Sunday, November 1, 2009

Let them in, let them in!!

Why don't the government and the opposition both stop with the "immigration debate"? They are both competing to look more stupid than the other.
I'm specifically talking about refugees here. Why do the representatives of each side of politics have to compete with each other to look sterner, more pompous and "tougher" than each other on this subject? There is no way to win this guys. There are NO winners, not the government, not the opposition, not the Australian people and certainly not the refugees. There is NO prize for the "toughest" rhetoric. Ahh, but there's an election to win you say. Sorry guys you are not in touch.
The people are on to the fact that neither side has decent policy here, neither side is acting in a measured, sensible and humane fashion. Each side is just eyeing off the other like a couple of curs in a fight. Trying to work out when the other side will flinch and when they can make a rush on them.
Just get over it and get to work on some basic principles:
  1. Genuine refugees are good for this country. Yes they carry an initial burden, but meeting that burden is part of our obligation as a developed country and as humans;
  2. Yes we should work with our northern neighbours to try and manage the flow. No that doesn't mean sending the Oceanic Viking back to Indonesia, at who knows what cost, and then an embarrassing stand-off. That's stupid;
  3. Minimalist processing: Are they who they say they are? Have they done anything seriously naughty in the past? Are they healthy? And let's get sensible about that last one. This isn't about whether or not they should be denied refugee status because they have something wrong with them. You can expect refugees to have a lower health status than other immigrants. This is about identifying which people need additional health support;
  4. Identify what support individuals and families will need in the community and plan for its delivery;
  5. Rapidly transition refugees into society. The sooner these people are out in society the sooner they can contribute. Billing them for their own detention is simply bullshit. You detained them, you pay. Instead we should be focusing on very short detention timeframes and spending the money thus saved to kick start the new lives for these people. In this way everyone is a winner.
I acknowledge that at the moment there is an overwhelming demand for refugee status and that Australia can't take everyone. My view though is that if you get on a boat and take the risks then you are made of the stuff that we're looking for.
To satisfy yourself on this point just go for a walk down the main street in Footscray or down Victoria Street, Richmond. The hard-grafting small business owners might not have been Vietnamese boat people but many of them are there because of the boat people. That wave of arrivals has been overwhelmingly good for this country. In just the same way as a new wave of Tamil arrivals or arrivals from Afghanistan or elsewhere will be good for this country.
And Kevin Rudd: If you were really serious about slowing the rate of arrivals then you would seriously engage with the Sri Lankan government. It's very likely that you and other world leaders are standing idly by as a very large number of Sri Lankan Tamils are subject to yet a further round of genocide. At best this genocide is through neglect of the people herded into camps by the government. At worst it is an active campaign. We cannot accurately know because the Sri Lankan government has isolated those camps and refuses to allow outside observers in. It is the role of other governments to pressure the Sri Lankan government to live up to its international obligations.
The biggest single thing you could do Kevin, to slow the flood of refugees from Sri Lanka, is to get outside observers into those camps. The next thing would be to get some real humanitarian aid into those camps.
Stop posturing about refugees and act.

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