In our post-moral politics, something “works” when it gets politicians elected

22 Jul

There’s much discussion about whether or not Kevin Rudd’s “PNG solution” will “work,” discussion that has led me to speculate on what the definition of “work” is in these circumstances.

One way in which it may not “work” is for the well-being and peace of the citizens of PNG. The potential problems of resettling refugees in that country are clearly articulated in this piece. I recommend it to anyone interested in the complex realities of Rudd’s grand plan.

Of course, it could be that Rudd is depending on asylum seekers deciding that the persecution, torture and death many of them face in the countries they are fleeing are, on balance, a whole lot better than being resettled in PNG, and therefore they will change their minds about getting on boats in the first place. The contempt this implies for Australia’s former colony is breathtaking. We are transporting “illegals” to that now independent country, as if we are still its colonial masters.

The plan might “work” in the sense of reducing or preventing asylum seeker attempts to escape their circumstances by boat. Work for the government, that is, and for those among us who apparently live in fear of invasion, the imposition of Sharia law, and people from other cultures who look different and don’t speak English properly and will not queue. It won’t “work” for the asylum seekers, who will still be stuck with lives that are so tenuous they are willing to risk them on dangerous journeys rather than stay where they are.

That we have contributed to the turmoil in some of the source countries is incontestable. Our slavish capitulation to US invasion and subsequent destruction of source countries leaves us bearing certain responsibilities to their citizens. In the same way, our colonisation and exploitation of PNG (see this piece in the Guardian on our vulture capitalist practices in that country) ought to cause us to think carefully before using PNG once more for our own gain, with a cavalier disregard for the effects that will have on its population.

I can attest to some of the ruination inflicted on that country, having spent several years living on Bougainville Island watching the myriad consequences of copper mining there.

The plan might “work” to get the ALP re-elected, much as John Howard’s infamous exploitation of the Tampa and the tragedy of 9/11 “worked” to return government to the LNP when everyone thought they were done for. Howard cleverly whipped up the nation’s fears of terrorists, conflating asylum seekers with those who wrought havoc in the US. Rudd’s narrative of evil is ostensibly aimed at people smugglers, however those who will be most severely affected by his PNG solution are the human cargo, whom Rudd will traffic to PNG in exchange for aid to that country. Rudd’s narrative is also one of invasion by importunate undesirables, implying that we are under such acute threat from asylum seekers we must abandon all moral principles and do whatever it takes to keep them out. Or else, catastrophe.

Quite what form that catastrophe might take is unclear. I am waiting for a politician to spell out the actual dangers with which refugees threaten us, because I can’t think of any. The existential whine about losing our national identity leaves me baffled, as does the irrational fear of a ruptured sovereignty. Both are constructs, reified for political gain.

The xenophobic panic is arrant nonsense, but Rudd is not an arrant fool. He has, however, re-calibrated his moral compass since the days he lectured us on the necessity to behave with kindness towards the stranger at our gate, and espoused in essays his love for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It would be an interesting entertainment, if one had the inclination, to chart Rudd’s moral decline in the last six or so years.

Apparently in our post moral politics something “works” when it gets politicians re-elected. There is no place in the narrative for moral and ethical considerations.Our political and media elite have attempted to fill this gaping moral abyss with faux concern  for those who drown on the boat journey, especially babies. I say “faux” concern because they have no concern at all for the lives of these people before or after their perilous journeys. If they survive they will be locked up in indefinite detention, some of them even if they are found to be refugees. Babies, children and women are subjected to this treatment, with well-documented evidence of the psychological disasters this inhumane incarceration causes, particularly in the young. The refugees released into the community come to us not only traumatised by their experiences in the source country, but additionally and entirely unnecessarily traumatised by the treatment afforded them by Australian governments. Yet these same politicians will apparently move heaven and earth to prevent the drowning death of a baby. It is, I suppose,  sheer coincidence that this will likely persuade many people to vote for them.

There are times in the lives of nations and individuals when circumstances are so dire, moral and ethical considerations become a luxury that cannot be afforded in the desperate effort to survive. This is likely the situation of many boat-borne asylum seekers later found to be refugees. The concept of waiting in line for one’s turn can be a luxury only the comfortable can observe. Terror, desperation and the impulse to survive will override manners, and if you don’t understand that you’ve never been very afraid, and you suffer from a failure of imagination.

In no sense can Australians claim to be in such a state of terror and desperation at the prospect of asylum seekers arriving by boat, yet our politicians and those who support them have utterly abandoned moral and ethical considerations, just as if we are fighting for our survival.

Whether or not a solution is “workable” is not measured by how it best serves the needs of all stakeholders. It is not measured in terms of human suffering, in terms of decency, in terms of our obligation as human beings to treat our most vulnerable fellows with compassion and care.  It “works” if it is politically successful. That is all.

101 Responses to “In our post-moral politics, something “works” when it gets politicians elected”

  1. Ray (novelactivist) July 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Since 2009 over 800 people have drowned making the journey. How do we stop the deaths?


    • hudsongodfrey July 22, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

      We were supposed to be increasing quotas by at least 6,000. The honourable thing would be to send our own boat for those people before we start behaving so dishonourably as to goal kids for no crime.

      Not sure it answers your question Ray, but at least I feel we have to make an decent start.


      • sarah toa July 23, 2013 at 2:55 am #

        Not watching them drown would be a decent start.


        • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 7:37 am #

          Since I harbour the hope that our Navy have enough self respect as a fighting force that might distinguish itself from a political tool by refusing Abbott’s orders to turn around boats, I also resist thinking of them as the kind of people who’d stand idly by if people were in distress they could prevent. I hope that doesn’t put us at odds even if I do doubt we can say as much in a positive light about our political leaders on either side of the house.


