It was a grim-faced PM who held a press conference yesterday evening to announce her decision to withdraw proposed amendments to the Migration Act that would enable the government to send asylum seekers to Malaysia.
Since the High Court re- interpreted our understanding of the Migration Act, a surly and humiliated PM declared, and until Opposition Leader Tony Abbott comes to his senses (if he’s got any) and throws his support behind the bill, the government is forced to continue with on-shore processing and there’ll be boats. There will be boats! And every boat will be on Tony Abbott’s sense-less head!
Though of course, Abbott insists it’s all Gillard’s fault and any increase in boat arrivals is entirely down to her.
That a good result comes from such prolonged bitching, moaning, carping and politicking with the lives of human beings by both major parties is something to give us all hope. No matter how hard they’ve tried, neither party has been able to reintroduce off-shore processing, and to add icing to the cake, they’ve nobody to blame but themselves.
Not that I’m complaining. It’s been a circuitous journey, expensive, cruel, duplicitous and xenophobic and it’s ended in a much more decent outcome than either leader ever wanted. The dark side lost the battle all by itself.
This ought to be another valuable lesson to both Abbott and Gillard on the futility of allowing politics and personal animosity to dominate policy. There’s no explanation for Gillard persisting with the bill, given it had no hope of passing the Senate, unless she saw it as a tactical victory over Abbott if the bill was passed in the Lower House. Another thwarted miscalculation inspired by personal feeling?
In the event that more asylum seekers arrive than we have room for in detention centres, the overflow will be given community detention with work privileges. Surely now it is only a matter of time before mandatory detention of practical necessity is restricted, and we join other countries in humanely allowing asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims are assessed. The cost benefit is enormous: it costs us 90 per cent less to have refugees in the community than it does to keep them in detention.
Gillard’s attempt to snatch right-wing asylum seeker policies away from the Coalition is a spectacular failure. It’s given the Opposition the opportunity to paint themselves humane, and Gillard as lacking in compassion and heart. It’s incensed many Labor supporters who’ve had to watch as the party’s moved further and further away from their platform on refugees. Gillard made a fool of herself from the outset with the very silly and alarmingly premature East Timor proposition, and it’s gone down hill from there.
The PM is now faced with enacting a policy that is more lenient and humane than it was before she negotiated the doomed Malaysia “solution.” The 4,000 refugees we agreed to accept from Malaysia in return for the 800 we planned to send there, will be absorbed into our usual humanitarian intake. If the Gillard government wants to give more people a better chance of a good life in Australia, they could start by increasing that intake.
A regional processing centre is still a realistic goal, not hurriedly cobbled together in a politically-driven “Malaysian solution” that was at best short term, but a centre created in conjunction with others in the region and the UN.
Gillard and Abbott have been dragged kicking and screaming into maintaining on-shore processing. No doubt if we ever see an Abbott-led government the whole thing will start again and he’ll bring back Nauru, but for one brief shining moment we have something of a respite in this running, ulcerated sore that is Australia’s asylum seeker policy. The sustained collision of dark with dark resulted in a large crack, and the light got in. For this relief, much thanks.
- Gillard blames Abbott for failed boat deal (heraldsun.com.au)
- Govt will to pursue Malaysia deal: PM (news.theage.com.au)
- PM forced into retreat on asylum seeker plan (theage.com.au)