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Watch Your Country Disappear

Whatever her other virtues, Greens leader Senator Christine Milne is not usually thought of as a satirist.

But at her press conference early yesterday, called to record her party’s opposition to the latest attempt by the government to stop the flow of asylum seekers to our shores, she brought a prop that brilliantly lampooned the new plan.

It was a map of the world, with one notable omission: the entire continent of Australia.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

The Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey during an MPI (Matter of Public Importance) in The House of Representatives this afternoon.

It was the perfect visual aid, as they say in the education biz. For it cut to the essence of what the government proposes: a measure that would excise all of Australia from the Australian migration zone.

The plan would render the whole country not there, as far as boat people are concerned. Forget terra nullius or terra incognito, this would be terra invisibilis.

This would apply only to boat arrivals, mind you.

Asylum seekers coming by plane, as many do, would still be able to look out the window and find the country right there, where tectonic forces last left it.

And Australian citizens and residents could still go to, say, Bondi Beach, have a swim and come ashore confident that they were back in Australia.

But should a boatload of Iraqis come ashore, they would not be in Australia, for legal purposes. If they tried to claim asylum, they would be told something to the effect of: “Sorry mate, for your purposes — and those of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees — Australia isn’t here any more.”

They could be rounded up and sent off to Nauru, or wherever we next decide to deposit them, and deemed never to have been here at all.

Mind-boggling as this might seem, it is not a new idea. John Howard first began making parts of the country disappear 11 years ago. Only little bits at first: offshore islands where boats were turning up.

Later, though, it was mooted that the Howard Government might do what the Gillard Government now has, and make the whole country refugee-invisible.

At that time, the Labor Party opposed it bitterly, as the Libs’ Immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, was only too happy to point out yesterday.

Morrison noted that in 2006, the now-Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, had described the Howard government plan as ‘a bad bill with no redeeming feature’ and a ‘stain on our national character’.

Morrison also quoted various others who were then in opposition, but are now in government.

Like Anthony Albanese: “A bill that reduces the parliament and the nation…"

Tony Burke: “[It] undermines our sovereignty, it offends our decency and it mocks the Parliament.”

Simon Crean: “Shameful and xenophobic”.

“But it’s Kate Ellis who takes the cake,” said Morrison.

“She described the proposal that she has supported today as being ‘lunacy, ludicrous, harsh, indecent, inhumane, unfair and gutless’.

“Now if there was gutlessness on display today it was on all those members of the Labor caucus who have today endorsed what they were prepared to condemn from the Howard Government.”

He had a point, you must admit.

But there was bipartisan hypocrisy on display in parliament yesterday. For Morrison himself set about bagging the government for the exploding cost of its policy of sending hapless refugees offshore for processing.

How, he wanted to know, could the government possibly balance its budget when asylum seekers were continuing to turn up is substantially greater numbers than forecast, and costing substantially more than forecast?

Well, that takes nerve; having browbeaten the government into implementing the ridiculously expensive Pacific solution, to then turn around and complain it’s costing too much.

As Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at one point in her answer: “Whatever the Government does, the Opposition will say something negative.”

Yes, and that has long been true.

To cite just one other example, not related to asylum seekers, on Sunday shadow treasurer Joe Hockey appeared on the ABC’s Insiders program and argued strenuously that the Australian economy was “flat-lining” because of Labor’s mismanagement.

Tuesday morning, though, Hockey was on another ABC program suggesting that it was a mark of the government’s economic mismanagement that they might not bring a surplus, despite an economy which was growing strongly.

Got that? In the space of two days Hockey argued two utterly contradictory cases: that the economy was flat-lining, and that it was going gang-busters.

The sad point is that in the quest for dominance, both the major parties will use almost any argument, will shed almost any principle.

Meanwhile, Christine Milne was out there yesterday, arguing the same position on asylum seekers that her party has always argued: that they should not be shunted offshore, and that Australia should comply with the refugee convention.

Now, the polls show this is not a popular position. And you might well think that the Greens’ positions are consistently wrong.

But at least they are consistent.

26 comments on this story
by Marilyn

NO the Greens are not consistently wrong and why waste a good article whinging about what some stupid poll says.

It's not legal, it's not moral or workable or decent and both major parties are revolting cowards.

And the polls are based on the lie that asylum seekers have no right to come here and that resettlement is an obligation when it is not and never has been.

The parliament is supposed to uphold the law, not impose penalties on people without trial or charge and it's about time the lawyers climbed out of their coffins.

