Retired diplomat Bruce Haigh has a valid point when he refers to Gillard government threats to refuse to issue visas on “character grounds” to Christmas Island asylum seeker rioters as “revengeful”. More accurately it’s cynical playing to the populist gallery on a par with Tony Abbott’s deplorably low standards on most things.
As I understand it, most of these rioters have already been found to be genuine refugees (i.e. people who face real risks of persecution or even death if returned to their homelands) but continue to be kept in detention on Christmas island while ASIO goes through a leisurely process of considering security clearances. Some of them have been waiting 18 months since being found to be real refugees. Going bananas, especially given the overcrowded conditions, is hardly surprising in the circumstances.
Why can’t they begin the ASIO assessments as soon as an application for protection visa is made, instead of waiting until applicants have been found to be refugees? After all, more than 50% of boat arriving asylum seekers are found to be refugees, so it surely makes sense to commence ASIO assessments for all arrivals immediately. That way the security clearance process would be completed at roughly the same time as the primary refugee assessment, and we wouldn’t then be deliberately inflicting surplus punishment on already traumatised people who we know to be real refugees not just “queue-jumping” economic migrants.
It brings back into sharp focus my previous suggestion that it’s time to seriously consider abolishing universal mandatory detention of boat-arriving asylum seekers. The current policy isn’t succeeding in creating an impression of resolute toughness either with the asylum seekers or the aspirational voters at whom it is mostly aimed. All it does is create a convenient focus for endless negative news stories including action TV footage. As I’ve previously argued, abolishing mandatory detention and accommodating applicants in the community while they’re being processed may paradoxically make the asylum seeker issue less damaging politically for the Labor government. It’s hard to imagine it would make it a bigger negative than it already is. Boat-arriving asylum seekers may become as effectively invisible and uncontroversial as their air-arriving counterparts. No doubt some will take the opportunity to do a bunk but that’s also true of the air arrivals and for that matter a much larger cohort of Caucasian visitors overstaying their tourist or student visas, and absconding can be minimised by the use of electronic tracking bracelets and other measures.