbon tax is toxic for politicians on all sides, no doubt about that.
          I doubt Gillard could have refused the Greens as she needs them in a minority government.
          But she can’t come out and say that without making everything much worse for the Labor party. They have to pretend they believe in it.


  3. Marilyn July 18, 2011 at 4:52 am #

    Anyone who actually listened to or read her Lowy speech would know that her refugee policy has always been premised on them not getting here.

    She described how they are treated and what they are fleeing and there is one phrase even more repulsive after seeing 4 Corners “Killing Fields”.

    Last night, the UNHCR published its revised eligibility guidelines on Sri Lanka.
    The guidelines are just one source of information which has helped to inform
    the Government about the changing situation in Sri Lanka.
    The UNHCR report confirmed the improved human rights and security
    situation in Sri Lanka and that displaced people continue to return to their
    homes. Instead of automatically presuming that particular groups in Sri Lanka
    are refugees, the UNCHR states that all asylum claims must now be
    considered on a case by case basis, noting that some groups may still be at
    With the new information, acceptance rates are likely to fall.
    Today, in light of these circumstances, I am announcing the Government has
    decided to lift immediately the suspension on processing claims for Sri
    Lankan. Those currently in detention will have their claims processed against
    a range of country information including the revised UNHCR report I have
    So I have a message for people in Sri Lanka who might be considering
    attempting the journey to Australia. Do not pay a people smuggler, do not risk
    your life, only to arrive in Australian waters and find that far, far more likely
    than not you will be quickly sent home by plane.

    But acceptance rates did not fall, yet Brindha is here and denied because she speaks good English.


  4. Marilyn July 18, 2011 at 4:53 am #

    And it should be said that we sent the navy to make sure they could not escape and records show they did not pay any so called smugglers.


  5. gerard oosterman July 18, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    That Malaysian solution is terrible but the Abbott solution even worse. Our well manured and inbred hostility towards anything non-Anglo is as ripe now as it was during the reign of Australia’s White policy. But……, that doesn’t take away that at least she has initiated an attempt to make the world livable for out grand-kids..


  6. paul walter July 18, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    I find the Comment querying why Gillard introduced the carbon tax utterly astonishing!
    Labor presented a clear platform and received a clear mandate in 2007 on a number of serious issues, including refugees.
    Jennifer made the point that Rudd squibbed or miscalculated on some serious issues during the last six months of his premiership, certainly his indecision on these issues left him open to a rolling from his colleagues and it happened, with mixed subsequent results. I’ll stick with Gillard for one out of two, rather than Abbott’s zed out of two.
    And I”ll sit here in the corner and gleep, for the Cuckoos Nest I’m living in.


    • Jennifer Wilson July 18, 2011 at 9:53 am #

      Well the talk is Gillard was one of the inner circle who persuaded Rudd to drop his greatest moral challenge and back down on the ETS.
      Then she declared in the last election campaign that she wouldn’t introduce a carbon tax.
      From these two events I conclude that it wasn’t a priority for her, quite the opposite, until the Greens apparently made it so.
      Labor in 2007 and Labor in 2010 is two different animals – who would have imagined a Malaysia solution in 2007?
      Fortunately I’m not in Gillard’s electorate, so do not have to face that great moral challenge in the next election.


      • Marilyn July 18, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

        Sorry Jennifer, she said she would introduce a carbon price. Same thing, so don’t be too blinkered dear.


  7. paul walter July 18, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Will we soon if the country gets the government it deserves?
    My great moral challenge is to fight an Abbott premiership, to my fibre.
    Think on…


  8. paul walter July 18, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Spelling error, “Will we soon see…”.No, I’ll vote Green, as a vote for the one rationalist party, in the philosophical meaning, or maybe Labor in certain cases, if you are trying to convince me I’m better off voting for Abbott.
    Not in a light year of Sundays, may hell freeze over before it happens without an exponentially monumental reason.
    If the public are imbecilic and can’t count beyond ten without their slippers off, it’s not this writers fault.


    • Jennifer Wilson July 18, 2011 at 10:49 am #

      No, no, I don’t want to convince you to vote for the Coalition!! I’m just pointing out the extraordinary circumstances we are in!


      • Jennifer Wilson July 18, 2011 at 11:46 am #

        Yep – I never try to persuade anybody to do anything – and I certainly won’t be voting for the coalition in my electorate – both our Greens and Labor federal candidates are way better than anybody else.


  9. Steve at the Pub July 18, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I struggle to see what would be so bad about an Abbott government?


  10. paul walter July 18, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    I struggle to see what would be good about one. He’s already slithering around over nochoices 2.
    Come on mate, give us a break from the Tories.

    Are you sure, Jennifer?


  11. Steve at the Pub July 18, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Whether there is anything good about an Abbott government is another question entirely.
    There is an assumption above that an Abbott government will be apocaplyptically bad. I struggle to see how this need be so.


  12. Sam Jandwich July 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Meanwhile, we have former Liberal leaders so recent as to still be alive, saying things like this:

    “The debates that continue in our Federal Parliament do us great damage and demean Australia and in my view do not represent by any means, the best of Australia which would support quite different policies if they were given the lead.”

    (Malcolm Fraser on the Drum:

    The reason an Abbott-led government would be so bad is because it would be seen to legitimise the sorry excuses for debates that are going on at the moment.

    I’m starting to wonder, would NZ take disaffected Aussies in as refugees…?


    • Sam Jandwich July 18, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

      And you know it just struck me there’s another Malcolm who might well say something quite similar if given half a chance…


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