          • maggie atlas July 23, 2013 at 9:52 am #

            The hypocracy of media and Abbott turn back boats to non signatory of convention his reason why Malaysia was not acceptable.


            • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

              Just about everyone in our region is a non-signatory. We’d be in danger of having no pragmatic way to work with any of the transit counties if we make too many unrealistic distinctions. I suppose we wind up asking whether the argument for not sending people back to the last embarkation point as opposed to their homeland is a matter of the degree to which they’re unwanted. Surely somebody would at least have to process them first to make that assessment. and that’s where I see a real difference between making arbitrary judgements about people with no paperwork or other bona fides as opposed to those who’re willing and able to readily make a case for refugee status. Because if we do as we have been doing by making blanket exclusions on everyone then I fear we’re effectively identifying is their known ethnicity with unwantedness in a way that we’re too politically correct to find any non-judgemental labels for!

              Re-evaluate acceptability with assessment and work together to achieve that as the first step in deciding what’s required to be done, then we can talk about how and who needs to step up in our region.

              Otherwise we’re just tacitly arguing about what language we’re going to use to reject people’s pleas for help on the basis of who we do and don’t like!


      • Jennifer Wilson July 23, 2013 at 8:05 am #

        Or assess claims in Indonesia and fly refugees here


        • Ray (novelactivist) July 23, 2013 at 11:30 am #

          We do already.


          • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

            Not in very great numbers so I’m told. But I’m interested in being corrected. The number I was thinking of was at least 6,000. The numbers I’ve heard of are less than 600. It’s the difference between references people make to asylum seekers being queue jumpers and the reality of waiting an infinite amount of time while no functioning queue exists.


            • Ray (novelactivist) July 24, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

              Indonesia is not the only source of refugees. We have taken a number of African refugees who would be unable to get to Indonesia.


              • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

                I agree with that and it is a tough call I’d be making in a desperately unfair set of circumstances but I think in some senses those refugees who make it to Indonesia are at equal if not greater risk than those who are stuck in camps in Africa because of the likelihood that they will get into boats which leads to loss of life at sea. So the case I’m putting is that if we want the deaths at sea to stop there has to be an alternative route not just a deterrent, whereas I think there exists a strong undertone of Australian sentiment against taking anyone of ethnic difference at all which coupled with an irrational fear of boats has led to this all stick no carrot approach.


              • Marilyn July 25, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

                The refugees who transit Indonesia are not Indonesians. And resettlement is not the point, the right to seek asylum is the point.


        • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

          Yes basically, although bringing then in via P&O had a ring of poetic justice to it when Clarke & Dawe proposed something similar some years ago 🙂


      • Ray (novelactivist) July 23, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

        Why send our own boat when we have planes?


        • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

          It was just the poetic symmetry of the idea not the actual means of transport that I was referring to. Sorry once again if that triggered people’s specific sense of pragmatism.


          • Ray (novelactivist) July 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

            Even if we increase our humanitarian intake (and we can afford to) the problem remains. Those who are sick of waiting will hop on boats, some of which will sink.

            It seems people are unwilling to confront the basic mechanics – boat, rough seas, storms = drowning.

            It is the getting on the boat that causes the drowning, not our attitudes, or our politics.


            • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

              I don’t think that we can assume that the problem is infinite in quite the way that informs that logic, but even if we acknowledge it is large that only makes the case for saying that doing our bit requires a commensurately larger response within our region.

              I think we should start by saying that having an orderly humanitarian refugee intake program is a good thing. But we also need to acknowledge that the need is greater than any single orderly response can accommodate. My criticism of our response isn’t that we have to prioritise, but that when we do so we’re being politically motivated by xenophobic fears of hordes from the north with specific reference to their ethnicity.

              If I was convinced that we’d actually done our bit to the best of our ability to respond to the crisis within our own region then I might be able to resign myself to the idea that we can’t just instantaneously resettle everyone who feels like they might like to take advantage of our goodwill. But I think the evidence is there for the opposite of that, and it troubles me that in the bigger scheme of things the kind of response we’re offering gives permission to some very poorly motivated dog whistle politics.

              I’d add there’s also a harm here to internation relations with our nearest and most important neighbour. The subtext to the implicit knowledge that we wouldn’t treat a British backpacker the way we’d treat refugees from some of the ethnic backgrounds has to make Indonesians wonder what side of that ledger they’d fall upon in our eyes. And the answer I would hazard is not encouraging!


              • Ray (novelactivist) July 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

                If the xenophobia were removed the problem would remain.


                • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

                  If xenophobia were removed then dog whistle politics would lose its grip over the policy direction Australia takes. We’d see an increasing willingness to do our part for refugees in our own region making a difference to how they’re processed and how quickly those most deserving are able to be protected and eventually resettled. I think it would make a big difference.


                  • Ray (novelactivist) July 25, 2013 at 10:00 am #

                    Overnight another boat sank, 5 dead. It didn’t even get out of Indonesian waters.

                    The conundrum is that even if we have a generous bipartisan policy (and I think we should) it is likely more people will attempt the journey by boat.

                    I think people are conflating two distinct issues. The nasty rhetoric of the domestic debate and the mechanics of arrival.

                    How will a civil domestic debate actually stop people getting on boats?


                    • hudsongodfrey July 25, 2013 at 11:48 am #

                      if it’s just a question about the psychology of what may stop dangerous boat journeys then I think it would be a great help if we were generous in taking people directly at the same time as we made a distinct effort to discourage people from risking their lives. A carrot and a stick approach needs a carrot.


            • Marilyn July 25, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

              By your logic, getting in car = car crash = equals dying but we don’t scream out incessantly about stopping the cars.


    • Marilyn July 25, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

      Oh my god. In the same period 100 million kids have starved to death and we reduced foreign aid.

