The deal recently announced between the Australian and New Zealand governments is a welcome outcome for 450 refugees over the next three years but, like so many actions of the Coalition government, it is too little and too late. The timing of the New Zealand deal shows how much the Morrison government has been playing politics with the lives of refugees. It could have been announced nine years ago, allowing many more people to go to New Zealand in that time, and much suffering to be avoided.
Trading the new Zealand deal for Jacqui Lambie's support in abolishing the humanitarian Medevac legislation two years ago confirms this is a government that doesn't operate in a principled way, but sees refugees as pawns to be sacrificed. In the last days of the parliament before an election is called, it seeks credit for giving some hope to 450 of those most egregiously wronged by our "offshore processing" regime, but thousands of others will continue to suffer.
For a start, the 104 people still in Papua New Guinea are excluded from the New Zeeland deal - the Australian government has completely washed its hands of them. Then, what of the others affected by our policies of mandatory detention, offshore detention and permanent exclusion of those who arrived by boat? At the moment, Australian policy excludes them permanently from settlement in Australia. Those who have been judged to be genuine refugees can't be sent back to their home countries to face persecution. Some are actually stateless. Some have been in detention for a significant part of their young lives - afflicted now with physical and psychological ailments as a result.
Still others are trapped in a limbo with no certainty, unable to build their future with careers and education. As many as 30,000 are on some kind of temporary protection, which excludes them from higher education and family reunion and, in most cases, even the ability to leave the country to see relatives in third countries and return. Many of these have not seen their families for a decade.
The crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine have vividly illustrated the instability in many parts of the world, which continues to create huge flows of refugees. In this context, Australia's punitive policies are clearly not fit for purpose. They are a political fix that only works if the real "problem" is insignificant. Back in 2015, then-prime minister Tony Abbott and Senator Jim Molan advised Europeans to adopt the Australian policies to manage the far higher numbers of displaced people seeking asylum in the European Union. How would that have played out?
Firstly, European navies, instead of rescuing boats at sea, would have towed them back to North Africa and to Turkey. If those boats were not seaworthy, the people in them would have been forcibly transferred to lifeboats and sent back to the coast from which they came. There would have been no further concern for these people. Whether they lived in squalor or faced persecution there, or whether they were forced back to persecution in the places from which they originally fled would be deemed irrelevant to the basic aim of enforcing a policy of deterrence.
Secondly, Europe would have immediately taken any of those who did successfully arrive on European soil and, at gunpoint, locked them in detention camps. There would have eventually been more than a million of those who came in 2015 and 2016 imprisoned in these camps. Europe would make no exceptions for the sick, or for children - because to do so, they would say, would only encourage the sick and children to come in greater numbers. There would have been no limit on the period spent in detention, despite the fact that these people would have broken no laws nor been charged or brought before a court of law. Many of them would still be there.
Thirdly, they would have found some poor countries - the equivalents of Papua New Guinea and Nauru - and paid them to set up detention camps on their territory, then shipped those million or more people there.
Finally, they would have told these people that, for exercising their rights under the 1951 International Refugee Convention to seek asylum, Europe would be forever closed to them.
While Europe's actual response was certainly not perfect, "deterrence Australian-style" would have been a humanitarian disaster. It does not work at scale. In today's world, with ever-increasing geopolitical and climate challenges, we need to reinvent our policy framework to meet the humanitarian needs of the time, not just short-term political expediency.
Polls have consistently shown that Canberrans have disagreed with these policies more than in any other state or territory. We have turned out on every Palm Sunday in protest and to make sure that Europeans and others know that there is significant opposition to these policies in the country of their origin. Ukraine and the continuing crises creating refugees in Syria, South Sudan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and elsewhere means that many of us will do so again on April 10 this year.
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