Apparently thirty or more asylum seekers drowned as SIEV sinks under Christmas Island cliffs.
It’s bound to have huge domestic political ramifications. Andrew Bolt is already fulminating and demanding Gillard’s resignation. He’s an odious twerp but has a point at least in so far as the voyage to Australia in small leaky boats is incredibly dangerous, and a policy mix which deters decisions to chance it has at least that to recommend it.
However, Bolt’s argument contains an assumption that continuation of the Pacific/Nauru Solution would have resulted in ongoing low arrival numbers. As I argued in my previous post canvassing abolition of universal mandatory detention, that assumption is highly dubious given that it only became general public knowledge shortly before the Howard government was defeated in 2007 that most of the Nauru detainees were being progressively granted protection visas and allowed into Australia. We can’t be certain that numbers of boat arrivals would have risen inexorably from that point irrespective of which party was in power, but it’s a reasonable suspicion that demagogues like Bolt fail even to mention let alone seriously consider.((The extent to which the Howard government feared precisely such an upward trajectory is demonstrated by a dodgy deal they did only months before losing power whereby “asylum seekers detained on Nauru can be sent to the US once their claims are approved, while US-bound Haitian refugees detained in Guantanamo Bay can be resettled in Australia.” It was clearly hoped that this might somehow maintain for a while longer the illusion that enlisting with the people smugglers was not a shortcut to permanent residence in Australia. How they imagined that conveying a message that you might get permanent residence in the US instead would be a deterrent is less evident! ~KP)) Far better for circulation to foment simplistic fear and loathing.
In any event, it’s looking like an ugly political debate in the lead-up to Christmas. Meanwhile let’s hope most of these people have been rescued.
Update – It sounds likely to be substantially more than 30 killed. Meanwhile, and on the opposite side of the ideological divide from Andrew Bolt, the aptly named refugee activist Pamela Curr seems to be rehearsing a Tony Kevin imitation by implying the likelihood of a conspiracy between politicians and military personnel to allow the asylum seekers to drown. There’s a certain sad irony in the fact that this sort of contemptible imputation is now being visited on the Labor government, given that some of its members happily colluded in the Senate Committee into SIEV X failing decisively to reject similar imputations against the Howard government. Disasters bring out the best and worst in human nature. Oh yes, and Tim Blair predictably combines the Bolt “blame Julia” line with (justifiably) sledging David Marr for joining the Tony Kevin imitators and suggesting a navy/government conspiracy to let them drown.
Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition has a slight variation on the blame game. ”The Australian government are to blame. They should be processing people in Indonesia. …” Well, er, the Howard government tried that, spending $25 million on a refugee processing centre at Tanjung Pinang. It didn’t work. So too did the Rudd government, eventually persuading the Tamils on board the Oceanic Viking to disembark and go to Tanjung Pinang on a promise that they would be accepted into Australia within 12 weeks if found to be refugees. Twenty five of them were still waiting 9 months later. As Fairfax’s Lindsay Murdoch observed at the time: “Jakarta’s military and political elite are adamant that Indonesia will not become a major transit point for asylum seekers.”((Here’s the latest on the Oceanic Viking asylum seekers ~KP))
Some of the axe-grinders who seek to mislead Australians that there is some magic solution to the asylum seeker issue may well be sincere, but they’re certainly not helping to engender rational debate aimed at achieving a workable if unavoidably imperfect policy.