      We prevent the deaths by actually saving people instead of wasting 2 days pretending the 16 SOS calls are not real.

      It has nothing to do with saving lives, it is only about pretending we can cap refugee visas by keeping out women and kids by trafficking the husbands and fathers to other countries.


  2. Nick (@nick__nobody) July 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    Thank you.


  3. ISMELLLIKEBEER July 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm #


    I’m unsure about what the point of the article is. That politicians make decisions reflecting popular sentiment? Would you rather they don’t? Or that Labor take ‘leadership’ on the issue into a constituency which at the moment doesn’t want it, lose an election and then see what the LNP could come up with?

    I can’t speak for you, but I am constantly reminded just how far I am from the the issues the Australian voting populace feels are critical. However, I LIKE democracy, with all its failings. I dislike that these decisions are popular, which most critics of this policy seem to believe and is reflected in the premise of your article. I think expecting politicians to do anything but is naive, and blaming them for doing so is pointless, but cathartic.

    If these decisions are popular it is because progressives have failed. Simple. As bad as the media is at the moment, to attribute what is essentially the inability of progressives to effectively communicate to ‘middle Australia’, entirely to an overarching conspiracy of the power elite is as stupid as middle Australia is often thought to be. Most progressives I know are smart, educated, articulate and have opportunities previous generations could barely imagine to communicate, publish, and connect with that oh so important element in a democracy – the fucking people. That we can’t is a sad indictment not on politicians, or that imagined bogan racist voting heart of Australia (it does exist but as a fringe), but on ourselves. And as much as I find myself enjoying the release of reading your article, I just flat out do not think it is of any practical value with regard to doing what I think I, and I think you, need to do, which is to learn to be able to communicate our concerns, and our vision of the world in an honest and simple way that allows people to be their best, rather than admonish those with whom we disagree for faults of which we’re probably more guilty.

    I fucking loathe what is happening, but will support it and keep a very close eye on how the possible development of PNG goes, as will many (now who’s being naive?). I will not label anyone who supports this policy, with or without reservations, as some kind of inhuman monster – that’s for ‘them’ to do to asylum seekers, right? I will however take a moment to wonder what I could possibly change about myself in order to be able to communicate better with those with whom I disagree.

    Don’t take this as an attack. I just see it as emblematic of the left’s amazing ability to further obscure itself. I have watched it happen, and hated it. I have yelled at people for stupid comments on ‘boat people’ and become breathless with exasperation. I read too many of these articles, and enjoy them. I don’t know what I’m talking about. We’re doing something wrong, and that should be our main concern.


    • Poirot July 22, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

      It’s certainly obscured itself from this view.

      Which is Labor praising itself and panning the policies put in place by the previous government.

      I can’t abide such hypocrisy.

      If the moralities bandied about in that article were right then (2008) – then they are right now.

      It’s a political move to smash the last planks of Abbott’s soapbox.

      Nothing more, nothing less.


      • Poirot July 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

        Just a few quotes from Tony Burke’s 2008 speech:

        .”…the Howard government sought to outsource our international protection obligations to less developed countries when we should have been shouldering them ourselves.”

        “When we came to office there were people found to be refugees left rotting on Nauru because of a political decision taken by the
        former government to keep them there. I must say I was pleased to discover that the department were very keen to bring them to Australia quickly, and we did this in less than two months.”

        “….The Pacific Solution was not about maintaining integrity or public confidence in Australia’s arrangements. It was about the
        cynical politics of punishing refugees for domestic political purposes.”

        “The length and conditions of detention, of course, were another
        major focus of criticism of the Howard government’s treatment of asylum seekers. The legacy of the Howard government’s punitive detention regime is still being felt in the ongoing mental health problems of former detainees, including children, and the mounting compensation claims against the Commonwealth.”

        The mind boggles…..


      • maggie atlas July 23, 2013 at 10:30 am #

        You forget it was a popular change at the time. Sick of public non debate whip up the population Govt respond and public whipped up again don’t like.


    • hudsongodfrey July 22, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      It’s becoming a thing in Australian politics called Asylum Seeker Fatigue. Everyone seems to want to find a quick fix, a clever and clean solution. The truth is perhaps a little too much like hard work and sacrifice for us at the moment. Whereas I doubt this politicking that’s clearly all about our closeness to an election will allow us to avoid the inevitable consequences that are bound to come sooner or later.

      Bad things have happened to these people some of which have to do with our approach to them, and if few of those ills are able to be quickly and easily fixed then who are we trying to kid that Australia can put this Humpty Dumpty situation to rights. The best we can hope for in my view it to acquit ourselves honourably and at the moment we’re responsible for failing to do even that.


    • Jennifer Wilson July 23, 2013 at 8:07 am #

      Thanks for your comments. We are indeed doing something very wrong and that springs from a wrong-headed attitude to people in need. Seeing them as threats rather than victims doesn’t help. We have to change the entire discourse around this.


      • Ray (novelactivist) July 23, 2013 at 11:34 am #

        Whilst it is true that some see this issue in terms of ‘threats’, it is also true that some see this issue in terms of hundreds drowning at sea. If they come by boats some of those boats will encounter difficulties, and people will drown. Is that acceptable?


        • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

          No it isn’t I agree with that part, but let’s not kid ourselves that stopping the boats isn’t merely about rejecting people we’ve already decided that we don’t want along ethnic lines.


          • doug quixote July 23, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

            I don’t agree. We are being forced to accept those who present themselves at our far flung bit of land not too far from Java.

            Once the flow is stopped we can select and accept refugees suitable for resettlement. Not the self-selectors.


            • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

              Then I reciprocate in not agreeing with your approach either. Self selectors is a terribly misleading term, and it really disappoints me to find it being used here.

