Refugees, polls: Abbott hits new lows

November 29, 2013
Refugee convergence, Canberra, November 18. Photo: Peter Boyle

As a mother and her baby fight to avoid the “rat-infested” Nauru refugee camp, a Fairfax-Nielsen poll showed half of Australian voters disapprove of the Coalition government's refugee policy.

The poll also showed Prime Minister Tony Abbott has come to the end of what has been described as the shortest “honeymoon period” of a PM in history. Abbott's popularity took an unprecedented dive — with a personal approval rating of 1%, believed to be fuelled by his attitude to the “diplomatic stand-off” with Indonesia over substantial spying allegations.

This compared with opposition leader Bill Shorten’s 21%. On two-party preferences, Labor led the Coalition 52-48, “the quickest poll lead achieved by any federal opposition after losing an election,” Fairfax media said.

Forty-two percent of Australians still “approve” of the Coalition's cruel and hostile approach to asylum seekers, and the government says it will not alter its hardline policy of secrecy, temporary protection and deportations.

At his weekly briefing on November 22, immigration minister Scott Morrison dismissed concerns over the diplomatic crisis with Indonesia, who have withdrawn cooperation on disrupting people smuggling operations.

Indonesia's police chief General Sutarman said: “We must crack down on any law violations in the country. But if a person has a purpose to go there [Christmas Island], it does not come under our authority. We no longer have co-operation [on asylum boats].”

Morrison also dismissed the poll results, saying there had been an 80% fall in boat arrivals and “that's the measure we use to judge our success”.


It has become harder to know how many people have actually arrived in Australian territory seeking asylum, thanks to the government's media blackout save for Morrison's weekly showing. The ABC reported that under “Operation Sovereign Borders”, between September 14 and November 22, 742 people on 14 boats arrived in Australia.

Other, more thorough, tallies are being kept by Christmas Island residents. “State secret” tweets by Gordon Thomson and show that more than 1900 people on nearly 30 boats have arrived since the Coalition was elected.

There was a downward trend in November — Morrison's perceived “success”. But thousands of refugees still exist in the region, and many are still struggling against huge odds to reach Australia. More than 1150 asylum seekers have been stopped from boarding boats since September as a result of “cooperation” between the Australian Federal Police and Indonesian police.

Similar operations have taken place in Malaysia, a “transit country” for refugees, where Australia uses its power to force its regional neighbours to prosecute people without visas.

Also, the Abbott government last month “gifted” two high-tech patrol boats to the Sri Lankan Navy to help it in intercepting and detaining boatloads of Tamils trying to flee its genocidal regime.

There have also been some reports of boats arriving unacknowledged by the government. Defence vice chief Air Marshal Mark Binskin, when asked about a believed boat arrival, claimed on October 17: "If I haven't reported it, it didn't happen.”

Then there are the alleged attempts to “tow back” boats to Indonesia. The government has refused to comment on this — using “operational requirements” as an excuse for secrecy.

Morrison's efforts to control information about boat arrivals is being met with resistance by both Australian voters and the media, both of who don't like being told what they can and cannot know.

However, other policies being exacted on refugees in Australia and offshore are also growing harsher and more extreme.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre reported on November 25 that Morrison has refused to renew bridging visas for all asylum seekers in the community who have come by boat. This has caused hundreds to lose their employment and medicare entitlements.

“We know of hundreds who have gone to Immigration asking to renew their bridging visas only to be told they can't and to wait until the Minister decides to. No timelines, dates or anything in writing to show it's not their fault.

“Skyrocketing rates of homelessness, depression and despair is what we are seeing first hand. Work was one of the few things keeping those who were allowed to work sane.”


Meanwhile, conditions on Nauru and Manus Island have been slammed by the UN refugee agency, which “found children were living in hot, humid, cramped conditions with little privacy, were not going to school and their parents held deep concerns for their mental health.”

It recommended that no children — unaccompanied or with families — be sent there from Australia. This came as Rohingya refugee Latifar, her newborn son Ferouz, and their family begin a legal case to avoid being sent back to the island detention camp. “This is an important case,” lawyer Murray Watt said. “Not just for baby Ferouz and his family, but also in highlighting the injustice of detaining children offshore.

‘‘Nauru is no place for any newborn and particularly not when there are significant health impacts to consider.’’

Morrison said the government would not grant any exceptions to offshore detention. He told Radio National: “There are no exceptions to offshore processing … That is the purpose of offshore processing, that there are no exceptions. That's when it is effective.”

Australians are increasingly horrified by Abbott's stubborn cruelty.

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