Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Somewhere deep in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship there must be a senior bureaucrat with a sense of work ethic tearing her/his hair out at how a half-arsed report by “experts” can now set the direction of policy on asylum seekers.
The Panel’s report is a cursory affair. On the central question of whether tough measures against asylum seekers actually do prevent boat arrivals, it does little more than point to the table on boat arrivals to show that such tough measures work.
Of course, the table does no such thing. First, because when TPVs were introduced by Howard in 1999 to separate asylum seekers from their families, it was followed by a thumping spike in arrivals – partly explained by the need for the women and children to have to accompany the asylum seekers as well, as explained by former Immigration Minister, Chris Evans:
The claim that the TPV introduction halted arrivals is not supported by the evidence. … In fact, in the period after that there was a huge surge. Our figures show that in that period the percentage of women and children went from around 25 per cent to around 40 per cent. We saw more women and children taking the very perilous journey to come to Australia by unlawful boat arrivals.
Secondly, the disappearance of boats after the Pacific Solution was introduced in 2001 wasn’t because the boats were no longer coming, just that they were being diverted to Nauru and so no longer counted in the statistics as arrivals (even though most of its passengers ended up here anyway). In other words, Howard’s Pacific Solution was little more than a statistical sleight of hand believed, it seemed, by naïve “experts” and right-wing ideologues who think that politicians saying they can decide who approaches a 26,000 kilometers coastline actually means something.
The Pacific Solution stopped neither the boats nor the deaths at sea, so there is no reason to suppose its revival will either. But then the report was not about policy, but a political fix-up, It’s why we have something for everyone; Nauru, Malaysia and increased intake, all slightly undermining each other as policy, but at least all the parties can give a little, get a little.
But Howard could get away with calling his ruse a “Solution” because while the War on Terror had an impact, questions were not asked – to the extent that even the idea that refugees who had risked their lives to bring their families to a better life would chuck their kids overboard could get a bit of a run. When the War on Terror faded, so did the illusion that we will decide and Rudd could come in and tone it down accordingly.
The revival of the Pacific Solution has not come because the political environment that enabled Howard to get away with it has returned, far from it. It has come at the end of a disastrous attempt by the power brokers of the ALP to regain control of their party on the basis that they knew how to “relate” to the electorate and banging on about asylum seekers was the way to do it. That effort has now staggered last over the finishing line and left the Gillard government winding up its rationale behind an independent unelected committee to propose the type of mess that those who were elected don’t want responsibility for.
Nevertheless Gillard is stuck with it. Now she is prone to attacks from the opposition as she tries to implement a policy that won’t do what it was supposed to. And who would better know how to expose a failed policy than those who tried to implement it in the first place?
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 15 August 2012.Filed under The Australian state