Sunday, May 11, 2008

Refugees & the heartless Labor Party

I got this insight into traditional Labor insensitivity to refugees from Tim Blair. Blair points out that Rudd is doing his best to keep the insensitivity tradition alive. A nice quote from the still living treasure ‘Then-there-was-Gough’ in 1977:

"Any sovereign nation has the right to determine how it will exercise its compassion and how it will increase its population."

I think I have heard that sort of sentiment more recently – was it John Howard? Hard to believe since compared to his Labor predecessors Howard expanded both the refugee and migration intakes.

Rudd, when asked whether ‘Advance Australia Fair’ fills him with pride, said:

‘It does, and the reason it does is when you’ve got verses like ‘For those who come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share’ that that should be the resolve of any Australian Government, unlike the one we replaced which seemed to pull up the shutters when it came to our proper international obligations, particularly to refugees who found themselves in real strife.

(Hat tip for the last quote to Andrew Bolt).

While his detractors might suggest that Rudd is knowingly lying his head off here I'd prefer to assume is just another instant of his compulsive grap for the glib phrase regardless of any issues of truth. Truth is secondary when those famous cliches start rolling off his tongue.

BTW, to be fair, Rudd has increased the skilled migration intake significantly. Probably reflects the fact that Aussies generally are more relaxed about having migrants – although only one-third want public support for preservation of ethnic cultural identity among migrants.


teajay said...

Good post Harry. I was watching the 7:30 report when Rudd said that and it's no surprise that Kerry didn't pull him up on it.

The previous Federal Government did a lot for refugees that we can all be proud of.

Anonymous said...

your link or more accurately Blair's link is highly unsatisfactory.

41 out of 42 cases have been rejected.

Where are they from? what was the circumstances?
We gain little knowledge at all.

What if for example they were all from PNG. This would then be understandable.

If they all come from Sudan it would not.

there is no evidence to back up your statement!

There may well be but you have not provided it!

Will said...

Clearly this post is set up to both deride the notion that criticism of the Coalition's refugee policy was in any way flawed, and to imply that if there is any problem Labor’s policy is just the same.

The evidence produced to create this heartlessness parity?

1. A Whitlam quote - which I admit is relevant in so far as the fact that Whitlam did take a fairly illiberal position on the intake of potential anti-communist Vietnamese refugees. But beyond that, I see no reason that today’s cosmopolitan progressives – the type who object to Howard’s refugee policy - must somehow embrace every aspect of Whitlam’s legacy in order to be a critic of the Howard’s. As a Labor voter at the last election, I certainly see no need for me to be defending some kind of vein of moral perfection running through successive governments just because they happen to be of the same nominal party affiliation as the one I gave contingent support to at the last election. That’s a partisan hack mentality, which tries to embed moral virtue to the party machine through concocted narratives, and it’s an intellectual weakness in anybody.

Also, can I just say that the quote can really only play the role of moral equivalent to Howard's "we will decide" if you happen to ignore the completely different charged political context of Howard’s remarks in that election, and the circumstances of Children Overboard, and if you fail to note Whitlam’s efforts, which were very progressive for the time, at embracing inclusive and pluralist politics, compared to Howard's odious history of xenophobic wedge politics.

2. As for the current approval rates, yes, it doesn’t look good, but whether that is unjust really depends on the case-by-case merits not on some generous cut-off rate of approvals. Also, approval rates are hardly the exhaustive measure of what people were criticising the Coalition’s policy over.
What about:
1. Indefinite detention of children – which was only ameliorated after a revolt by some remnant of the party’s much missed small l liberal contingent.
2. Undue deference to CAT and ICCPR and other relevant international obligations.
3. Public demonisation of refugees and using them as a political football.

That’s just a sample – but you get the idea. Whether Liberal Party aficionados like Harry dismiss it or not – there is actually plenty of evidence that Howard had a spotty record on racial polarisation. I mean, even Gerard Henderson, who is linked by Harry, has agreed that Howard’s record on refugees is not good. And though that may not mean the ALP was clean, it certainly counts as an indictment. Certainly my experience amongst a diverse group of friends, including several young multiracial couples, would indicate that Howard will be remembered for this.

Andrew Bartlett said...

Kevin Rudd is correct in saying that the previous government "pull(ed) up the shutters when it came to our proper international obligations, particularly to refugees."

Quite how anyone who has followed this issue could straight-facedly suggest the Howard government didn't do this is beyond me.

Of course, it is also true that the vast majority of those breaches of international obligations (and the immense human suffering that occured as a direct consequence) could not have happened without the specific parliamentary support of the Labor Party.

To be fully balanced, I should note that the Rudd government has wound back a couple of the more egregious human rights breaches in this area, and have clear election promises to do some more, but their complicity in allowing it all to happen in the first place shouldn't be forgotten - even if one wouldn't expect Kevin Rudd to be highlighting it.

hc said...

Two questions then Andrew:

1. Are the statistical claims wrong - did Howard increase the admission of immigrants and refugees or not?

2. Are you talking about illegal migrants - 'boatpeople' who some regarded as queue jumpers? 'Let me in first because my needs are greater than yours'.

