NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Labor to lose seats over boat people policy
, June 22, 2013
Actions by the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments in dismantling the Howard government’s policy on boat people will cost it the forthcoming election, Labor MPs have admitted.
The Howard government policy of mandatory detention and offshore processing reduced the number of illegal arrivals to almost zero by 2007. The Rudd government denounced the policy as inhuman, and abolished both mandatory detention and offshore processing.
Since then, about 43,000 boat people have arrived, despite futile attempts by the government to stem the flow. At least a thousand more are believed to have died at sea.
Since the beginning of 2013, over 150 boats have arrived, carrying over 10,000 people.
New South Wales Labor MP, Laurie Ferguson, who holds the seat of Werriwa in Sydney’s western suburbs — the seat once held by a former Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam — told the federal Labor caucus recently that it was the number one issue in western Sydney, adding that anger over the issue extended to all sections of society — including ethnic communities.
No one could accuse the Labor MP of being soft on the Liberals. His web site is full of anti-Liberal propaganda; so his comments reflect the deep-seated concern felt by many Labor MPs at their own government’s failure to handle the issue.
Feeling is particularly strong among migrants who have had to comply with strict entry conditions, but who see boat people, overwhelmingly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, come to Australia, receive government-provided accommodation and benefits on arrival, and eventually get permanent residence.
The cost of the government’s failure to secure the borders amounts to billions of dollars a year, while Middle Eastern people-smugglers have had a field day, receiving around $10,000 for each person who embarks on the hazardous trip from Indonesia.
Mr Ferguson, a Gillard backer, was reportedly strongly supported by his fellow Labor MPs at the meeting.
However, Mr Ferguson had no solution to the problem, merely calling on the Prime Minister to make a formal public statement to explain the complexity of the problem and emphasise that the Coalition would be no more capable of stopping the boats than Labor.
Concern over the handling of asylum-seekers increased when the government was forced to admit that an asylum-seeker who had been convicted of terrorism offences in Egypt, was housed for nearly a year in a low-security immigration detention centre in the Adelaide Hills despite the fact he was on an Interpol red notice list, and for most of the time the Immigration Department knew of his terrorist links.
The man, Sayed Ahmed Abdellatif, had previously been refused asylum in Britain, and told a UN news agency in February 2012 that he had planned to pay a people-smuggler up to $US17,000 to travel by boat to Australia.
As a Muslim, he claimed he was subject to “religious persecution” in the Muslim-dominated country of Egypt.
Not surprisingly, he was supported by the Greens and the Refugee Action Coalition, an organisation which opposes mandatory detention and offshore processing of asylum-seekers.
The Refugee Action Coalition describes people-smugglers as “unauthorised travel agents” and humanitarians.
Its web site says: “The simple fact is that without unauthorised travel agents, asylum-seekers would not get to Australia. Many asylum-seekers remain stranded en route to Australia in poor countries that have not signed the Refugee Convention and do not accept refugees, like Malaysia and Indonesia.”
Both Tony Abbott and shadow minister for immigration, Scott Morrison, have repeatedly said that a future Coalition government would stop people-trafficking to Australia, and seek the co-operation of Indonesia to do so.
However, the Indonesian government is not co-operating with the Liberals on the issue.
Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia told the media in Canberra recently that, as a transit country, Indonesia was also “a victim of the situation” and would not collaborate with the Coalition on turning boats back to Indonesia.
He said, “It’s not possible for the Coalition to say that [the flow of boats] has to go … back to Indonesia, because Indonesia is not the original country of these people.”
Nevertheless, if people had arrived on aircraft from Indonesia without proper documentation, they would be denied entry to Australia, and remain on the aircraft for its return flight.
Further, the boat people arrive in Indonesia by air, and have travel documents with them on arrival. Almost always, these are destroyed before the boat people arrive in Australia.
There should be much tighter restrictions on people from countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan arriving in Indonesia, including the requirement that such people have return tickets to their country of origin.
Further, people who arrive in Australia from Indonesia without documentation should be automatically refused entry to this country, as they have destroyed their documents before arriving here. If necessary, they should be returned directly to Afghanistan or Pakistan.