“By Lenore Taylor:
As Chris Bowen announced yet another toughening of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, a reporter from Al Jazeera asked the Immigration Minister if he was ”aware of the reputation for cruelty” Australia is developing overseas.
”I completely reject that assertion,” Bowen snapped back.
But since August when Labor jettisoned its own policy and accepted ”stopping the boats” and stopping the drownings as its overriding political goal, a reputation for cruelty is – to some degree – exactly what it needs to achieve. And quickly.
Because politically Labor is entering an election year trapped in the absolute worst of both worlds.
It is attacked for the ”cruelty” of conditions on Nauru, and now for leaving even proven refugees on Nauru or on the mainland in the devastating and uncertain legal limbo-world of a ”bridging visa” for five years or maybe even longer.
And it is also attacked every day by the Coalition because the boat arrivals are still not slowing.
Coalition spokesman Scott Morrison has calculated that more asylum seekers have arrived by boat since Labor came to power in 2007 than the population of Alice Springs – a vivid comparison he can keep updating. In a few weeks it will be Lismore, then Bathurst. By the time of the next election the ”crisis” of arrivals might be up to Dubbo proportions.
Of course the government’s expert panel recommended a balance of ‘kind’ and ‘cruel’ to stop people making dangerous sea voyages – the prospect of faster resettlement if they stayed in regional centres as well as the disincentive of waiting for just as long on Manus Island and Nauru as an asylum seeker would wait in a refugee camp in Asia. Without the incentives, the panel said, the policy would not work.
But the Coalition refused to countenance the incentives – the kind bits – including the recommended revamp of the Malaysia people swap deal.
That may be part of the reason this new ”Pacific Solution” is not achieving its stated objective. But whatever the reason for the failure, Labor is politically locked in to achieving a slowdown in the boat arrivals, and for now it has to rely on ”cruel” policy to send a rapid message of dissuasion. “