End live export of asylum seekers

June 16, 2011
Burmese refugees in Malaysia.

If you are a cow destined for someone’s dinner plate, the federal Labor government won’t send you to Indonesia without a guarantee you will be treated humanely.

But if you are an asylum seeker risking your life to reach Australia by boat in a desperate attempt to escape war, poverty and persecution, the government will send you to Malaysia with little regard for your welfare.

It has been impossible not to notice the stark contrast between PM Julia Gillard’s suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia and the government’s relentless pursuit of a means to export its refugee responsibilities, most recently via its deal with the Malaysian government.

See also
Malaysian MP slams refugee outsourcing deal

It’s long been known that the Australian government views some humans as less worthy of rights and assistance than others, demonstrated by mandatory detention, offshore processing and the deportation of refugees to danger.

But the revelation that the lives of Australian cows are more highly valued than those of human beings who need our help shows just how degenerate the government’s refugee stance is.

Gillard told parliament on June 14 about the government’s commitment to “inspections for the conditions of slaughter and the tracking of Australian cattle to make sure that they end up in facilities that have appropriate conditions”.

Yet the 800 refugees who will be sent to Malaysia for processing under the government deal may end up struggling to survive with few rights, lack of access to basic services, and fear of being tortured as illegal immigrants. Their welfare won’t be tracked.

Their only safeguard will be an identity card that the government absurdly claims should exempt them from the harsh treatment suffered by other refugees and migrants in Malaysia, which hasn’t signed the UN refugee convention.

Minister for agriculture Joe Ludwig told the Senate on June 14 that while the Coalition “might want to play politics”, the live export of cattle “is an issue where we have to ensure animal welfare outcomes are taken into account”.

But apparently when it comes to refugees, human welfare outcomes don’t need to be taken into account, as Labor and the Coalition both “play politics” with people’s lives in the competition for the cruellest refugee policy.

The Coalition’s alternative to the Malaysia deal — reopening the Nauru detention centre — would mean, as it did last time, refugees living in poor conditions with few legal rights, catastrophic mental health impacts, and deportations to danger.

Despite haggling over where to dump refugees, Labor and the Coalition agree on the fundamental approach.

The mantra is “stop the boats”, but this has nothing to do with addressing the root causes of the refugee crisis. If it did, the government would pull Australian troops out of Afghanistan for a start.

Gillard and immigration minister Chris Bowen harp on about the need to “break the people smugglers' business model”. But if the government really wanted to prevent refugees from making perilous boat journeys to Australian shores, it would welcome and assist asylum seekers to come to Australia safely for processing.

What the bipartisan policy really amounts to is doing as little as possible to help refugees and doing as much as possible to export Australia’s responsibilities.

This government will go down in history for shamefully treating human beings worse than animals.

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