October 31, 2012 @ 6:34am
by Michael

First the Howard administration prosecuted a policy for offshore processing and then the Gillard administration did so too. There must be some advantage for our governments to pursue this course of action.

It would be good if they explained those benefits to us. Doing so might even incline some voters to support the policy.

October 31, 2012 @ 9:37am
by TKC

I have an issue with people arriving by boat, which rabid Greens are happy to spin as having a problem with refugees...which I most certainly do not. My family has volunteered time directly working with refugees to help them integrate into Australia, has yours?

My standard question is this: The simple fact is that Australia has a capped yearly intake for its refugee visa program. This is the reality of the situation and we will never have an uncapped system, despite what you might want. It used to be the case that the majority of our intake on those visas was from refugees who were sourced via UNHCR refugee camps and had gone through a thorough vetting process. Whether you like the 'jumping the queue' terminology used by some or not, it remains a fact that every visa given to a boat arrival is a visa not given to a refugee from one of those camps. Can you give me an argument in favour of boat arrivals receiving visas before those refugees who have followed the proper processes, that would convince THOSE people that boat arrivals deserved a spot before them? If so, then I might start listening.

I have yet to receive a proper answer and I find it sad that many people living in their sheltered world of 'principles' refuse to really look at the reality of the situation and make their stand based on what is possible, rather than what they would prefer the perfect world to look like.

So would I support Australia increasing its intake of refugees? Quite possibly. Will I ever support boat arrivals receiving visas before refugees who can't afford the $20,000 passage price (which almost certainly places them in a better position than the vast majority of refugees in UNHCR camps)? Not until somebody answers my question properly, which I frankly don't think is possible.

October 31, 2012 @ 11:49am
by David Reid

The Greens are the only party in the parliament with the integrity to avoid getting caught in a race to the bottom on human rights. It is appalling to say the least that the major political parties have conspired to abandon basic human rights standards to persecute asylum seekers.

October 31, 2012 @ 11:52am
by Robyn Jewell

Can't agree more with Marilyn. In my view, this is the most appalling notion that either side of politics have ever come up with. I have supported Labor all of my voting life (50 years) but you've done it now folks. No more!! If the government of this country, one of if not the, most affluent in the world, cannot bring itself to find enough generosity of spirit to formulate a policy that will Manage and accommodate the miniscule number of individuals who seek refuge here in boats, I for one will take my vote elsewhere. And never mind the crocodile tears about the risk to themselves etc etc,, we deserve a PhD in xenophobia!! Proud to be an Australian - I don't think so!!!

October 31, 2012 @ 12:01pm
by Fiona Williams

@TKC, your comment is the most logical argument I have heard in YEARS.

We are a country that was built on immigration (of sorts) and refugees, but we have to be realistic and, dare I say, practical. We can't just fling the doors open for anyone, nor can we ignore the thousands of desperate souls who just want to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Perhaps if Nauru or Christmas Island were transformed into some kind of refugee camp with assistance from the Red Cross and the UNHCR we might be able to move forward. Until then, we are stuck in a holding pattern filled with xenophobic propaganda on the one hand and action-less bleeding hearts on the other.

October 31, 2012 @ 12:14pm
by William Telfson

Might be worth adding that this was a recommendation of the Houston report. And that the government said it would implement whatever was recommended by the Houston report.

But then writing wouldn't be half as fun now, would it?

October 31, 2012 @ 1:18pm
by Tom

Exactly TKC! no one has yet being able to explain to me how doubling our refugee intake, ensuring these refugees arrive in the safety of an airline and taking the most desperate and longest waiting refugees is anything but the most humane solution!

The Greens are playing politics with this and should have supported the Malaysian solution. Let them negotiate a tenfold increase in numbers if they like, but surely to god, the most humane thing to do is to set up a system of arrivals that does not encourage dodgy boats filled with young family's and unaccompanied minors setting to sea.

October 31, 2012 @ 2:32pm
by Peter D. Jones

Hard to believe this approach by the ALP - must be quite a few MPs bitterly ashamed of this pandering to xenophobia and the money we are spending on it and the pain we are inflicting on human beings who have already suffered so much. Some Liberals must be ashamed too. One wonders why they go on with it, especially as we gear up to membership of the UNSC in 2014.

October 31, 2012 @ 2:50pm
by Marilyn

Fiona, we fling the doors open to over 5 million people every year, why are you so pathetic about a few thousand refugees?

It is a legal right to claim asylum, it is not a lifestyle for Australian's selfish little lives choice made on a whim.

There are less than 0.0001% of the world's refugees here, don't hear the rest of the world cutting their countries out of the migration act.

