Aboriginal leaders: 'Rudd must change refugee policy'


The following statement by Socialist Alliance Indigenous rights activists was released on November 4.

* * *

The loss of life in the tragic sinking of yet another boatload of asylum seekers must evoke disgust here and throughout the world at the Labor government's hypocritical and oppressive rejection of desperate people who are fighting for their very survival.

While Prime Minister Kevin Rudd increasingly resembles previous Coalition PM John Howard — the arrogantly inflexible and hard-line political "leader" who could never admit to an error of judgment or say sorry — he forgets that 98% of Australians are "boat people", the descendants of boat people or, more recently, "plane people".

Aboriginal people throughout Australia would be laughing at Rudd's hypocrisy if we were not looking on aghast at the inhumane treatment being afforded to desperate refugees and asylum seekers — especially those Tamils from Sri Lanka who are fleeing years of racial conflict, internment and the genocidal oppression they faced in their country of origin.

Many have already spent years in detention camps in Indonesia and have already passed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees criteria, which allows asylum seekers to move on and seek genuine refugee status.

With this latest attempt to re-stoke the fires of racism and xenophobia around the issues of asylum seekers and refugees, Rudd seems to have forgotten two important facts.

First, Howard was partly defeated because Australia was fed up with "Tampa trickery" and the cruelty and double standards of policies that put refugees, including women and children, behind razor wire.

Secondly, Rudd has (or had) the popularity and support to be able to take a humane policy direction on refugees and tackle the fearmongering of the Coalition.

But Rudd has completely failed this critical political challenge. As the shock-jocks try to whip the nation into a frenzy against "queue-jumpers", Rudd has trundled meekly alongside them, leaving their racist lies and distortions unanswered and encouraging them and the Coalition to even viler attacks.

As Aboriginal leaders and Australian citizens, we demand the Rudd government:

· close Christmas Island and other detention centres and bring all asylum seekers to the mainland, including those currently on ships in Indonesian waters and the survivors of the latest boat to sink;

· send special teams to Sri Lanka and Indonesia to facilitate quick access to refugee status and acceptance by Australia of those presently languishing in Sri Lankan concentration camps who wish to apply for refugee status here; and

· set in place a proactive policy towards Middle Eastern refugees and potential Pacific Islander refugees from the impact of global warming.

This approach is the only way to put the "people smugglers" out of business. It is also part of repaying the debt that Australia, whose wealth is partly built on the unbridled exploitation of the Third World, owes the countries who have been the victims of its economic and military operations.

This is all the more true where Australia has a direct hand in generating the misery that produces refugees, as with its military intervention in Afghanistan.

On the Oceanic Viking, a mere 78 asylum seekers seek humane treatment from Australia. They are an infinitesimal part of the 16 million refugees and 51 million displaced people in the world.

A new, just refugee policy begins with welcoming them to Australian shores.


Sam Watson, Murri leader and Socialist Alliance National Indigenous rights spokesperson;
Pat Eatock, Aboriginal Rights Coalition (Sydney) and Socialist Alliance activist;
Natasha Moore, Aboriginal Rights Coalition (Perth) and Socialist Alliance activist.