              Even if there clearly are cases where those who are able to put their best foot forward will be able to force there way to the front of any queue. I just don’t think we can properly call 600 lousy places per year a real queue.

              There’s a standard to be applied when assessing who is and is not a refugee that relates to a well founded fear of persecution. The idea that we might turn around people who meet that standard leaves me very sceptical of the motives of those among us who feel that we cannot discern between such displaced persons and so called “economic migrants”.

              What needs to be understood is that, even if there are some who are fortunate enough to clamour more effectively than others, they didn’t choose to be refugees, and we don’t select who is or isn’t a refugee either. Their persecutors do that, and have gone on doing that unchecked usually for some time before we’re liable to see people knocking as it were on our door down here in Australia.

              I’m all for saying we can only do so much and that we need a safe and orderly kind of system for all involved. But I don’t see how cruel detention centres and sending people to inadequate destinations as yet another kind of deterrent is a proper response. It were as if the best we could think of is to persecute these people more than they were in the places that they left. And its a great pity because we’re effectively resorting to a kind of violence where orderly means of dealing with adversity have eluded us.

              I can’t solve the problem. I don’t think anyone will be able to fix it quickly. Gillard tried to lock in a quick fix with the failed Malaysia solution and Rudd’s effectively pulling the same kind of political stunt with this PNG deal.

              As I’ve said I doubt our Asian neighbours have either reason nor inclination to trust us given the transparently ethnocentric motives behind our actions here. But more than that I think we should stay our own hand in acting upon these political expediencies of our own making. I don’t expect we’ll do much more than re-evaluate along the bottom line when it comes to being truly impactful upon refugee crises, but I’d still think the better, more defensible and honourable approach as the good citizens of our region would be to do our bit. And in relation to numbers within this region the idea that we’ve a quota of 20,000 mooted to reach 27,000 but we only process and ship 600 from Indonesia directly is disgraceful.


              • doug quixote July 24, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

                We select refugees from those most suitable for resettlement. It may be that as few as 600 are actually in Indonesia, which after all is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. The Indonesian authorities do not “encourage” asylum seekers to remain in Indonesia.


                • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

                  Except that we know that not to be true in the pattern of the recent past on UNHCR figures.

                  I think it would be more than a little problematic if our assessment and theirs was so widely different as to allow only 600 when they’d registered several thousands according to their website the last time that I looked.


                  • doug quixote July 26, 2013 at 7:58 am #

                    They need to be suitable for resettlement. Dare I say that we (Australia) have a say in who comes here . . .


                    • hudsongodfrey July 26, 2013 at 9:32 am #

                      You obviously do dare say that. I think it’s presumptuous of control over factors that we’re unable to influence. Who’s doing the persecuting and who gets persecuted for example….

                      If you don’t see the moral difference between being more willing to embrace some than others and actually willing to allow harm to come to those you like least then I don’t think we’ve even on the same page. But I’ve said something before that a few may have missed, which is to question whether the better solution for the greater number of people might have to involve more temporary protection and less permanent resettlement. It is a hard call but at least it isn’t so hard as to leave them to the mercy of the elements so to speak….


                    • zerograv1 July 26, 2013 at 10:54 am #

                      The TPV was replaced by a PPV, the instant reaction politically to that becoming foreground in the debate is of course the easy stirring up of the masses that “we are being overrun”. TPV was perceived to be harsh, but reading the Wikipedia article on it, it appears the only problem was the limbo effect it created for the applicant. In some ways its a more generous outcome than even community placement given it allowed holders to work and receive social welfare, something not included in one recent plan for community placed settlement. I wonder, if reintroduced, if they would be now be be perceived in a kinder light given the much harsher policies the major parties now offer?



          • Ray (novelactivist) July 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

            That would make sense except for the ethnic make-up of those refugees we have accepted, like the Sudanese who did not come by boats.


            • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

              It is puzzling I agree. And I’m not for one minute saying that I begrudge African refugees. I simply think we need to find less cruel ways to deal with the more problematic issue of refugees in our own region.


              • Ray (novelactivist) July 25, 2013 at 11:08 am #

                As I understand we have an obligation under the convention to co-operate with the UNHCR to take refugees from around the world. I expect we will be asked to take Syrians.

                What you seem to be suggesting is that we prioritise those who get to Indonesia and that we accept all who want to come, regardless of any other obligation we might have.


                • hudsongodfrey July 25, 2013 at 11:54 am #

                  The alternative is not really any fairer and nor is it able to avoid the problem of deaths at sea in a scenario where what we’re comparing are direct intakes from two different parts of the same pool of people.

                  If we’re just taking about taking Syrians it doesn’t affect the veracity of their claims whether they come from a camp in Turkey or one they’ve made their way to in Indonesia. What does matter in our region though is that the ones who’re already here are refused for reasons of Aussie attitude and politics that leaving them with little other choice than to jump in a boat means they’ll probably take that risk.


      • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

        Indeed this issue invokes a sense of cognitive dissonance, what with progressives being nostalgic for the Fraser polices of the 80’s.


    • Marilyn July 25, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

      If they made a policy that we can stone people to death in public squares because loud racists think we should, do you think that would be rational?

      The parliament is supposed to make and uphold laws, not break and smash laws and the constitution for political gain.


  4. hudsongodfrey July 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    My thoughts are that Rudd now stands more condemned by the left than Gillard possibly was which begs the question as to what a man who things he can weight “great moral challenges of our time” sets his compass by, apart it seems quite obviously his own political scalp!

    I’ve never been a proponent of an unlimited and disorderly humanitarian program, but let’s face it, this is a problem of Labor’s own creation having commissioned the Houston report then refused to follow its intent. Part of it was raising the intake through processing centres in the region. The very act that might have given some of those people some hope that there was a system that worked in their favour and thus set up a sort of queue. And if it stopped working and failed to clear then I think we could’ve been a little flexible with our concept of quotas, as long as people did begin to realise that waiting had some outcome that was better than nothing which was pretty much what we’ve been offering and continue to offer, and why people become desperate, get in shitty boats that wind up floundering on the seas with such terrible loss of life.

