AT A TIME when the consequences of one half-baked Rudd government policy are back in the spotlight, along comes a new one; this time it’s asylum seekers, with a vow to send those who arrive without documents to the equivalent of the naughty corner. Wrong again, Mr Rudd.
Murdoch newspapers across the country this morning are carrying a story that announces new measures — effective immediately — which will see asylum seekers who go to Indonesia and discard passports and identity papers before boarding people smugglers’ boats to Australia “sent to the back of the queue.”
The story, obviously well-briefed, also flags a “tough new test” for refugee applications without specifying what it is, and proclaiming “hope” that fly-home repatriation of bogus asylum seekers — arrangements for which currently exist with Sri Lanka — can be extended to include “new countries, including Indonesia.”
And under changes to rules governing the processing of asylum seekers, the release of “as many children as possible” from detention will also be given immediate effect, in what can only be viewed as a sop to the hard Left and to the chardonnay drunks typical of the chattering elites Labor is so desperate to woo back to its fold.
Kevin Rudd’s initial stint as Prime Minister was frequently characterised by a propensity to produce policy on the run, quite literally overnight in many instances; one would think that mere days after the “Pink Batts” disgrace roared back to life, Labor might have paused for thought before embarking on any further impromptu policy misadventures.
Alas, it seems this is not the case.
The immediate release of children from detention sounds good; in a move calculated to pander to do-gooders on the Left, and to try to yank at the heartstrings of everyone else, Rudd is gambling that his government will be seen as humane overall whilst “cracking down” in an area that has caused Labor no end of headaches since Rudd himself ordered the abandonment of successful Howard era laws on boats and asylum seekers in 2008.
The flaws in this proposed course of action are so obvious as to be ridiculous.
If the children are to be released — presumably into the community — whilst they await processing, it stands to reason their mothers will be released as well; once this occurs it will only be a matter of time before the clamour for the fathers to be “reunited” with their families in the community (probably after emotional blackmail such as hunger strikes and sewing their mouths shut) results in them, too, being released.
This is why the measure revealed in the News Limited press is such a blatant sop to the Left; indeed, it basically hands the Greens precisely what they seek on this issue on a plate.
It raises a ridiculous contradiction, in that the logical result of releasing children from detention is that there is no need for a detention regime at all, thereby sending an even stronger signal to people smugglers that all they have to do to fulfil their contracts is to make it to Australian waters, and their human cargo will be delivered ashore.
Once released into the community, the claim of the asylum seeker to residency is, under international treaties to which this country is a signatory, is immeasurably strengthened.
This, in turn, completely negates the get-tough element of the overhaul; if asylum seekers will ultimately be released into the community anyway pending processing, what difference does it make if they throw their papers away in an attempt to bolster their claim for refugee status — even if they are to be sent to “the back of the queue” for doing so?
I’d argue that far from providing discouragement, this actually gives added incentive.
And it flies in the face of suggestions by Foreign minister Bob Carr, who claims that the changes will stop Australia’s immigration policy being “outsourced to criminals” by removing the easy money providing passage to asylum seekers is seen to offer by people smugglers.
On the contrary, releasing the children, then the women, and ultimately the men will send a clarion call both to those who would traffic in human lives, and those prepared to pay the bounty and take the risk at sea.
What a fatuous and half-arsed “policy” initiative this promises to be.
But it gets worse; it is certainly true that some bogus asylum seekers are, in fact, returned to Sri Lanka by air when their claims are processed and refused.
But that is not the outcome for all Sri Lankans whose claims are refused; and other “source” countries — Iran, for example — simply refuse to accept the return of deported citizens from their countries after their refugee claims have been determined in Australia to be false.
On its present course — even one arising from an overnight policy thought bubble — the “source” countries need only stand firm in their resolve to render that aspect of these changes meaningless.
There has been an idea put on the table in the past 48 hours by the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, of a regional summit between the so-called “source” countries, the transitory countries — Malaysia and Indonesia — and the destination country which, of course, is us.
It is an idea that warrants and merits exploration, and even if nothing comes of it by way of finding a solution then at least an approach beyond the various ideas on the table now will have been explored.
That said, however, the risk is that this will become another typical Kevin Rudd talk fest — a la the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009 — at which many photo opportunities and chances to grandstand and name-drop are forthcoming, but absolutely nothing constructive whatsoever ensues in any meaningful, practical, or useful sense.
The way Kevin Rudd’s reheated Prime Ministership is progressing, the odds on exactly such a scenario are virtually unbackable, and to thus pursue the idea SBY has contributed would require he be prevailed upon to host and run the conference, ensuring Rudd and his people exercise no control over its direction at all.
Even so, it’s disturbing that what was a regular and familiar occurrence prior to June 2010 is becoming so again: the overnight policy package, hastily cobbled together, and with little or no tangible consideration of its shortfalls, pitfalls, or the rather obvious prospect of it being counter-productive.
Get tough on asylum seekers by all means, but don’t announce the intention to do so by then implementing measures that will have precisely the opposite effect.
Maybe it’s indecent to point out that after five years to fix its own mistake on asylum seeker policy, boats containing thousands of asylum seekers continue to arrive in our waters every month, and the death toll from those drowning at sea continues to rise.
The deaths will stop as soon as the flow of boats stops.
Perhaps it’s time for the Prime Minister to explicitly admit his mistake in abolishing John Howard’s Pacific Solution rather than trying to fudge his way through with smart answers, and to work with the Opposition to reintroduce it lock, stock and barrel, and as soon before the election as practicable.
Even at the risk of handing the Liberal Party a free kick.
The announcements made via the Murdoch press today are no solution.
Wrong again, Mr Rudd.