The Coalition has been sticking its knives into the Rudd Government in recent months on asylum seekers, and a lot of the knives have been sticking. It is undoubtedly the case that significant push factors have been in play in recent years that haven’t been there previously, but I think its equally fair to say that the government has done a poor job of managing its communications on immigration issues. In its efforts to sell the humanity of its policies to progressive voters locally, Federal Labor has probably not done enough to present a relatively firm (but fair) line to the international community. On this score, tomorrow’s episode of Insight on SBS should prove interesting:
This week an alleged people smuggler speaks exclusively to Insight about why he thinks more boats are arriving. And his comments are explosive.
“People see Australia as easy. After three or four months it’s done. The important thing is we definitely get citizenship. We will become Australian citizens immediately.”
Meanwhile, Malcolm Turnbull has emerged from the backbench to remind Tony Abbott he is still around, sticking in a few knives into his own team for good measure:
Referring to the Coalition’s announcement on boatpeople, Mr Turnbull said “ideally” new policies should go to the partyroom. He said push factors played an enormous role.
“There are literally millions and millions of people who have refugee status or would if they arrived in Australia and sought refugee status be granted it under the UN rules,” Mr Turnbull said. ” So the push factor is gigantic.”
The Federal Government needs to get on top of this issue, or it stands the possibility of copping a real pasting as the election draws near. It needs to come up with a fundamentally new approach that retains the essential humanity that the centre-left want from Labor, whilst making it quite clear beyond our borders that we can only accept genuine claims for asylum, and we can only accept so many.
The government’s current approach is, unfortunately, dysfunctional.
In what appears to be a desperate attempt to gain some traction, the Opposition has elected to excavate Philip Ruddock from his here-to-fore dormant state on the backbench in order to remind everyone what a ring-a-ding job the Howard Government did on asylum seeker issues. Ruddock’s opinion piece in The Australian today is a blast from the past in tone, and I’m not sure that it can fairly be considered to be a remotely relevant blast. According to Ruddock, the Rudd Government’s actions on border security since November 2007 are “forcing people into the hands of people-smugglers”, and “a fundamental rethink” is required by the government in order to “bring this insidious people smuggling activity to an end.”
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.
It should be apparent to everyone that there is no single activity or series of activities that any government can implement to stop people-smugglers or asylum seekers from trying to come to Australia. It is unrealistic to expect governments to be able to stop people-smugglers from plying their trade altogether. Australia is, without doubt, a desirable destination for people seeking a new life beyond their own borders, particularly for those living in war or strife-torn countries. Regardless of the punitive or draconian penalties Australia might elect to impose upon people-smugglers or indeed the asylum seekers themselves, some will still try to make the journey. The complex causes that drive people to set off from their homelands on boats bound for illegal landing in Australia can not be explained away as being a function of Australian government policy – inconveniently for the Coalition. It is a fair bet that the vast majority of people smugglers do not peruse Australian immigration or asylum-seeker policy before taking money from folk eager to try and make the journey and launching their boats. In short, people-smugglers are unlikely to be cheered by Rudd Labor any more or any less than they were by the Howard Government over the last decade, and “insidious people smuggling activity” can no more be completely eradicated by the policies of the government of the day than any other social ill we might care to consider.
The larger airports around London have over the last couple of years introduced an optional iris scanning verification system for use by frequent travelers at immigration. A couple of times while I have been waiting in a long immigration queue at London Gatwick Airport late at night I have jealously watched folks roll up to the much shorter IRIS queue at immigration, enter a special scanning booth, and pass through immigration in less than a minute. I have also observed at least one poor man lower his head to the machine to have his eyes scanned, and have it tell him repeatedly after several long and painfully embarrassing attempts that he was too close to the machine. As people waiting in the queue snicker to themselves, of course.
It now appears that things are now going to be taken a step further as far as the use of technology for identification purposes goes: face-scanning at British airports is to be introduced in the coming months. Officials have asserted that they believe that the new machines should be able to do a better jobs than the immigration officials working the desk, which must be a real morale booster for BAA frontline staff. Of course us Australians don’t have to worry – apparently the new system will only be open to British and EEC citizens.
I think its quite interesting that the British Government is attempting to innovate and introduce these sorts of somewhat risky trials at a time when immigration and border security concerns have never been higher. This new technology has supposedly been developed in such a way as to “err on the side of caution”, but it remains to be seen whether this proves to be workable in practice.