    We now have two moral challenges on our conscience, deaths at sea and out humanitarian remit. We seem under Rudd to anticipate morally responding to neither, but boy do we give a fuck about dog whistle politics and the political opinions of pockets of the electorate whose xenophobic rhetoric we’ve clearly given permission for.

    I may not always feel particularly sorry for economic migrants or Indian workers who, obviously with the help of local exploiters are scamming the system and abusing our good will. But nor do I think these people are stupid, and if you send a deterrent message about what not to do then you’d better match it with information about what to do that offers the genuinely desperate a way out of their dire circumstances. Otherwise it doesn’t matter where they’re eventually resettled their attitude upon arrival will be so soured by repeated mistreatment and abuse that they’ll have become deeply scarred to a point where having an antisocial outlook would seem inevitable.

    PNG is not going to thank us for that, and nor does it seem likely at the outset that they’re so stupid as not to foresee the litany of social problems their bigger neighbour is trying to lump them with.

    Dog whistle politics, tacit racism and it’s unavoidable consequences meet Kevs Karma! What comes around…….


    • Marilyn July 25, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

      The Houston Report was a hoax dismissed by the parliamentary human rights committee as bullshit based on hypotheticals that might someday comply.


      • hudsongodfrey July 25, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

        Welcome back Marilyn. I’m surprised it took you this long to weigh in on one of these topics.

        If I’ve mentioned the Houston report it isn’t to endorse it by any means but rather to point out that the political reality is that Labor commissioned the thing but seemed to me to only have implemented those parts of it that suit they’re political ends. In other words they keep lurching to the right in an effort to steal Abbott’s thunder and just neutralise his once perceived advantage on this issue. Hard to see how that makes it laudable but there you have it, and Rudd’s just dashed any hope progressives may have fostered in his interest in the “great moral challenges of our time”. It certainly took him next no time to completely disappoint any of us who might’ve been more or less willing to afford him his second chance.


        • Poirot July 26, 2013 at 12:38 am #


          “It certainly took him next no time to completely disappoint any of us who might’ve been more or less willing to afford him his
          second chance. ”

          Couldn’t have put it better myself.


          • hudsongodfrey July 26, 2013 at 9:24 am #

            Makes me wonder whether our politicians are that far out of touch or whether there’s are a lot more Australians who’d disagree with us that we never meet. Either way I think the issue itself has proven a utter quagmire that should never have been entered into as we have done. You can look anywhere in the world to find that xenophobic tendencies are never really far from the surface, and reach for any number of examples where the lessons as to what occurs when they’re stirred up and should not be.


          • Jennifer Wilson July 26, 2013 at 10:30 am #

            Me either.


  5. maggieatlas July 23, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    I think the issue is complicated tragic there are no end of situation of dispare in our world.
    Xenophobic no The media Abbott & Co have pushed a barrow of protect the borders. I think our responsibility is to our own family / country first. Forget we have homeless people, pressures with hospitals, health services we have big business sending jobs off shore to increase their profits we have a push for small governments = less services minimum investment endless tax minimisation. We need to think very carefully how many people we can support now and into the long range future. PNG is not great Malaysia possibly would have been better. But a bipartisan approach would have been best but unfortunately that didn’t happen.


    • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 7:45 am #

      So an accident of birth is the first determinant of privilege in the world?

      I think we should be careful about arguing some of those arguments you’re making there. The only one I agree with is that we had a bipartisan approach when Fraser was PM and it worked okay when we brought in the Indochinese refugees. What we need to learn is that there are some issues you don’t follow the mob on you lead them away from base behaviour like xenophobic ethnicism and isolationist rhetoric towards the tolerant, pluralist and humanitarian values we recall in our own foundational history. After all, indigenous Australians aside, most of us fled somewhere or weren’t wanted at some point in the past. What makes us think we’re different or that it couldn’t happen to us again?


      • maggie atlas July 23, 2013 at 9:51 am #

        I think if we lead with the heart we will lay the foundation for many problems many of these people need a lot of support services in the area you live you may not see the problems this very rich country seems reluctant to provide adequately for our own and leaving the original owners of the land aside I don’t think so that is a perfect example. Take the fact that the world is gripped by multinational greed anyway to minimise tax contributions less jobs = more unemployment not a great recipe for future harmony. Harmony is what we need when we invite people to become citizens not the media stir we have now. that aside where is your compassion for those who have been years waiting who do not have the money / resources to choose I assume they don’t count out of sight out of mind. Survival of the fittest or those most cashed up,


        • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

          I agree that bring “cashed up” shouldn’t be a determinant of whose need is greater either, but nor should it be used as an excuse to scour the world for only the very neediest while the case has to be made that in the absence of a functioning queue for people in our region deaths at sea will continue.


        • Marilyn July 25, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

          For fuck’s sake, I am sick to death of the whinge about money. Being persecuted or facing death has nothing to do with fucking money.


  6. doug quixote July 23, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    I think we need to walk before we can run. This PNG strategy is not a solution to the entire issue, and no-one pretends it is. But if it stops several hundred people from drowning, as they probably would over the next year or two, it will be a success.

    It will “work” to stop the boats because few (none?) will pay $5,000 or so to be shipped to PNG and never to get into Australia.

    I am disappointed that you say it is faux concern for the lives lost and to be lost; that is the line of the most absurd critics of anything less than their own perceived perfection.


    • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      I really honestly think that this PNG solution will devolve into the worst kind of seething mess of disorder and recrimination possible. I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would even try it. Even TPV’s are better than that!


