Eric Abetz upstages his Prime Minister Sunday with a quick media blitz to reassure a grateful nation that thanks to his heroic efforts in writing to his PM there will be no change in the distribution of the GST for some years to come. Tasmanians especially will be overcome with gratitude at the Senator’s selfless dedication and letter writing. Once again we give thanks for something the government is not doing.
Thunderous applause, spontaneous outbursts of Hallelujah and impromptu gospel singing also break out at the United Nations Refugee Summit in New York this week as Malcolm Turnbull, and his minder, Peter Dutton reveal with similar modesty that Australia is there to help the world solve its refugee crisis.
It is Australia’s duty as a world leader in humanitarian assistance, a nation prepared to invest over $40 million to re-settle one Rohingya man in Cambodia, but we must be cruel to be kind.
Turnbull explains, “Because we are able to say that we decide who comes into Australia and how long they stay, because we have control of our borders, we are able to deliver that generous humanitarian program.”
“Look to us,” the PM urges humbly, our solution is the “best in the world … we … create order from chaos.” Delegates go wild. A fabled faith-healer whose Neo-con nostrums, a trickle-down here, a tax cut there, have worked miracles at home, he is a natural on the international circuit. Leaders cheer, clap and stomp along to the sonorous rhythms of his spell-binding oratory as he tells how they, too, can be saved. Hallelujah!
Dutton bids up his government’s success, “Australia’s recent history has seen extraordinary challenges to our sovereignty,” he lies. But by being tough we are able to “keep up confidence in our migration policy and practice,” at a bargain price of $9.6 billion over three years and with the suppression of a few civil liberties.
Confidence is boosted by keeping details of its “border protection” operations secret and by ignoring the 2000 Nauru incident reports published in the Guardian last month – 8000 pages which depict widespread child abuse and trauma and reflect a regime of routine dysfunction and cruelty which Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International call “deliberate abuse hidden behind a wall of secrecy.”
“These policies and practices were not developed from a basis of fear,” explains the Immigration Minister whose own plain-speaking on the threat posed by migrants constitutes the Coalition government’s gold standard in dog-whistling bigots.
“They won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English. These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that. For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario.”
Dutton understates his case. “Being tough” is Dutton-speak for punishing all boat people we catch as a deterrent to others, or as they themselves describe it, a form of torture.
Or in a boomerang strategy boat people are sent back to suffer. Of course, it’s illegal. We break international law and turn back boats; delivering those fleeing persecution into the arms of their tormentors. No. Of course it’s not fair. We are tough on border protection – unless you are wealthy. 1228 migrants with $5 million to invest were permitted entry as Significant Investors in the last four years.
A better, quicker route is available. Premium Investor Visas are granted to individuals who invest $15 million over only one year in a scheme which a Productivity Commission Report this week says offers an easy shortcut to Australian residency for rich foreigners – mainly from China – or anyone keen to launder money. We decide who will come into this country just as soon as you show us the colour of your money.
Unlike New Zealand’s similar investor scheme, prospective migrants undergo few checks on how their money was obtained. Furthermore, it is revealed this week, the department tasked with policing our fabulously secure borders appears to have a few major gaps in its own defences.
The Productivity Commission’s findings coincide with a Rand investigation also published this week which depicts a Department of Immigration and Border Protection which is so over-invested in stopping the boats of asylum-seekers that it is vulnerable to criminal exploitation, a department which suffers inadequate intelligence and staff-vetting procedures. It is estimated that it will take eight years to fix.
In the meantime, if you want to migrate to Australia, the only difference between being consigned to rot in hell forever and a red carpet welcome is the price of an air fare and a spare $5 million dollars.
But Turnbull is not in New York to spruik Australia’s fly-buy migration scheme. Nor is he there to be a wuss like the other fifty odd nations at the summit who collectively agree to double the refugee intake. Publicly he endorses Tony Abbott’s refugee intake target of 18,750, but spins this as a “permanent increase”.
Nobody’s fooled. Turnbull’s there to preach his nation’s wildly popular tough-on-border-protection nonsense or anything else which he believes makes himself look strong or which will play well at home. He’s all for strong borders, especially if it buys him time with the Coalition’s hard right wing.
What to do with the 65 million displaced people in the world? Apply some of Australia’s Border Protection, a patent pending combined refugee repellent and conscience salve which may be whipped up quickly and cheaply at home in even the poorest nation from local ingredients of fear, bigotry and ignorance.
All these years, says President Obama, leaping to his feet. All these years we put the influx of refugees down to civil war and catastrophe. All these years we believed refugees were fleeing persecution and famine. Now we know we were wrong. It was our wimpy border security that was the problem all along. Hallelujah!
Turnbull does sell us a bit short. There’s more to our border security policy than persecuting the innocent. It’s a lot more than the inhumane, illegal and mutually degrading practice of banishing to faraway island gulags men, women and children who dare to seek our mercy.
It’s more than setting up refugees to be abused by guards or driven mad by the death in life of deprivation, neglect and indefinite off-shore detention although this is often mistaken for the glamorous high end of our operations.
Along with the 2000 in offshore gulags there are 29,000 asylum-seekers in limbo in Australia. They are on Temporary Bridging Visas which mean, in general, that they cannot work or access education or healthcare. They are not locked up in centres but they are locked into a vicious cycle of poverty, uncertainty and despair which causes increasing numbers to take their own lives, as in the case of tragic suicides amongst Hazara, a persecuted minority people from Afghanistan reported this week.