I swear to god Fiona, you and your ilk sound just like nazis justifiying the treatment of jews and the taliban justifying their treatment of Hazaras - they are over taking us.

There is no such legal thing as resettlement of refugees and upping our intake to just a few thousand more is not allowed to usurp rights of others who have not yet got to a place of safety.

October 31, 2012 @ 3:04pm
by Ed

Your child is 7 years old and believes that "God" is a convenient fiction (precocious little bugger) and comes to you with the following tale:
All the kids in my class think I'm wrong about God. No one will sit next to me in class. At lunch time they steal my lunch and throw sticks at me. I tried to hide in the Library but the librarian thinks I'm wrong as well and she told me to find somewhere else to hide. I went to the teachers' room but they told me I was a bad child and that I should just accept that God is real. I went to the principal but she hit me with the cane and said if I didn't accept that God is real she would lock me in the cupboard forever. There is one kid who doesn't hate me so I talked to her and she said I could go to another school. Can I?
It so happens that you're a psychopath who would like nothing more than to exploit your child's misery for your own profit so you say:
Yes you can, but you have to pay me $100.
OK, says the little one, who departs immediately to ponder the problem. Eventually, the little atheist visits his two remaining friends on the street and shares the story with them. They sympathise and decide to round up the funds by borrowing from their parents, thereby setting themselves up for months of indebtedness and extra chores. Your munchkin gratefully accepts the gift, swearing to pay back all the money as soon as possible. Voila! $100 and a new school.
You wave goodbye as your intrepid 7 year old hops on the bus. Upon arrival at the new agnostic school, munchkin and all of the other kids on the bus are locked in a special room for new kids. There is no teacher, only a security guard. No classes or desks, only chairs and discipline. At 3 o'clock, when the bell rings, the door stays locked and the new kids remain. All afternoon. All night. And so it goes on.
Leaping completely out of character, you are worried. And so contact the new principal.
"I thought you were agnostic. I thought you publically disparaged the horrors going on in the other school. I thought you agreed to help those kids who were being bullied because of their beliefs..."
"All of those things are true" says the principal "but your child and all the children in the special room came by bus."

October 31, 2012 @ 4:24pm
by Patrick

I wonder how long this was in the pipeline. Bet they kept it until after the UNSC vote.

October 31, 2012 @ 4:44pm
by jack

and yet we still cant get enough cheap labour in rural australia. 457 visas anyone?

instead of paying millions of dollars to house then in prisons on various islands,why not give them the option to work on a 457 visa in rural australia instead of applying for refugee status? if they are willing to work in an abattoir in the back of beyond for 4 years i'm happy to let them in. if they do a runner, they've breached their visa and you can boot em home.

October 31, 2012 @ 5:17pm
by Marilyn

(80) Program 2.1: Refugee and Humanitarian Assistance
Allocations, targets, or limits are not made in relation to Protection visas for asylum
seekers. If all the criteria for a Protection visa are met, the visa will be granted and no
distinction within the Program is made regarding the lawful status or arrival means of
the applicant.

October 31, 2012 @ 5:59pm
by keith atkinson

One problem with this debacle is that 2012 is not 2006.
The situation in parts of the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, is now likely to lead to far more people wanting to get out even than in 2006.
For Australian political parties to think that they (or a Houston report) can significantly stop refugees arriving by their policies does not look at the real issues of what the situation is in the countries of origin. Whoever is in government, the boats will still keep coming in increasing numbers.
The more honest thing to do would be to simply opt out of being a signatory to the Refugee Convention, like Indonesia, Malaysia.
That will not solve the problem, but at least it would stop the embarrassment of simply excising Australia from the map.
There is some substance in the notion that the 1951 Convention is not really relevant to current situations.

October 31, 2012 @ 6:05pm
by Marilyn

No there is not Keith, don't blame the rules because you don't like the facts on the ground.

The convention has been updated several times and Bowen recommitted to it last December.

Now he is in the human trading business.

We are on the founding excom., we have been an ongoing member of the excom since the start of the convention, our job is to make sure signatory states uphold the convention, it is not our job to circumvent it to appeal to the racists and bogans in Lindsay.

October 31, 2012 @ 6:51pm
by Fabia Claridge

Australia takes around 180,000 immigrants per year ( more with 457 visa people). We are still here to tell the tale and the sky does not fall in. why can't we make that 100,000 migrants and 80,000 asylum seekers per annum. We need the young people. They could revitalise the country towns - not everyone has to be an investor. I know many asylum seekers with excellent skills and training. It would be so much easier and cheaper to raise the humanitarian intake, have airlifts from Indonesia and Malaysia (rather than boats) and then immediate settlement. We have become a nation of bullies - obscenely bullying the victims of war. Wasting lives, wasting money on THE WRONG POLICIES! GREEN is the only stain remover for our national character. The sooner the better!

