Asylum seekers and illegal migrants must be in the top five hottest issues around the developed world. After the arrival of the Tampa, a cargo ship that had picked up refugees at sea, Prime Minister John Howard used border security as one of his catch cries in the 2001 Australian election with telling results.
This week his successor Kevin Rudd became embroiled in another controversy:
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says he spoke to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the weekend before Indonesian authorities intercepted 260 Sri Lankans on a boat who were on their way to Australia.
Heavyweight blogger Mark Kenny is Political Editor of The Advertiser, a News Limited paper in Adelaide. He blogs at The Punch, an online venture that brings together both News Limited staff and dozens of independent writers from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. His response was scathing of the PM:
In just one interview in Adelaide this week, Kevin Rudd used the terms “tough” and “hard-line” over and over again and repeatedly declared the Government made “no apology” for its hairy chested approach to boat people.
His condemnation of both leaders is unequivocal:
Yet there is no more pressing moral question before the world than the human rights of the forcibly displaced – some 42 million of them at present. And like capital, the movement of people is a global reality also.
The Government should now have the courage of its convictions and stare down the fear campaign being waged against it. If ever there was a case for evidence-based policy, it is here and now. That would be real moral leadership – voters respect that too.
Mark Henderson, at The Australian Conservative blog, has the opposite view:
Kevin Rudd unwinds the Howard Government’s tough but highly successful measures against boat people and almost two thousand illegal immigrants find their way onto Australian territory.
… What a joke.
The “most hardline measures” involves nothing more than a phone call to the Indonesian president.
Rudd is not prepared to make the really hard decisions the Howard Government took, decisions that made it deeply unpopular with large sections of the media and the elite commentariat, but decisions that actually stopped the flow of illegal immigrants and stopped the tragic loss of life at sea.
Guy Beres’ presents his self-titled blog as: ‘Reflections on social democracy, economics, the media, and spin in an age of incorrigible cynicism’. In a lengthy and impassioned analysis of the issue he argues:
The Opposition seems desperately keen to contrast its own historical rhetoric on asylum seeker issues with the slightly softer, more humane approach being taken by the Rudd Government. Forgetting for a moment the rather ugly and sometimes disturbing human rights issues raised by the previous government’s mandatory and indefinite scheme of detention, the Opposition wants to remind us that they were “tough” on boatpeople when in government, and that Labor is “not so tough”. In concert with this mode of attack, every rickety boat that happens to depart Colombo or elsewhere on its way to Australia apparently represents a failure of Rudd Government policy in comparison with the Howard Government’s illustrious record.
Incidentally a ‘furphy’ is an Australian term for a red herring or false report.
Meanwhile we haven’t heard the last of these Sri Lankan asylum seekers as they are on a hunger strike:
THE 255 Sri Lankan asylum seekers staging a hunger strike last night remained defiant, insisting they would not leave their boat or even consume liquids, despite the blazing heat.
A young girl who made a plea for asylum on their behalf has been the subject of a personal attack:
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan high commissioner, Senaka Walgampaya, cast doubt on the account of a nine-year-old girl on the boat, Brindha, who made an emotional appeal for the Tamils to be helped. ”She is crying and weeping and said, ‘We were in the jungles for one month’,” he said. ”But she is quite well nourished and she spoke very good English. She is not from Sri Lanka.”
There are seemingly no innocents in this ongoing struggle. It is not an issue that will disappear soon as a visit the news website of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) will attest. A click on the refugees tag brings up dozens of recent stories involving Australia.