12/08/2013 - 06:46

Political fix in on boat arrivals

12/08/2013 - 06:46

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The so-called PNG solution is a band-aid measure designed to sweep the issue of boat people under the carpet.

Political fix in on boat arrivals

The so-called PNG solution is a band-aid measure designed to sweep the issue of boat people under the carpet.

It's amazing how politicians spring into action as soon as an election is called.

For almost its entire term the current Labor government has sat on its hands while nearly 50,000 boat people arrived on our shores.

Then, within weeks of an election, along comes the PNG solution to hopefully prop-up Labor’s prospects, despite its leadership having created the problem in the first place.

Political careers were threatened, so something had to be done.

That said, anyone believing this tactic would survive long after the election should reconsider.

It’s a stop-gap measure, something Prime Minister Kevin Rudd needed for electoral purposes.

Signs are already emerging that the PNG solution isn’t quite what Mr Rudd portrayed it as when he trumpeted the plan, and its commitment that boat arrivals will never settle in Australia.

Temporarily housing such arrivals shouldn’t be viewed as permanent acceptance by Pacific states, as has been suggested.

That difference hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

The man who first highlighted concerns at the latter was Fijian Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, who unambiguously stated the Rudd government’s asylum-seeker policy threatened the social fabric of Pacific or Melanesian island nations.

At last month’s 20th Australian-Fiji Business Forum in Brisbane, he bluntly told delegates Australia was using “its economic muscle to persuade a Melanesian country to accept thousands of people who are not Pacific Islanders into the region.”

It’s difficult to contradict this thoroughly reasonable contention.

“For an Australian problem, you have proposed a Melanesian solution that threatens to destabilise the already delicate social and economic balances in our societies,” Mr Kukuabola said.

“This deal, and those mooted with Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, clearly threatens our interests by altering the fundamental social fabric of any member country that accepts a deal.

“We are deeply troubled by the consequent threat to the stability of these countries and the wider Melanesian community by the scale of what is being envisaged.

“This was done without any consultation, a sudden and unilateral announcement, which is not the Pacific way and has shocked a great many people in the region.

“We share the horror of many in the international community at the deaths of more than 1,000 asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia.

“But we cannot remain silent when the current Australian government dumps this problem, which is arguably of its own making, on our doorstep.”

Although Mr Kubuabola said he respected the PNG government’s right to enter such a deal, this was done to solve an Australian domestic, meaning electoral, problem “for short-term political gain, without proper consideration of the long-term consequences”.

Long-term consequences here means Mr Kubuabola fears Canberra risks targeting a range of Melanesian countries whose delicate ethnic, religious, and cultural make-ups could be overturned if large numbers of people from South Central Asia and the Middle East were settled there, courtesy of foreign aid deals and other ‘carrots’.

Mr Kubuabola understandably suspects others are in line for foreign aid carrots, including Vanuatu and the Solomons.

And what’s stopping Polynesian nations such as Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga and perhaps even Somoa being added, and being transformed by settlers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, plus other Middle Eastern, and even East African states?

What shouldn’t be overlooked is that such carrots mean Australian taxpayers being the paymasters.

In addition to PNG, Nauru has agreed to allow entry on similar terms.

What’s interesting, however, is that Mr Rudd, in the midst of an election campaign, is selling this to voters as a permanent fix, something Nauru disagrees with.

“It will now be possible for asylum seekers to not only be processed in Nauru, if they are found to be in need of protection, they could also be settled there,” Mr Rudd said when announcing the Nauru agreement.

He went on to claim asylum-seekers would now “have the opportunity to settle and reside in Nauru”.

Nauru government spokeswoman Joanna Olsen disagreed, however, saying resettlement of such people wasn’t on the table.

“Permanent settlement is not allowed – that is correct,” Ms Olsen said.

The prospect of a long-term stay on the island was possible while recognised refugees waited for a third country to accept them.

“But it’s not permanent and there’s no chance of citizenship, either”, she added.

“They can stay here until the processing finishes and then (they are) relocated.”

Clearly there are sizeable differences in how the agreement is viewed – and I don’t believe Ms Olsen is pulling our leg.

If Mr Rudd’s line is correct, why did Treasurer Chris Bowen’s recent budget statement show more than $100 million allocated for new detention facilities at Singleton, NSW, and Blaydin Point, near Darwin, each with a capacity for 1,000 detainees?


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