October 31, 2012 @ 9:24pm
by Colleen Willaims

fanttastic story Ed

November 1, 2012 @ 1:05pm
by Michael

Our nation began as a penal colony and 220 years later, in culturally atavistic homage to the human wretchedness that so characterized this state of affairs, in 2012, via the refugee detention centres, we are still compulsively locking up some of the most unfortunate people of this epoch. After the shame of the Howard years, we know how how jst how effective these gulags are at generating further misery, frustration, resentment, boredom, a heightened sense of injustice, and the most serious forms of mental illness among refugees.

Meanwhile our sparsely populated country outside our 10 or so largest cities requires massive infrastructural development (eg. Transport) and labour.But at extraordinary cost,our national government chooses to damn up all the energy of these mostly young and able refugees whose entry idealism about this country, which we so effectively seek to destroy, could be tapped and matched in good faith, by having programs to which they might contribute to our national development.
As has been the case in recent years, most of these people would be granted refugee status and become good Australian citizens. Too much of a win-win scenario for our timid Australian consciousness it seems.

November 1, 2012 @ 10:23pm
by sherry stumm

We talk about boat people but never about those that com by plane. IS this a form of snobbery? I agree our asylum policy stinks and it is a result of both sides of . refusing to sit down and find a compassionte solution. Both behave badly and as a voter I insist they get together as adults and solve this situation or else why wouldn't I vote Green, at least they care for these unfortunate human beings fleeing persecution. Shame! I am not proud of most of our elected representatives.

November 2, 2012 @ 10:21am
by Fiona Williams

@Marilyn: I take extreme offense at the word "nazi". I also am offended that you, armed with little more than egocentric rhetoric, would paint a person as such.

There IS NO EASY SOLUTION to this situation. Yes, we should be trying to help more. How can we though, when the collective leaders of this country can barely decide on something as (comparatively) trivial as gay marriage?

I know that it is a legal right for human beings to claim asylum, but you are also forgetting one detail: the guidelines for the UN Refugee Convention were drawn up over 60 years ago. Very little has been changed in their wording. Besides which, we as a community are seemingly incapable of looking after our own unfortunates - the elderly, the mentally ill, children. Or did you, in your quest to shut me down with your accusatory tones, forget about them? How can we care for and help others when we can't even take care of our own?

November 7, 2012 @ 1:57pm
by itstagle

It appears how we've adopted many of the policies that the Liberal party have championed over time, yet the boats have not stopped as they claimed it would.

This is policy in play, not Liberal ideas or Labor ineptitude. What farcical 'real discussions' we've had. Meanwhile the Green hold a constant line, however will not receive any reward.

Take the lies, toe the line, or hope for sanity.

November 7, 2012 @ 3:52pm
by Rob

@ Fabia:

The cost of resettling asylum seekers is far and above a 457 worker or migrant from a developed nation, and they bring their own special problems with them (cultural tendencies brought with them from violent countries, attitudes towards women, lack of skills, etc).

Replacing 80,000 ready-to-go workers with 80,000 welfare-dependent, unsocialised individuals plucked from a war zone is guaranteed to cause trouble.

November 13, 2012 @ 2:31pm
Show previous 23 comments
by angels

The real problem is that the citizens of this country are divided down the middle on the matter of refugees. Because of Islamophobia, (eg denying women's rights), other racial prejudices, a primordial fear of boats, (turns us into invaded aboriginals) , my job will go,etc etc. In addition it's a truly difficult problem, requiring a regional and global co-operation.

So only a bipartisan policy will be politically strong enough to stand against this. Malcolm and Hawkie got that bipartisan support. Abbott won't give it. So we have a default bipartisanship!!
Both on the wrong side!

Only the Greens can afford to take a stand...

Won't be resolved till we have a rational Opposition and bipartisanship.

December 3, 2012 @ 5:51pm
by gasman

You know it's funny to think that the aboriginies stood there in Sydney cove and had the same conversation that Australia is having now. "Another load of boat people".
Difference is the current crop will not kill the lot of us through disease and shooting and change our natural landscape forever.
We have not moved on from convict stock. Well done you moronic brogans!

December 28, 2012 @ 5:34pm
by Alex

I love your writing!

January 11, 2013 @ 3:24pm
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