Unholy Abbott/Gillard alliance strengthens racist 'Fortress Australia'

Sydney rally for refugee rights, August 15. Photo: Peter Boyle

The Socialist Alliance released the statement below on August 17.

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The Howard-era racist “Fortress Australia” is being rebuilt with the passing of laws to persecute asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.

The adoption of offshore processing means that Labor and the Coalition have united to, in effect, withdraw from the implementation of the UN refugee convention.

It was inevitable that the so-called “expert” panel would recommend offshore processing, and give the Gillard Labor government the fig leaf it required to return to the previous Howard governments cruel anti-refugee laws.

Media hysteria helped present bipartisan support for offshore processing as the only option – a “compromised” race to the bottom. Opposition to dumping refugees on poor Third World countries was dismissed by the big parties and media commentators as purist or uncaring about the drowning of asylum seekers.

The idea that the parties overseeing 20 years of mandatory detention, desert concentration camps, deportations to danger or death, suicide and self-harm actually care about drowning refugees is an absurd notion.

Recent government directives to not help refugees stranded in international waters exposes this fake concern for refugees. The government has ignored such concerns and dumped the responsibility for refugees in international waters on Indonesia – despite its hugely inferior naval and technology resources.

The “expert panel” was so bad as to even consider the Coalition’s proposal to turn back boats in the future. The report's one sweetener – lifting the humanitarian intake to 20,000 – can't hide the cruel policy being enacted and has so far been ignored by the government.

The panel ignored submissions about the trauma experienced by refugees on Nauru and Manus Island in the past and recommended the opening of “capacities” for the offshore processing of asylum seekers. The report also left it open to the government to reintroduce offshore processing in Malaysia or anywhere else. The immigration minister can simply designate a country as a new offshore processing destination.

Refugees could languish indefinitely in offshore processing centres, potentially for 10-20 years or more, isolated from support. The notion is that refugees detained would have to wait the same time as those awaiting UNHCR resettlement. The average wait for a refugee in Indonesia seeking resettlement in Australia is 37 years.

The cruelty doesn't end here. The government intends to further limit family reunion for refugees who arrived by boat. This will compel desperate asylum seekers to bring vulnerable children or the elderly on dangerous boats, knowing that if they don't make that journey, they could never see them again. That is, the new policies make it more likely refugees will die at sea.

The Australian government will step up funding to the Indonesian and Sri Lankan governments to stop asylum seekers escaping. Recent actions of the Sri Lankan navy firing on fishing boats of Tamil asylum seekers have been celebrated by the Australian government and media.

Labor's utter capitulation is shameful. Labor left MPs who expressed disquiet about the offshore processing bill should show the sincerity of their concerns by reopening the debate and moving a private members’ bill to overturn the legislation.

When both big parties advocate neoliberal economic policies that are hurting many Australians, it is easier to divert people’s anger over homelessness and unemployment away from the governments and scapegoat refugees instead.

The ALP and Coalition attacks on the Greens for being too “ideologically pure” are also a shameful farce. The Greens should be congratulated for having the principle to stand against this inhumane legislation.

Socialist Alliance joins with the refugee rights movement to campaign until these anti-refugee laws are overturned. It demands:

• an end to offshore processing,
• the immediate resettlement of all UNHCR-assessed refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia (neither of which is a signatory to the UN refugee convention),
• no “safe third country” excuse to screen out those who would otherwise be assessed as refugees,
• the decriminalising of “people smuggling”,
• an end to punitive mandatory detention.

It is also time to call for an end to the deals with the Indonesian, Malaysian and Sri Lankan governments to stop refugees coming to Australia under the guise of “stopping people smuggling”.