by Scott Morrison, Australia’s Federal opposition spokesman on immigration and citizenship
Last week I returned from a visit to Christmas Island to Parliament where the Labor Member MP, John Sullivan, from Longman in Brisbane, interjected during a speech and called me a racist. At the time, I was speaking to an Appropriations Bill that was seeking additional funds to make up for shortfalls in this year’s budget. Included in these shortfalls was $132 million for off shore processing of asylum seekers. We were supporting the Bill.
I noted that the 100 per cent plus blow out in costs demonstrated the Government had failed to appreciate the impact of their policy changes on the detention population on Christmas Island, that is now at unsustainable levels. Apparently, criticising the government’s poor budget management these days is also grounds for being called a racist by Labor MPs.
Reflecting on John’s classy contribution, it occurred to me just how lazy arguments against stronger border protection can become. Rather than engage in the debate, some self appropriate piety and indulge in moral hectoring as a substitute.
It would seem easier for some to think that those who don’t agree with them are simply evil racists and unable to comprehend, let alone share, their own self assessed high minded capacity for human compassion, than listen to what they have to say.
The pro-boats doctrine pedalled by some and adopted in practice by the Rudd Government has no monopoly on concern for the world’s dispossessed. To suggest otherwise is simply arrogant. Here are some things to think about.
There are reports that more than one hundred Afghans – men, women and children – perished at sea last year in their bid to come to Australia. Their families in Brisbane will probably never know what happened to them. They’re still waiting for the call.
Where are the public protests about the fate of these 105 Afghans and the policies that encouraged them to get on that boat? We have no idea how many others have died on vessels that never arrived. We do know that last November 12 people drowned after their boat sunk west of the Cocos Islands, and on Saturday afternoon 45 people were rescued after drifting for four days without food or water. And then there were five people who were killed when their boat, SIEV36, was set alight and dozens more injured, also in an attempt to gain entry to Australia.
In each case people smugglers profit. The ticket price is between $5,000 and $20,000 per passenger.
Some will say, but what about those who arrive by air? Well, when was the last time you heard of an asylum seeker drowning on board a 747?
Then there are those in refugee camps. Around 140,000 Burmese refugees are in nine camps along the Thai-Burma border. They began arriving there in the early eighties. Today people who were born in these camps are now raising their own children there, where rape, domestic violence and substance abuse are commonplace. During the past five years Australia has granted almost nine thousand off shore humanitarian visas to Burmese refugees. This enjoys bi partisan support. I have no issue with taking 13,500 people under our humanitarian programme each year.
Where we differ is allowing places in our humanitarian programme to be exhausted by those who pay for the services of people smugglers in preference to those offshore in camps. I believe it violates our sense of fairness.
While there are many other reasons, saving lives and helping those who will never be able to pay a people smugglers ransom to come to Australia, strike me as good reasons to stop the illegal arrival of boats coming to Australia.
Since the Rudd Government started rolling back the border protection regime inherited from the Coalition in August 2008, 79 boats have illegally arrived carrying more than 3,600 passengers. Not even the monsoon and the threat of cyclones have been able to overwhelm the magnetic impact of the Rudd Government’s failed border protection policies. This summer, 23 boats have illegally arrived in our waters, compared to just four during the same period last year.
Rather than take action, the Rudd Government has been content to blame the rest of the world and hope the problem will just go away. Worse still, they cynically hope we will just get used to it.
Faced with an overflowing Christmas Island, the Rudd Government has already rolled over and transferred people directly to the mainland from Christmas Island before assessment of their asylum claims has been completed. This not only sends the worst possible message to people smugglers, but it opens up murky legal ground regarding the status of individuals transferred. It only takes one judge in one court with jurisdiction to hear a case and the dominoes will fall.
And then there was the Government’s special deal for the Oceanic Viking. Mr Rudd guaranteed fast track processing, spent Australia’s diplomatic favours around the world to guarantee resettlement and most significantly compromised our national security by bringing four people rejected by our security agencies to Australian territory. This is simply unforgivable. Mr Rudd still maintains the Oceanic Viking arrangement was `non-extraordinary’. He should try telling that to the 200 plus people sitting in the port at Merak, the Indonesian Government who no longer trust us on these issues and, for that matter, the 140,000 refugees in Thailand. The Rudd Government blinked and have now lost control.
The Coalition had no such difficulty when it came to dealing decisively with these issues in Government. Our views and resolve have not changed. We will not compromise the off shore processing regime. While Nauru and Manus are closed, if necessary, other alternative options will be found. Boats will be turned back if circumstances allow, as Mr Rudd promised he would do. And we will begin the work of recalibrating the policy settings unravelled by Labor, starting with the creation of a new temporary safe haven visa.
Some will not like these policies, but people smugglers will understand them. You will also be spared the hypocrisy of the Rudd Government pretending to be one thing while failing to be another.