Howard asylum seeker policy must remain history


Deaths raise boatpeople stakes Despite Labor's best efforts, the political debate over asylum seekers is set to reignite. The increase in the number of boat arrivals has been reported out of context, and some Liberal politicians made unwarranted assertions following Thursday's tragic explosion on board an asylum seeker vessel off the coast of Western Australia.

The Australian newspaper has added to the disquiet by publishing Howard Government immigration minister Philip Ruddock's contention that boat people are often advised by people smugglers to sabotage their own craft. It then went on to quote Ruddock's successor Kevin Andrews' opinion that the Rudd Government reforms have 'opened the door' to people smugglers.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith recently attributed the spike to an increase in 'push factors' that have led to more people wanting to leave countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The military misadventures of the US and other Western nations including Australia have contributed greatly to the motivation of asylum seekers. The spike in the number of asylum seekers attempting to enter Australia is in fact no greater than that of other destinations.

On Friday, Eureka Street published an analysis of the increase by immigration lawyer Kerry Murphy. Murphy highlights increased tensions in these countries, and also mentions the internal conflict in Sri Lanka.

In addition, he cites the increasing sophistication in the operations of people smugglers, which adds up to more arrivals.

Most significantly, he speaks of the decriminalisation of asylum seekers under Labor, which embraces a mindset that moves beyond a focus on border control to a recognition of Australia's responsibilities as a 'good international citizen'.

He writes: 'On one hand the Coalition were sending troops to deal with conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet when people came from those countries seeking protection they were treated as if they had been involved in criminal activity and sent to isolated places such as Nauru with little recognition that they were in need of protection. Now we can see a shift in the language which reflects a more reasoned approach to the issue.'

There is no doubt that Australia has become more humane in its treatment of asylum seekers under the Rudd administration. We were horrified and chastened to read the findings of the Edmund Rice Centre researchers led by Phil Glendenning. About 400 Afghans detained on Nauru were sent back to Afghanistan after having their asylum claims rejected. The researchers established that at least 11 of these are known to have been killed by the Taliban following their return.

We live with the consequences of the Howard Government immigration policy. But the policy itself is history, and needs to remain so.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: asylum seekers, boat people, christmas island, explosion, kerry murphy, immigration, border protection



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Existing comments

The contributions from Ruddock and Andrews are at least true to form. But there is no excuse for the stance taken by Malcolm Turnbull. In an issue that above all else requires calm statesmanship, all he can manage is a kick at the government.

I understand that he has offered to discuss the issue with the Prime Minister. What hypocrisy, what arrogant cheek, what self-serving bombast; he shouldn't be allowed in the same room as Kevin Rudd.

Frank O'Shea | 20 April 2009

The Liberal Party’s response to the tragedy of a small group of desperate people is absolutely appalling. One would think we were on the brink of war when considering the language that is being used. What is it that makes certain politicians cry fowl at the expense of the suffering and desperation of those seeking refuge?

Ours is the so-called ‘lucky country’. But lucky for whom? Lucky for those who ‘happened’ to be born here? Lucky for those whose ancestors ‘happened’ to immigrate at a time when Australia was in need of skilled workers willing to build up the economy? What if it was our child, parent, brother or sister that was being persecuted or suffering from famine? What if we ourselves were denied education and the freedom to express our religious beliefs? What if everyday was one lived in fear, desperation and hopelessness?

No one ‘freely’ chooses to leave their home and their familiar surroundings to go off into the unknown where they don’t speak the language or know what to expect from the people. If our life, as we know it today crumbles and falls apart, I suspect we too would clutch at the smallest of straws that could give us the slightest of chances to happiness. At the end of the day, we are all human beings who have the right to a fulfilled life. Those of us who are ‘lucky’ to be in that position have the ‘duty’ of care for those who are yet to reach that stage. Our politicians are the ones that play an important role in how the tragedy of others is played out. That they CAN do the right thing has been proven in recent national disasters. Will they do the same for our fellow global citizens?

Emmy Silvius | 20 April 2009

John Clarke and Brian Dawe got Malcolm Turnbull just right last Thursday night on the 7.30 Report. 'If Labor says or does it we oppose it.'
Graham English | 20 April 2009

Yes Emmy, the important attitude for a committed Christian is the humane one and not to put all responsibility on the politicians who are there putting into policy and practices what comfortable and greedy Australians want.
Ray O'Donoghue | 20 April 2009

Michael Mullins is misusing his position as an editorial writer to express his own opinion. By so doing he sells our country and its citizens short. The bleeding heart clouds good and sound judgement. The Howard Government put the welfare of the country first. Illegal migrants push migrants following proper procedure back along the line, and their claim is just as needy as those attempting the back door dangerous boat trip.
Edward J | 20 April 2009

I don't share Edward J's opinion and I don't understand his objection to the expression of opinion in an editorial. An editorial is not reporting, it is critical reflection.
Sandie Cornish | 21 April 2009

Sandie. I'm with you 100%. Michael has summed it up very well indeed, I think!
George ofm | 22 April 2009

Edward J, when I was a kid we were surrounded by images of the sacred bleeding heart of Jesus. Now you tell us that for 2000 years we've been following a bloke who lacked good and sound judgment.
Lynn Davidson | 22 April 2009

Make up your mind, Mr Mullins. Are the US and other Western nations the good guys or the bad guys. At one point you blame their military misadventures for contributing greatly to the motivations of people leaving Afghanistan. But then you say that research shows that returned asylum seekers have been killed by the Taliban. Could it be that people were fleeing the brutal rule of the Taliban?

Aren't the Western nations in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban so that the people there can have a better life, free from the thuggery of these fanatics? Would that mean that the Americans are fighting for something worthwhile?

Memo Mr Mullins, America is not always the bad guy. It is not always responsible for every thing bad that happens in the world.
Patrick James | 27 April 2009


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