On the first point I am trusting the stats quoted by Blair but on the second point (without trying to defend the 'queue jumper' view) I would be interested if your argument depended on it.

If so it goes outside the intent of this post bwhich related to the legal refugee program.

Will said...

Hi Harry,

Clearly the main criticism of Howard over refugees was due to his wedge politics over asylum seekers, which btw is the neutral word for them, not "boat people" or "queue jumpers" - both of which are loaded, pejorative terms. I don't see, therefore, how you can even attempt to normalise Coalition policy on the matter of refugees when you’re excluding a whole category of refugee intake through asylum - which is the main arena of policy and rhetorical difference.

Your remarks make pretty clear where you stand on asylum, but just invoking the old chestnut of "queues" doesn't make the practice any less legitimate. Fact is, Australia has obligations under the Refugee Convention to admit genuine seekers of asylum, and those obligations also exist under CAT, in terms of not repatriating those who are likely to face persecution and torture. Our obligations under the ICCPR are also relevant to how such detained people are treated.

Now, Howard knew this full well, and the law in the main is attested by the fact that the majority of asylum seekers were processed successfully. But he nonetheless knew that by exploiting these arrivals he could have potent wedge issue – so he played it up with glib, red meat attacks on these refugees that you have now seem to have internalised. That is unfortunate, because whilst ever the Liberal Party is still in the grips of this kind of pandering, populist mentality it will never get my vote.

Anonymous said...

Mr Clarke the statistics quoted by Blair do not support anything.

As I stated before if all of them came from PNG then it would make sense however if all come from Sudan it wouldn't.

Until you can confirm from whence they come you can't say a thing.

given you were silent on this point you don't know even now.

By the way immigration and refugees are separate issues

conrad said...

"Fact is, Australia has obligations under the Refugee Convention to admit genuine seekers of asylum"

You know, people always point to this law and that law. However, the reason no-one enforces this is that if they did, countries would simply cross their names off. It's therefore essentially irrelevant and is irrelevant as to whether a country is doing a good/bad job.

Will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will said...

Conrad, please, you really shouldn’t talk about something if you don't know.

International law is one of those areas, where, for some reason, there is a fuzzy public understanding of it which engenders some people to comment in ways they wouldn't dare with other legal disciplines. And this is so, despite no discernible differences in the levels of state/individual compliance when it comes to hard cases. But any basic international law unit, at a reputable law school, covers these kind of common misunderstandings and assumptions, which are largely based on a kind of muddled syllogism about the problem of enforcement in a decentralised international system, and the fact of Australia's dualist legal system (meaning the separation between international and domestic spheres of law). Suffice it to say this isn't the space to go into it here, and if you're interested you should read more about international law in an academic context.

Coming back to the point, the fact is Australia is signatory to the Convention, as it is to CAT, which also shares elements with general Customary International Law jus cogens against torture which cannot be derogated from. The point is they apply and Australia recognises this. If the Australian Government wished to deny those obligations it could freely withdraw from the relevant treaties, and then lose some of the signalling status it gets from being a party to them and consequently “a good international citizen”. But, of course, it doesn't do this... Even Howard would not do this.

Andrew Bartlett said...

Harry asked two questions:

1. Are the statistical claims wrong - did Howard increase the admission of immigrants and refugees or not?

I didn't intend to suggest this claim was wrong - apologies if I gave that inference. Mr Howard's government very substantially increased the immigration intake, and slightly increased the size of the offshore humanitarian program (some but not all of who are assessed to be refugees). I support both those actions.

2. Are you talking about illegal migrants - 'boatpeople' who some regarded as queue jumpers?

The term 'illegal migrant' is an innaccurate one, as people interested in the facts of this issue would know. The term 'queue jumper' is also false, and a perjorative one at that. Australia's offshore humanitarian program does not operate on the basis of 'time in the queue' (or ranking greatest need for that matter).

In any case, it is certainly not wrong to say that in regards to those asylum seekers who are often described as boat people, the Howard government "pulled up the shutters when it came to our proper international obligations." Your original post suggested Mr Rudd's comment to this effect was either a conscious lie or at the least a statement with no regard for the truth.

For the sake of completeness, I note that for whatever reasons of logic or policy (or politics), people who seek asylum in Australia who are already in the community before they lodge a claim are usually not subjected to the same harsh and unnecessary breaches of basic human and legal rights.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, you're correct that Labor has a poor record on treatment of refugees.

However, Howard and his government continued that poor treatment. The Pacific Solution was a shamefull episode.

Both parties deserve criticism there. It's a shame you're only willing to criticize one.


conrad said...


if its the unhcr stuff ( you are talking about, then its pretty clear Australia (let alone other countries who are members) is already in breach of multiple Articles, so it's pretty clear that the way we treat refugees is not based on international law (or suggested UN norms) and indeed is unlikely to be in the obvious future. Hence pointing to such laws isn't a very strong argument as to what Australia (and everyone else for that matter) is doing. It also shows the problem of dissociations between UN idealism and reality.

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