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Abbott's immigration paranoia

  • 17 May 2010

Tony Abbott has a new TV ad which, among other things, calls for 'real action to stop illegal immigration'. The graphic behind him shows a map of Australia surrounded by red arrows from the northwest labelled Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Curiously, one arrow is labelled 'Indonesia', despite the fact that Indonesians are not significant in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

The arrows remind me of the old 'reds under the beds' hysteria of the 1950s and '60s. 

Last week Abbott made a speech to the Menzies Research Centre entitled 'Immigration, Border Protection and Population Fundamentals'. In his speech he states:

'The increasing flow of boats has strained our capacity to deal with illegal migrants, disrupted our capacity to handle refugees who aren't 'jumping the queue' and, perhaps most seriously of all, helped to undermine the public's confidence in the legitimacy of Australia's wider immigration program.'

Abbot says the key elements of the Coalition's border protection program include a return to a temporary visa for 'illegal boat arrivals who are found to be refugees', and a return to offshore processing. He also proposed as a last resort to turn around boats 'with no right to be in Australian waters'.

None of these arrivals is 'illegal': the term does not exist in migration law. Neither is it an offence to enter Australia without a visa. Australia has agreed to process the claims of asylum seekers and test whether they meet the refugee criteria. If they do, then Australia is obliged not to send them back to where they fear harm. Resettlement is provided for the refugees and their immediate family members.

Abbott's use of the phrase 'jumping the queue' is equally spurious. There are an estimated 15 million refugees worldwide, of which Australia resettles just 6000 from UNHCR annually. There are no queues. The processing of refugee cases is complex, and to liken it waiting in a bus queue is ridiculous.

In July 2008, Minister for Immigration Chris Evans announced long overdue reforms of detention practices. These included a list of seven key immigration values. It maintained mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals but stated that detention would be reviewed regularly and should be a last resort. The Government did abolish harsher aspects such as the Temporary Protection Visas, the 45-day rule limiting the right to