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02 August 2013
By Matt Hrkac

OPINION: Asylum Seeker Policy's - The battle of the Right

It has been around a week since the announcement of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's asylum seeker policy - which in his words, goes along the lines of "if you arrive by boat, you will not be settled in Australia. The people smugglers' guarantee is now worthless" and that those who arrive by boat would be processed and resettled in Papua New Guinea. To be completely fair, this polarised the left; with many who were originally pro-Australian Labor Party now shifting their support to The Australian Greens and an even lesser minority shifting their support to, god forbid, Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party of Australia. In case you didn't know the statistics between PNG and Australia, look below:
 
 
Papua New Guinea / Australia Comparison:
Statistic Papua New Guinea  Australia 
Population (Density) 7 Million (15 every square km) 23 Million (3 every square km)
Land Area 462,840 square km 7,692,024 square km
Gross Domestic Product (per capita) $12.655 Billion ($1,900 p/c) $970.764 Billion ($42,640 p/c)
Human Development Index 0.466 (low, 153rd) 0.938 (high, 2nd)
Type of Government Parliamentary Democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Parliamentary Democracy under a constitutional monarchy.
 
Not to be outdone, Tony Abbott wasn't going to stand idly by and watch as those who are moderately conservative shift their support to the supposedly progressive/socialist Labor Party. So Tony Abbott comes up with a policy that sits even further to the right - with a military-led operation that would see a three-star commander be in charge of keeping the boat people out, who reports directly to the Minister for Defence. To add to this further, just this  week; Tony Abbott comes up with a plan to build a tent city on Nauru - obviously as a temporary housing solution for asylum seekers who come by boat before they are settled in other countries.
 
Knowing this situation - both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott want to turn the boats back; and now that both of their policies are out in the open; we no longer have a political battle, if you like, between the right and the left. We have a political battle between someone whose policy sits in the moderate centre-right, to another which sits on the extreme-right. Anyone who says F--- off, we're full is utterly ignorant - and the idea of a wealthy country such as Australia dumping asylum seekers on a developing country such as PNG is utterly ridiculous and only re-enforces the idea in the world-wide community that Australia is bigoted, racist and greedy. Of course, a military-led operation to turn the boats back to Indonesia, knowing that Indonesia are against the idea; isn't any better, either.
 
Both Rudd and Abbott say that they are looking out for the best interests of Australia. But ask yourself this, who, do you know, actually thinks that people who are seeking asylum should be denied the right to live in Australia (obviously after going through the usual checks and processing)? It is plainly obvious that both Abbott and Rudd are wanting to appeal to the vocal bigoted minority; the swing voters, whose votes unfortunately decide who governs. This is especially relevant as we are quickly heading to an election.
 
However, the announcement of both asylum seeker policies has been of no benefit to either major party. In fact, it has been disastrous for Labor; and had no ill-effect on the Liberal support base. It is almost like the Liberal Party is preaching to the already converted; and the Labor Party is preaching to the Liberal Party support base - which has in-turn alienated the Labor support base. Both are following the chants of the vocal minority; rather then standing up and being the leaders that they're supposed to be (thank you for that one, Charlie Pickering!)
 
The major problem though both Abbott's and Rudd's policies is that they both intend on throwing money at preventing the boats from coming in the first place; and both policies rely on deterrence to stop the boats from coming. Billions of dollars are being thrown or offered for these deterrence policies that will not work. Why is that, you say? Because boat numbers entering Australia has risen with the global average trends over recent years. This has been a result of civil wars that have broken out in Middle-Eastern nations and other places. 
 
Another major problem with these policies is that asylum seekers arriving to Australia overall are minimal; even when you factor in boat arrivals, when comparing asylum seeker numbers arriving in other developed countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says Australia receives about three per cent of the total asylum claims made in industrialised countries around the world and, "by comparison, asylum levels in Australia continue to remain below those recorded by many other industrialised and non-industrialised countries" (100,000+ in the United States, 350,000+ in Europe; over the last year). So we are effectively throwing billions of dollars of our money at what is, in effect, a non-issue.
 
Regardless of whether Tony Abbott is able to form government and spends billions of dollars to send the boat back, or whether Kevin Rudd spends billions of dollars to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea; they are spending billions on what is a non-issue and on a strategy that might not even work (note; global asylum seeker number averages increasing over recent years). Those billions of dollars could be spent in healthcare, education reform, national infrastructure such as the National Broadband Network as well as tax cuts. I'm not saying scrap boarder protection policies completely; but dumping hundreds of asylum seekers on a poorer nation or turning them back over dangerous oceans is incredibly low; especially when Australia is more than capable of processing and re-settling them.
 
- Matt Hrkac.

About the author:

Matt Hrkac is a writer and photographer based in Geelong. He has particular interests in politics, elections, social movements and the trade union movement.

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