Kevin’s hard-line asylum policy

The country waited with bated breath on Friday to find out how Kevin Rudd planned to deal with asylum seekers and his hard-line policy is both decisive and divisive.

Under the Government’s new policy, those trying to arrive in Australia other than through legitimate channels, i.e. by boat, to seek asylum, will not, under any circumstances, be settled in this country. Instead they will be sent to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for processing, which will result in them being resettled in PNG, resettled in a third country, or sent back to where they came from.

To accommodate the growing number of asylum seekers being sent to the Manus Island detention centre, the facility, which had an original capacity of 600 people, will be upgraded to house 3000. The cost and timescales of this upgrade are not yet currently known. Asylum seekers may also be detained elsewhere in PNG.

The agreement will remain in place for at least the next 12 months at least and there is no limit to the number of people who can be sent to PNG for processing. In an announcement made on Saturday, Kevin Rudd also put a $200,000 bounty on the heads of people smugglers.

Under growing pressure to deal with the issue of boats trying to reach Australian shores and some coming to grief and resulting in a rescue or loss of lives, Kevin Rudd said that the agreement was, “part of a multi-layered approach to dealing with the scourge of people smuggling”.

Coalition leader Tony Abbott initially welcomed the plan and stated that a Coalition Government would look to continue the agreement, however, he did cast doubt on the current Government’s ability to implement and manage the plan, “it won’t work under Mr Rudd.”

“Let’s face it, this is Labor’s fifth go at getting it right and while this certainly is a very promising development in offshore processing, it is about processing boat people, it’s not about stopping the boats and that in the end is what we have to do.”

The policy has also come under fire from human rights campaigners and Green’s leader Christine Milne, who said that Kevin Rudd has now “leapfrogged Tony Abbott on cruelty”.

“This is really an appalling performance and it really does say to the rest of the world that Australia is a very rich country which is prepared to pass the buck to a very poor country because a Prime Minister doesn’t have the courage or the moral authority to do the right thing by refugees,” said Christine Milne.

Human rights advocate David Manne was surprised by Mr Rudd’s hard-line stance saying, “I am surprised on a number of fronts, first and foremost because Australia, having signed up to the Refugees’ Convention in 1954, committed to protecting people who come to its shores, not exposing them to further risks elsewhere,” he said. “In this case, a country that is far less well equipped to respond and accommodate to the needs of refugees.”

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Opinion: Simply passing the buck

‘The buck stops here’ are words not likely to be uttered by Kevin Rudd on his asylum seeker policy, he’d much rather make it someone else’s problem.

Kevin Rudd had a blinder of a week in politics. Not only has he seemingly brought the car industry in Australia to a grinding halt with his cost recovery proposal for replacing lost carbon tax revenue, but he’s also dealt a crushing blow to Australia’s human rights reputation. Rather than devise a policy by which Australia fulfils its agreed humanitarian commitments by processing and accepting asylum seekers, as agreed in the Refugees Convention of 1954, he has simply washed his hands of the problem and passed the buck to the ‘super power’ which is PNG. How can he expect a nation of 7.1 million predominantly Christian people, which has a question mark over its own political stability, to adequately house and process the thousands of adherents to Islam who risk their live trying to escape harsh conditions in their own countries?

If a wealthy, politically stable country such as Australia cannot house and process asylum seekers in a timely and humanitarian manner, can we really expect that the small, evolving nation of PNG can? Australia ranks second on the Millennium Human Development list, with PNG a poor 156th. The national also has 50 per cent unemployment, yet is expected to be able to rehome those looking for a better life.

While PNG’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, is confident that his nation can resettle genuine refugees, how will it deal with those deemed not worthy? Send them back to their own country? As many asylum seekers flee without paperwork, how will it know where to country to send them back? And how will a predominantly Christian country deal with a growing number of Muslim refugees? Will it simply find a reason to refuse citizenship to such people? Or will it simply say enough is enough and back out of the agreement?

But of course, all this is overshadowed by the poor conditions on Manus Island, which is expected to house these poor unfortunates. Manus Island may well be earmarked for an upgrade, but this will take time and money. And in the meantime the conditions, which were recently criticised in an unfavourable review by a United Nations committee, will continue to be substandard and inadequate. So inadequate are the conditions that children under seven years of age cannot be held there. Could this lead to an increased number of illegal boats carrying children to help secure their passage to Australia?

I can’t help but think that this is yet another case of Kevin opting for policy on the run; better to be seen to do something than nothing. It’s a quick fix aimed at silencing the Opposition on one of its major election campaigning issues. But while Tony Abbott may need to take some time to regather his thoughts, the people of Australia should be shouting their outrage from the rooftops.

Is Kevin on the right path with his asylum seeker policy? Or will it come back to bite Australia on the bum?