      • doug quixote July 23, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

        In what way does your post address my concerns with Jennifer’s article?


        • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

          Not all the replies you get on this issue are going to be answers to your questions, some like this one are merely critiques of other’s positions or interrogations of your own.

          For reasons that differ slightly from those Jennifer has outlined I think this is a fraught attempt to solve the problem. It has aspects of cruelty to it that are liable to backfire, elements of shoving the problem onto others such as PNG and Nauru, and a distinct lack of carrot to go with the stick.


          • doug quixote July 24, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

            If you want to “reply” to my post, then do so; otherwise post a “comment”.


            • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

              Pardon me but these sound like the words of somebody who doesn’t wish to be engaged unless it’s to be agreed with. It’s a pity for our marketplace of ideas when the conversation has to be sanitised to this “my way or the highway” version of discourse.


              • doug quixote July 24, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

                Not at all – disagree if you like. But address my comment and not your own independent point!

                My post was addressed to Jennifer; your reply was addressed to me, by definition.

                Make whatever point you like, but if you want to reply to something addressed to someone else at least address the issue raised.

                It is common courtesy.


                • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

                  Well I think you’re showing uncommon discourtesy in defence of your slightly bruised dignity here. I think the point I made does address your comment. The PNG solution is an idea that is so shit that it beggars belief. The only reality that it has the appearance of engaging with in the slightest is the matter of domestic political sentiment. As an appeal to the lowest common element of dog whistle respondents it ticks all the boxes.

                  The bottom line is that people in boats must never be able to come, regardless of the reasons they’re driven to flee, or whether we really give a damn about them drowning the result must not interfere with our birthright to exercise a form of privilege over outsiders or our ability to persist as a predominantly white eurocentric enclave.

                  That’s the sales pitch I think Australians are buying here!

                  You addressed the deterrent without addressing what these people are meant to be incentivized to do beyond sitting in Indonesia until they rot. If the goal is purely and simply to stop people from drowning then it simply won’t work. Most are so tantalisingly near to the end of long journeys that they simply cannot retrace that any efforts we make to deter them represent the surrender of their last remaining shreds of hope. You can’t fight that, you have to work with it and the only sensible way to do so is with a sense of fairness.

                  That’s the problem with the PNG solution, all stick, no carrot and therefore no appeal for fairness. It goes beyond being merely repugnant towards actively creating more problems and fewer politically palatable solutions at a time when we’ve already admitted fault after a fashion by changing leadership horses midstream. We’re therefore moved inexorably towards abandoning our humanitarian commitments altogether it having become an embarrassing pretence to call such a response part of a program bearing that moniker.


                  • doug quixote July 25, 2013 at 7:36 am #

                    Once again you do not address the issue.

                    Post a comment, not a reply!

                    As regards the main topic, we must agree to differ. Wait and see; if it is well implemented the results will be apparent within a few months.


                    • Poirot July 25, 2013 at 8:22 am #

                      “Well implemented….”

                      Surely it would take longer than “a few months” to build a decent processing/detention centre/ prison/gulag….call it what you will?

                      But then again, I’m sure it will be superbly implemented.

                      It’s not as if it was hasty policy, constructed with the best of political intentions and designed to win an election.


                    • hudsongodfrey July 25, 2013 at 10:02 am #

                      “The results will be apparent within the few months”

                      I presume you mean the election results! That’s all I think Rudd cares about. His policies those of his predecessor and the stated intent of an Abbott lead opposition would all seem less likely to be described in terms of results than consequences. Look at what the people who had to staff these places are saying…..



    • Marilyn July 25, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

      What utter drivel. ‘They don’t care about people who drown, they wait 2 days and ignore 16 SOS calls while people die.

      LIsten up Doug, it is not our right under any circumstances to stop anyone from seeking asylum unless we offer an alternative.

      The latest bullshit is to make the women and kids of the men in 5 years of limbo all stay home and die and no bother us.


      • doug quixote July 26, 2013 at 8:01 am #

        Thank you for your reply, Marilyn. I agree with your second paragraph.


  7. Ray (novelactivist) July 23, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    “That we have contributed to the turmoil in some of the source countries is incontestable.”

    Actually, it is contestable. Around half of the current refugees are Sri Lankan. Neither we or the US played in part in that. Many of the Afghan refugees are Hazara who are being persecuted by the Pashtun based Taliban – tribal rivalry that existed before the US invasion. A number of Iraqi refugees are also from ethnic and religious minorities persecuted by mainstream Sunnis (ie, Mandaeans). We are now seeing Iranian refugees, again, due to persecution by a hardline theocracy.

    There is now a major problem with Syrian refugees, of which Australia will be asked by the UNHCR to take some. The Syrian civil war is a war between the Sunni and Shia, of which we played no part. Same can be said of the South Sudanese who faced persecution from the Islamist north.


    • hudsongodfrey July 23, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      Some will argue that if you’re not part of the solution then you’re probably part of the problem. When the problem is distant it is an argument seldom heeded, but when it is happening to real people in our region then obviously we have to respond as best we can to the challenge or be deemed culpable for our part in neglecting to do the right thing when we’re well placed to act.


      • Ray (novelactivist) July 24, 2013 at 11:31 am #

        But again, we are part of the solution because we are amongst the top three countries in terms of refugee resettlement, along with the US and Canada.

        It’s not like we are doing nothing. Our record is good, which is why they want to come here.


        • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

          Yes I agree with that comment and would even go so far as to add to it that the record of human rights around the world is poor which is why some have to come here.


        • Marilyn July 25, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

          Reserttlement has nothing go do with anything, who are you people who are still so ignorant that having been told that 4 million time you still make ludicrous claims.

          We accept just 6,000 of the 46 million displaced people and expect all the rest to leave us alone.

