The Politics    Monday, May 18, 2015

Bad example

By Michael Lucy

Bad example
Turning back asylum seekers is becoming popular, with tragic results

More than 6000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi asylum seekers are stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea, abandoned by the people-smugglers who ran the boats, after authorities in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia turned them away. The Rohingya, a Muslim people from the west of Myanmar, are one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

The UN has called on the government of Myanmar to end its discrimination against the Rohingya, and has urged governments in the region to assist the stranded boats. Survivors from one boat, which spent months at sea before being rescued by Indonesian fishermen last week, report murders over dwindling supplies on board. The Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian governments are all adamant that the dying people are not their problem. The government of Myanmar insists that it too is not to blame.

Tony Abbott doesn’t see much wrong here: he says that turning back boats is “almost certainly absolutely necessary if the scourge of people smuggling is to be beaten”. It’s almost as though he sees the unfolding catastrophe as a vindication of his own government’s decision to exercise inhuman cruelty towards asylum seekers as a deliberate tool of deterrence.

Human rights, like the UN refugee convention and the rest of the postwar international apparatus that tried to make “never again” a reality, will only ever mean anything in the context of an international community that upholds them. Aside from the direct human cost, a sad knock-on effect of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is that we have lost any authority we might once have had to call for other countries to hold to agreed standards of behaviour. As Greg Sheridan put it at the weekend, “a lot of nations are now looking at Australia’s policy success”.

Thailand has called a regional summit to address the issue on 29 May. It’s not clear how many of the people stranded on those boats – or even those who have been rescued – will still be alive by then.

Closer to home, pregnant asylum seekers on Nauru have made makeshift toilets and are drinking less water to avoid long walks to existing toilets. Also, Nauru police are investigating the apparent assault of an Iranian asylum seeker outside the detention centre.

The Fairfax papers are very excited about a poll showing a two-party-preferred vote of 50–50. Newspoll puts the number at 53–47 to Labor. All polls agree that more people are dissatisfied than satisfied with Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten.

An agreement has been reached to cut the Renewable Energy Target to 33,000 gigawatt hours. The Australian Solar Council has warned that as a consequence it will campaign against the Coalition at the next election.

Joe Hockey has suggested that government ministers who accessed government-funded paid parental leave may have been kept in the dark about it by their wives.

The influence of lobbyists in Canberra is reaching dangerous levels, writes John Menadue, a former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, former Qantas CEO and former general manager of News Ltd.

The chairman of ASIC has warned of the possible housing price bubble in Sydney and Melbourne, as the Reserve Bank suggests that it may not have finished cutting interest rates.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Michael Lucy

Michael Lucy is a writer based in Melbourne.


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