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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > PNG-Australie: THE ASYLUM SEEKER WITCH HUNT


Wednesday 5 March 2014, by siawi3


By Corinne Grant

July 2, 2013

Less than twenty-four hours after Rudd returned from ‘rocking around the place’ to lead our fine nation towards a future based on gas-based cooking, he decided to go all vigilante on refugees.

It’s an odd decision, considering that he was simultaneously banging on about heralding in an era of kinder, gentler politics.

Photo: refugees Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Image via

Vilifying asylum seekers is typically a Liberal Party approach. (Who can forget John Howard suggesting ‘boat people’ are terrorists, Philip Ruddock referring to a dead female asylum seeker as an ‘it’, or Scott Morrison constantly declaring all asylum seekers are disease-riddled crime statistics on legs.)

The ALP has tended to be a bit more pissweak and hypocritical about the whole thing. Labor politicians sit on the edge of the debate, clutching their hankies and pointing shaky fingers at people smugglers.

It’s slightly easier to justify committing human rights abuses against defenceless people if you claim you’re doing it because the people smugglers treat refugees worse.

Which is why this change in approach from focussing on hating the smugglers to hating the actual asylum seekers is such an odd tactic for the ALP, especially when Rudd is continuing to spout this warm and fuzzy rhetoric.

The new hardline stance boils down to this: the Rudd Government has decided that refugees aren’t actually refugees any more, they’re economic migrants and the Government will command the courts to find the same, despite any evidence to the contrary.

Somewhat awkwardly for the Government, there isn’t a jot of proof that the majority of asylum seekers arriving by boat are not genuine refugees. But who needs proof when an accusation will do?

Bob Carr is out there spruiking this line for all it’s worth. For a man who said he wouldn’t move to the right on refugees, he’s not just crossed that line, he’s taken a running leap at the wall and jumped straight through it, much like Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu.

chris-bowenWhen he was Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, pictured right, laid the groundwork for this approach. He claimed (again, without any proof) that asylum seekers from Sri Lanka were not true refugees.

The media dutifully and unquestioningly reported it, even as refugee advocates and lawyers were waving their arms around calling out that Bowen was just making it up: no-one knew if those people were refugees or not because their claims were never assessed, they were just bundled onto planes and sent back.

A recent Senate inquiry uncovered all sorts of appalling practices, including one asylum seeker’s claim that when he tried to show the officials the holes in his body from where the bullets had hit him, the assessors simply refused to look. He was sent back to Sri Lanka without a chance to be heard.

Up until this week, it had just been Bowen and his successor, Brendan O’Connor, (recently replaced by Tony Burke) testing the waters on a refugee attack.

Now it’s a fully-fledged witch hunt.

Carr is using the kind of language that is meant to incite us to hate refugees – we need to become more ‘hard-edged’ about these ‘economic migrants’ that are coming here for no other reason than they want an easier life.

When it was pointed out to Carr that 94% of asylum seekers are found to be genuine refugees, he responded that this showed that the courts and tribunals are being too lenient. Listening to him speak, it was as if he’d been possessed by the spirit of every shock jock this country has ever produced.

Carr’s solution to this imaginary economic migrant crisis is to change Australian law and, arrogantly, to change the way the justice system works. Under the Carr/Rudd plan, refugee claims will no longer be assessed on the facts and circumstances of the person standing before the tribunal or the court.

Instead, diplomats will put together files on the countries the asylum seekers have come from, saying that these countries are perfectly acceptable places to live. The courts, according to Carr, will have to obey whatever the diplomats put in those reports.

Essentially, our courts are to become nothing more than rubber stamps for the Government’s policies. Good luck getting that past the High Court.

Kinder, gentler politics. Bloody hell. I’m glad Rudd didn’t suggest it become tougher and nastier, we’d probably be settling refugee claims using the rules from the Hunger Games.

The push to change the meaning of refugee is equally astounding. According to international law (and our domestic law) a refugee is, broadly speaking, someone who is fleeing persecution.

srilankan-refugeesDisplaced Sri Lankans in a refugee camp

Rudd and Carr want to change it to mean you’re an economic migrant – persecution will simply be a lie made up by people who want to move to Australia because it’s nice here.

Lost your leg in a machete attack? Meh. You probably let them cut it off because you heard we do totes amazing lattes in Australia and you were desperate to try them.

Been shot full of shrapnel because you worship the wrong god? Oh come on, you were faking your religion so that you could get on a leaky boat and come to Australia to ride ponies.

It is to their shame that the new Rudd Government has debuted with an attack on vulnerable, voiceless people. There was a chance to overhaul the appalling mess of human rights abuses and breaches of both domestic and international law that government has been perpetrating for years. Instead, Carr and Rudd have chosen to further attack defenceless people.

What’s even more depressing is that this won’t hurt the ALP’s election chances. Not only does the Liberal Party have an equally abhorrent approach to asylum seekers, but we as a nation either support these human rights abuses or are completely apathetic towards them.

Looks like, along with rendering the word refugee completely meaningless, we’re quite content to do the same with ‘kindness’ and ‘gentleness’.