There’s something deeply disturbing about the way in which the left faction of the Australian Labor Party has accepted the shameful five-to-one people swap that the Government has struck with Malaysia. Never mind the one sided nature of the deal, which sees Australia ostensibly rid itself of 800 “illegal” refugees who paid people smugglers to come to the country by boat in exchange for 4000 “legal” refugees waiting in the queue in Malaysia.
The Australian taxpayer is set to fork out some $300-million over the next four years to pay for the entire cost of the program – flights, accommodation, living expenses and anything else the Malaysians decide they want to bill us. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen acknowledges that the cost may well be ongoing. Yet it’s hard to see how, when Australians will be going to the polls in two year’s time and all the indications are that Labor will be slaughtered. They’ll only have themselves to blame but that’s another story.
The most shameful aspect of all of this is that those within the Labor Party who claim a monopoly on righteousness when it comes to just about any social issue should be so prepared to wash their hands of such a unconscionable arrangement. These 800 boat people will be forcibly removed from Australia, doubtless dragged kicking and screaming onto the taxpayer-funded rendition flights that will take them to the back of the refugee queue. They’ll also be totally impoverished – having given their life savings, in many cases, to the people smugglers who promised them a new life in exchange for $10,000 or some other inflated amount.
When they get to Malaysia, the full horror will dawn on them of how they were either duped or took a punt on acceptance and lost. They’ll not only join the tens of thousands of refugees already waiting in Malaysia for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find them a permanent home but go to the back of the queue. On present indications, it may take up to a generation for them to reach the front of that queue. Their anguish and frustration can only be imagined.
Yet on top of all of this, these refugees will find a country with no patience whatsoever for their plight – where they will be discriminated against, harassed and perhaps beaten. That’s certainly what happens to the “legal” refugees in Malaysia, who are also banned from taking jobs, educating their children in state schools or using the country’s health system. But no – says Australia. Our “illegal refugees” will get a better deal in Malaysia. They’ll be given special passes to enable them to get jobs and will have health care and education privileges paid for by the Australian taxpayer. And unlike the “legal” refugees, they will be protected from harassment and “will not be caned” – in the words of our prime minister – for the kind of infringements that attract a flogging with a rattan for anyone else.
Never mind that Australians are being asked to believe the assurances of a country with a history of irritation, if not outright hostility, towards us. The former Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, used to constantly tell Australia to “mind its own business” when it had the temerity to complain about human rights abuses in the past. So what’s changed? Oh, yes, they’ve signed an agreement promising not to treat our “illegal” refugees in the same way that they treat the “legal” refugees who are now supposedly one step closer to reaching Australia in the queue. They’ve promised. Really? So the average Malaysian cop will be able to tell the difference between a refugee with an Australian “don’t beat me” pass from one he can beat at will? The sheer naivete of the Australian Government and its left-wing backers is breathtaking.
Refugee advocates in Malaysia don’t believe their own country’s assurances at all. Worse, they say the Australian deal with Malaysia creates a two tier system of refugees – those with Australian “protection” and benefits, and those without, and is bound to breed acute resentment. Excuse me, but can anyone explain the intellectual logic of arming “illegal” boat people with benefits their “legal” counterparts don’t have? The whole thing is Kafkaesque.
Imagine had the hated John Howard set up such a deal when he was in office? The wailing and wringing of hands on the left would have been loud and long. But when Australian Labor does it, how much time does it take for the left to fall in line? Less than 24 hours. The hypocrisy and betrayal of principle is as breathtaking as the naivete. “But it will finally stop the people smugglers”, they cry. Well, so did John Howard’s so-called Pacific solution, which was a much better solution than the miserable deal Labor has done with Malaysia.
When the Coalition sent “illegal” refugees to Nauru or Manus Island, they were under Australian protection and enjoyed Australian rights and comforts. They had Australian standards of accommodation, and the food was so good it used to be said on Nauru that the best roast dinner to be had on the island was in the refugee canteen. Their children were educated to Australian standards, they could leave the compound to secure local employment and could keep in touch with their family and friends through taxpayer funded internet and telephone links with their homeland. Will they have the same benefits in Malaysia? Mmm. And when it comes to their protection, we just have to take the Malaysian authorities on trust, even as their own citizens – Malaysian refugee advocates – protest against our naivete and gross self interest.
All along, the Australian opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has implored Prime Minister Julia Gillard to “pick up the phone to the president of Nauru” to reactivate John Howard’s successful Pacific solution, which saw a wave of boat arrivals reduced to a trickle. “No”, she said, “because Nauru isn’t a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees”. Well, it is now but what does the miserable woman do? Sign a deal with another country – Malaysia – that isn’t a signatory to the UN convention, then or now, and doesn’t plan to be.
This is the current standard of moral leadership in Australia, a government that rejects a more humane solution simply because it was the idea of its political opponents. And enters into a trade in human beings with a country with a poor human rights record like Malaysia. Yes, the Labor left is right. It will probably stop the people smugglers. But so did a policy that kept Australia in charge of its obligations, not farm them out to some foreign contractor with a payment of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds.
Next will come the pictures of “illegal” refugees being forcibly manhandled onto planes on Australian soil to be sent to the back of the queue in the “Land of the Rattan”. Frankly, we can’t put it better than Colonel Kurtz in the closing scene of Apocalypse Now. “Oh the horror…the horror”.