          Do you see how deluded that is.


    • doug quixote July 23, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

      That is true, but don’t expect the black armbanders to agree.

      It does not suit their agenda to admit that this is a useful step towards the management of this problem.

      The fact is that if it works – and it should – Australia will be free to select 20,000 genuine refugees per year instead of being forced to process those self-selecting themselves by appearing off Christmas Island, endangering their own lives and those of our Navy rescuers.


      • Ray (novelactivist) July 24, 2013 at 11:28 am #

        Hi Doug,

        Interesting piece in The Age from a refugee who said his claim had been accepted and was due to be settled in Australia but had to languish in a camp in Europe because ‘boat’ arrivals had taken his place.

        I have heard this from other refugees – they argue that the ‘boat’ people take the places of poorer refugees who cannot afford to pay a smuggler.

        I think people forget that we take refugees from all over the world and that we now have a significant Sudanese population.

        Wouldn’t the moral position be to put a precedence on the most needy and desperate?


        • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

          I guess what figures with that is that Rudd’s approach suggests one valid point for discussion about a situation where we seem to have an all or nothing approach suggesting black and white idealism being applied in the attempt to deal with situations that are anything but ideal.

          If we take it on anecdotes then what kind of story would be told by refugees with children who’ve wound up on Manus or Nauru. Would it be better or worse than the fellow in Europe? The question seems rhetorical to me, and the matter of how many places and who is actually taking them should probably be a point to be taken quiet separately from the issue of whether we give permission to cruelty being used against refugees our humanitarian program exists to help.


          • zerograv1 July 24, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

            The issue I have with your charge of cruelty is that it seems to me self inflicted harm/ emotional blackmail/ riots /protests / property damage none of which are initiated by us.. The figures on expenditure for setting up Nauru for instance indicate if anything that Australia is being extravagantly generous rather than the opposite. On the ground reports I’ve heard from people that actually work there back this up. Where did you get the idea that Australia was inflicting cruelty?


            • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

              So what you think these places are holiday camps where intemperate guests are spoiling the ambience for everyone else. Paying customers might be put of volunteering to holiday there in subsequent seasons!

              C’mon! It’s meant to be a deterrent, and it’s driving people mad. That’s clearly a form of cruelty, state sanctioned by politicians and an electorate who regard these people as a subclass of humanity. It’s not just that you can’t see the brochure at the local travel agent’s. These places are locked down out or sight and intended to be out of mind.


              • zerograv1 July 24, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

                I think you are believing the spin of refugee advocates. The evidence doesn’t back you up. Internet rooms, clean bedding, gyms, health facilities, a very good diet (probably better than most aussies enjoy), education classes, its hard to see any of that as cruelty. My suggestion is you distinguish between the entitlement attitude of those that paid a lot of money to people smugglers in exchange for a very hyped up vision of Shangrila that we or anyone else dont provide and never will, the result being toys thrown out of the pram, violence, building destruction, roof sitting campaigns, self instituted starvation campaigns etc….again none initiated by Australia….responsibility lies elsewhere sorry. Or perhaps you have the mistaken vision that we are obligated to accomodate them at the Hilton? If so, can I gatecrash one of your parties please?


                • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

                  That may be the case for some of the facilities, and we know from the pictures that it’s a row of tents on an Island for others, but the prison does not consist of walls and bars alone. It’s the nature of losing control over your destiny and freedom and not knowing when that situation will come to an end. That’s what’s driving people to act out. Not all of them but some people have had an extraordinarily hard time of it and it doesn’t take much in a closed environment for their tensions to percolate through a group and create the reactions we’re seeing.

                  We have a responsibility to treat our fellow human beings with a degree of dignity. It may not include keeping them at the Hilton, but even murderers receive a fair hearing within a set time frame and are given the sentence they deserve. Treating people who’ve thrown themselves upon our mercy in pursuit of sanctuary in ways that are more mentally torturous than we mete out to criminals can only be regarded as unnecessarily cruel. We’ve stooped to playing with deterrence in a bid to make ourselves seem less hospitable than whatever persecution it is that they’re fleeing.

                  Nobody, or certainly not me, is saying that we’re obliged to treat them with the same obsequiousness we afford visiting dignitaries on the important business of international commerce. If we’re to have an orderly and well run humanitarian program then the challenge is to create some semblance of order out of chaos, not to contribute to the quotient of anyone’s suffering. That I would have thought is the minimum standard when it comes to doing our modest but significant part.

                  To do otherwise is in effect to say that they standard for human rights is set by the lowest common denominator. A stance we’re currently verging upon to our great shame.


                  • zerograv1 July 24, 2013 at 11:13 pm #

                    Manus Island is the only facility falling short of standards.


                    • hudsongodfrey July 24, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

                      Your standards or some in our governments’ pathetic excuses for standards that relate to physical well-being are an abject failure when it comes to mental health I’m sure we are all aware. To fail to acknowledge that is to spiral downward into the vortex of argument about the nature of what we do when we aim only to deter without providing people with a requisite measure of hope,

                      And I’d wager after last week that Nauru just dropped off the list of places that meet any kind of physical standards. mainly because a group of detainees vented their mental anguish and outrage by wrecking the joint…..


                  • zerograv1 July 25, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

                    HG – I dont suppose its occurred to you that these people exhibiting “mental problems” (A culturally defined subjective assessment in any case) might have had them before they even got near a boat? From what I have seen and heard from friends working in the O/S centres conditions on the average Australian FIFO mine site are far worse than what the Federal Government provides on Nauru and Manus – and the onshore facilities are even better.


                    • hudsongodfrey July 25, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

                      Oh I think the may definitely have had mental trauma long before they arrived in our neighbourhood, which is all the more reason to question actions that would tend to make it worse.

