Did you catch that really uncomfortable interview with Tony Abbott and Leigh Sales last week? The really embarrassing thing, as far as I could tell, wasn’t that he flip flopped on whether or not he’d read the BHP statement about why they’re shelving a massive mining project (I think economics is complex enough that he’s probably right)… no. The embarrassing thing was when the conversation moved to “boat people”… here’s the transcript of that part in full…
“LEIGH SALES: Why have you referred repeatedly to illegal asylum boats coming to Australia? Do you accept that that’s illegal and that seeking asylum by any means is legal?
TONY ABBOTT: Most of the people who are coming to Australia by boat have passed through several countries on the way and if they simply wanted asylum they could have claimed that in any of the countries through which they’d passed.
LEIGH SALES: But I don’t believe that it’s actually illegal to pass through countries on your way to somewhere where you want to have asylum.
TONY ABBOTT: You try turning up in America without documents, without a visa, without a passport; you’ll be treated as very, very much illegal, Leigh. The other point I make, from recollection at least, is that the very term that the Government has officially used to describe these vessels is “suspected illegal entry vessel”.
LEIGH SALES: Do you – I’m asking you though, not about the Government. I’m asking: do you accept that it’s legal to come to Australia to seek asylum by any means – boat, plane – that it is actually legal to seek asylum?
TONY ABBOTT: I think that people should come to Australia through the front door, not through the back door. If people want a migration outcome, they should go through the migration channels.
LEIGH SALES: That’s an answer to the question if I asked you: how do you think people should seek asylum?, it’s not an answer to the question: is it legal to seek asylum?
TONY ABBOTT: And Leigh, it’s the answer I’m giving you because these people aren’t so much seeking asylum, they’re seeking permanent residency. If they were happy with temporary protection visas, then they might be able to argue better that they were asylum seekers, but obviously the people who are coming to Australia by boat, they want permanent residency; that’s what they want and this government has given the people smugglers a business model by putting permanent residency on the table. And even though the Government has adopted just one of the Howard Government’s successful policies, it won’t adopt temporary protection visas or the willingness to turn boats around where it’s safe to do so.”
That’s just awful. But there’s no backlash, because there’s no political mileage. No votes are going to change hands here because the Labor Party is every bit as culpable on that front (though they are going to increase the refugee intake).
Season 2 of Go Back To Where You Came From kicks off tonight. The first season was pretty powerful stuff. For all their agitation surrounding gay marriage, which probably annoys a lot of Christians, GetUp is doing some good work on the asylum seeker front. They’ve produced this infographic to coincide with the show. And there’s a petition you can sign ahead of this week’s vote on the new refugee legislation, they’ve also got a form where you can email your member of parliament with a personalised message. If you’re a Christian you might also like to email Jim Wallace at the Australian Christian Lobby (their emails are typically firstname.lastname@example.org), and tell him you’d like the ACL to spend more effort speaking out for those who aren’t providing their organisation with financial support – and maybe ask them to do less than just “welcoming” whatever the government does like they do in this Media Release, and this one).
This shouldn’t be an issue where a response falls along right/left lines. You can read my last two posts on boat people – the first, in response to Tony Abbott’s claim that boat people are “unChristian”, the second, a follow up to that.
UPDATE: Somebody questioned the legitimacy of this infographic in the Facebook comments below. So I did some digging and found what appears to be the source of this data. The following is from pages 17 and 18 of this DIAC report: Submission to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network September 2011 Department of Immigration and Citizenship (http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/pdf/2011/diac-jscaidn-submission-sept11.pdf).
“From 1989 to 30 June 1995 a further 41 boats carrying 1893 people arrived in Australia, most of whom came from Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Vietnam…No Cambodian IMAs arrived after the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) mission was established in 1991. The flow of Vietnamese IMAs effectively stopped in 1995–96, with none arriving in the next three financial years. The last major arrival of IMAs from PRC was in 2000, with 25 arrivals. ”
“The profile and origins of IMAs coming to Australia began to change in 1999. Previously, most IMAs had come from Cambodia, PRC and Vietnam. As the tide of IMAs from east Asia and south-east Asia receded, a new movement of IMAs—predominantly from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka—emerged. In total, 12,272 people arrived in this period. ”
“Boats began arriving again in October 2008. Over the course of 2009–10 the number of asylum seekers increased significantly. As with the preceding wave, the majority of IMAs came from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Notably, however, the number of Iranians to arrive since January 2011 has increased significantly.”
UPDATE 2: You can watch episode 1 of season 2 of Go Back To Where You Came From online.