John Howard and his merry band of mean-minded ministers were voted out of government in 2007 by the Australia people for a number of reasons – one being the policy of putting people seeking asylum from persecution in their own countries – men, women and children – behind barbed wire, often for years while their claims for asylum were being assessed.
In 2009, what has changed with our new government? Voted in on the belief that the Rudd Labor Government would introduce more compassionate policies in a number of areas including the treatment of asylum seekers, does any one else feel a sense of deja vu? I am not alone in feeling great disappointment that our Labor Federal Government is sounding a lot like the last bunch that we turfed out.
I don’t think it was naive to think that those on the left of politics are more humane, more caring, more concerned about people who are disadvantaged, those who need a helping hand, that our politicians – rather than peddling fear and hatred – would stand up to such uncaring and often ill-informed attitudes.
In the 1970s, Prime Minister Fraser (Liberal Party) managed a humane policy towards the Vietnamese refugees when the Australian population was fearful and wary. No mention of the evils of people smugglers (who also helped Vietnamese people make the perilous journey), just the message that a civilized society such as ours can act with honour and decency. And he did. And we agreed with him. Today we can look back with pride.
David Marr, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday (29 October), makes the point that Kevin Rudd’s election promise to have no children in detention has been broken. As David says, the Human Rights Commissioners Catherine Branson QC and Graeme Innes visiting Christmas Island found 53 children, 36 of whom were without families, that is, ‘children who had made their own way to the island on their own’. On his own visit recently, he ‘found children everywhere’. Yes Chris Evans, the Minister for Immigration is adamant that ‘there are no children detained in … any … detention centre’. Somewhere there is a disconnect.
And then there are 78 Sri Lankans on the Australian customs ship, Oceanic Viking. Understandably, the refugees are reluctant to get off the ship in Indonesia and perhaps, given they are already on an Australian ship, the Indonesians feel no compulsion to take them on to their shores. However, the Rudd Government is equally reluctant to bring them to Australia to process their asylum claims.
Mr Rudd, bring them to Australia and process their claims as fast as possible. Yes, we can do things in a dignified way – in a caring and compassionate way. There are many Australians like me who realise that most of the people who come by boats are genuine refugees. We want a compassionate government, a government with strength and courage to do the right thing. We can, yes, we really can do this.
If you want to email members of our Federal Government to have your say, go to Parliament of Australia website for the complete list of House of Representative members and list of Senators.