                      On the other hand I know that some of the staff in those facilities probably deserve a medal for what they’re doing to try and help under what I cannot image to be ideal circumstances.


                • Poirot July 25, 2013 at 12:50 am #

                  “Or perhaps you have the mistaken vision that we are obligated to accomodate them at the Hilton?”

                  That’s about as disingenuous as it gets. In the wake of the revelations concerning the diabolical goings on at Manus.

                  Did you happen to see that SBS program?

                  “Toys thrown out of the pram’?

                  What happens when you cage up humans in deplorable conditions, remove all hope and give them nothing to do? (and that’s aside from the abuses which have been ignored by those in authority on Manus)

                  These people are refugees. You can claim all you like that they jumped the queue – the one that doesn’t exist. Less than 1% of UNHCR
                  refugees in camps around the world are resettled annually. If you’re running for your life, why wouldn’t you try and make it to the safest destination possible if you had the means.

                  And the sorriest aspect of this policy obscenity is that it’s choreographed precisely to contest the equally obscene dog-whistling produced by the LNP.

                  Rather grotesque for a wealthy and fortunate country to preside over such blatant demonisation of people in need – purely for political imperative.


                  • zerograv1 July 25, 2013 at 11:09 am #

                    So your saying let them all in, yep even the camp rapists, dont worry about walls , prisons or the fact that they refuse to show documentation, lets just overlook that burning down of the host building, lets not worry too much about the fact they are quick to sew their own lips together……we welcome you anyway, your exactly the kind of person Australia welcomes with open arms, party at my place!….its all good right? Get real! Applicants for refugee status are 90% genuine but claims must be checked, the fact that it takes a lot longer if you wilfully destroy your paperwork isnt the Government or the Australian peoples fault is it? We dont need to take on escapees or others who’s behaviour indicates they might not be worthwhile additions to the Australian community…..still it seems some people think they have a better idea on how to do it on this forum… genuises….go for it, whats your better plan? Perhaps you would prefer Abbotts gun barrel up the nostrils approach announced this morning?


                  • zerograv1 July 25, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

                    If you want to so generously save our fellow humans in need I suggest you a) Start working on indigenous communities – they could use the help b) Lobby the Federal Government to include Dental in Universal health arrangements – the state of our health in this area is third world if that c) Lobby councils, state and federal governments to get off their rears and get some land release happening so Australians can afford to house their own children….oh yeah sorry, we didnt arrive by boat better ignore all that. Does it occur to you that the net intake of refugees can be increased if we get rid of the distraction of the boat arrivals? Those in overseas camps apply, wait years, do all the right things but have to take second place to the better publicised and marketed poor widdle boat people? I cant personally see a problem with someone on the Age’s suggestion of flying the lot of them to an existing UNHRC camp in Kenya, dont even bother spending a cent on a PNG solution, they can join all the others in the same situation and wait it out…..thats what fleeing danger and refugees expect might happen anyway….or hang on, APPLY FOR IMMIGRATION – why didnt I think of that before? (unless maybe you just dont have a background that would stand up to normal immigration visa application scrutiny in which case you better boat on over)


                    • Poirot July 25, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

                      “Start working on indigenous communities – they could use the help b) Lobby the Federal Government to include Dental in Universal health arrangements – the state of our health in this area is third world …….”

                      Might I suggest that those things be tackled with the money and ear-marked to be deposited in the bank accounts of well-to-do mothers wishing to start families.

                      “Refugees” are refugees because they are forced to flee. Not much time to hang about “applying for immigration” – or has that escaped you?

                      I should imagine from your rant above that Abbott’s “gun barrel up the nostrils” appeals to your sense of fair play.

                      I love the way that some people, who it’s obvious couldn’t give a toss about refugees in general, pull out the old “deserving” and “undeserving” line on refugees. Those who find themselves in the camps are kosher. And those who make their way independently are not – the same as they decry boat deaths, but are happy to see them sent to a malarial gulag.


                      A refugee is a refugee

                      “…poor widdle boat people…”

                      – the mind boggles…..


                    • zerograv1 July 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

                      Really? WOW that explains why Sri Lankans voluntarily decided to return to their home country then doesn’t it? They must have been GENUINE REFUGEES because they all are right? Its already well known and well exposed that there is a small percentage that arent genuine, and some that are (if you use the only criteria of flee) are actually fleeing from being prosecuted for crimes and the like. That said, the vast majority that arrive are indeed genuine according to later assessments, but to believe all are? Father Xmas still visit does he?


        • doug quixote July 24, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

          I don’t like anecdotal evidence.

          However it is plain that if we experience 15,000 arriving to claim asylum in a year, we are not going to be able to accept anywhere near the numbers of refugees we otherwise could.


      • Marilyn July 25, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

        The people coming here are genuine refugees – why on earth do you want to pay $60,000 per person per annum to come here when they already have protection in another country and then spend $720,000 to jail the people who pay their own way?

        Honest to god, it is like talking to brick walls of ignorance and arrogance.

        It is not a legal right or obligation to import people as migrants and pretend they are refugees while turning away asylum seekers who ask for help under the law.

        In all this time Doug why have you never checked the difference.


        • doug quixote July 26, 2013 at 8:03 am #

          Very true – no-one compels us (Australia) to accept or select anyone. Would you prefer that?


  8. paul walter July 24, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    Politics. That is all.


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  1. The 63rd Down Under Feminists’ Carnival | can be bitter - August 6, 2013

    […] One of Kevin Rudd’s first priorities this month was to announce the infamous ‘PNG policy’. Kath at Fat Heffalump reflected on this Australian day of shame, while Jennifer at No Place For Sheep looked at how it had come to this, with our recent history of scapegoating asylum seekers, and wonders how we will measure whether the policy “works”. […]


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