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.