The rate of suicide amongst detainees or refugees on TPVs does not appear to affect the government’s resolve. The Minister loves to remind us how “tough border protection” prevents deaths by drownings but this week Turnbull goes further. A brutal detention regime helps us focus our compassion. Hence the Australian Border Force Act 2005 outlaws whistle-blowers. We don’t want refugee advocates, doctors or teachers or other workers distract us from “focusing humanitarian assistance on those who need it most.”
Turnbull’s “risk mitigation” includes turn-backs, violations of international law including in 2014, returning two boat-loads of Sri Lankan asylum seekers to the Sri Lankan navy and into certain danger after on-board refugee “assessments.” Some of these people were arrested on return. Where are they now?
Operation Sovereign Borders’ Andrew Bottrell, told a Senate estimates hearing in February that 23 boats and “more than 680 people” were returned to their country of departure but what became of them, then?
No-one knows, moreover, the fate of those terrified, desperate souls on board when in May 2015, Australian officials paid USD $32,000 to six crew who had been taking 65 people seeking asylum to New Zealand and told them to take the people to Indonesia instead. Nor is anyone permitted to ask since we militarised our compassion in the wilful self-delusion we are at war with asylum-seekers.
Not all dissent has been silenced, however. The secrecy provisions of the 2015 Border Force Act have compromised Australians’ basic democratic rights and damaged Australia’s international standing, the Human Rights Law Centre tells the United Nations in a statement to the Human Rights Council.
The lame duck PM’s hard line abroad show he’s desperate to take a trick at home. Pauline Hanson helps him link asylum-seekers and terror. She’ll decide who comes into this country. Essential reports this week that 49% of a thousand responses to its online polling oppose Muslim immigration mainly because of fear of terrorism and because Muslims don’t assimilate or share Australian values. The Drum pulls some Muslims off the street to explain themselves.
Turnbull’s Trumpery underwhelms the current US administration. Barack Obama warns that nations who build walls or close doors will be judged harshly by history. “This crisis is a test of our common humanity – whether we give in to suspicion and fear and build walls, or whether we see ourselves in another,” he says.
UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, has already denounced Australia’s asylum seeker policy as “a chain of human rights violations.” Turnbull’s case for Australia to be admitted to the UN Human Rights Council for the 2018-2020 term is not shaping well.
Posturing as a strong leader abroad, however, cannot make up for Turnbull’s being Australia’s most disappointing Prime Minister at home. Let him talk tough on terror and turn-backs. Let him dress up in Abbott’s rhetoric. The PM’s hard-line posturing only serves to highlight his moral bankruptcy; his self-serving surrender to the cynical capitulation to populist scare-mongering that has been his party’s immigration policy at least since Howard’s despicable lie of babies overboard in 2004.
Nor is the UN bluffed. Turnbull’s claim that Australia is a world leader in humanitarian aid is so transparently false, so out of line with our deeds, that the Prime Minister unwittingly demonstrates the truth. With the shameful exception of Australia, a relatively prosperous nation, world leaders agree to donate more money, accept more refugees. Even Ethiopia, 14th poorest country on earth, commits to educate refugees from the primary to tertiary level, and to set aside 10,000 hectares of arable land for use by refugees.
Fortunately there is more war on the poor at home this week to take the heat off the government’s abortive campaign in New York and to distract from the cost of tax cuts to business, the need to look after the rich and where to send our Manus Island detainees now that PNG has told us to pack our bags, an ultimatum which the government appears to be ignoring along with its trouble keeping its contractors.
Connect Settlement Services, the latest contractor to walk away from our world class offshore detention regime is leaving Nauru, it is said, over insufficient mental health and childcare provisions. An embarrassing number of other firms are also having trouble sharing the Coalition’s pride in its world-beating system.
The government prevented Ferrovial, the Spanish firm which owns Broadspectrum from pulling out of Nauru and Manus Island in February. Ferrovial will now leave in October next year while Wilson Security has indicated it intends to get out of the offshore detention centre business. Luckily news that we are on the verge of a “revolution” in welfare arrives to take our minds off a detention system in utter crisis.
An innovative Christian Porter wants to deny Newstart for a month to new applicants, a move he swears that is not ideologically based or coloured by assumptions that the poor and the jobless are lazy and a burden on the rest of us. Let them survive on fresh air and sunshine.
His other ideas are not so original. Impressed by New Zealand’s welfare-bashing investment approach which is based on spreading alarm at how much it might cost to look after people, Porter wastes time in a National Press Club Address this Tuesday with an absurd claim based on dodgy budget figures.
“We face a total estimated future lifetime welfare cost of the present Australian population of $4.8tn”.
What’s missing is the whopping $360.5trn which represents the Federal government’s revenue on the same figures over the same period. Like all true conservatives, Porter would have us believe nation will be ruined if we continue to waste time and money, including our precious tax receipts on the poor.
So far the only person showing fear is the Treasurer. A threatened Scott Morrison quickly stakes his own claim. “When I was Social Services Minister we picked up a new approach from [New Zealand], to help get our welfare system under control … It was called ‘the investment approach’.” The team player explains that “Christian Porter is now leading the next phase of ‘investment approach.” Morrison’s job is safe after all.
Porter, a former WA State Treasurer, once proposed that Newstart benefits be suspended unless applicants were prepared to chase work in other states. Clearly, he puts poor people in the same boat as refugees and asylum-seekers. Both pretend to suffer misfortune in order to live the high life on welfare payments.
Never mind that government statistics reveal that young people out of work and out of education are at record lows. Or that our border protection is based on demonising innocent victims of circumstance for petty political advantage or that beneath the rhetoric is a department, a system, a government in crisis.