Whoever said time changes everything was not talking about our offshore detention policies. I wrote this at our last election in 2013 and a whole government later it is still relevant today…
It’s been labeled the race to the bottom. Who can come up with the most inhumane action against those who need our humanity. For over a decade now Australians have been given a relentless number count of how many people have arrived on our shores by boats from Indonesia. According to the Liberal National Party (LNP) they are illegal, despite the fact that seeking asylum is legal.
Regardless, this oversight has strategically allowed the LNP to inflame the debate over how Australia handles this delicate issue. And it is a strategy the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has fallen for. While they do not call asylum seekers illegal, their policies are treating them as criminals.
But in this election how big of an issue is this?
Sure the numbers of those fleeing to Australia have escalated. I hazard to guess that is because we are in an election campaign. People smugglers would be using it as a ploy to get people here before there is a change of government (and policy).
However what are the real issues for us?
Climate change, education, cuts to education or single parent support, parental leave, marriage equality?
According to the ABC’s Vote Compass asylum seekers are the second most important election. My guess is that the issue with voters is not so much their arrival, but how we as a country are treating them when they get here.
Vote Compass does an analysis of this. The way the debate has been framed takes the humanity out of the discussion. It is either about border control and defence, the people smugglers, or people risking their lives in leaky boats.
I despise the idea that there are people profiting from others sorrow. That they would risk the lives of the most vulnerable by piling them like sardines on unworthy sea vessels to cross a treacherous ocean. But I think I despise more this idea we are facing a national catastrophe and the only way to deal with it is to punish the innocent.
The Greens have humanised the subject and talk about the right to seek asylum. On the other hand the ALP and LNP have created policies that tackle how to treat people when they get here or how to stop them leaving Indonesia. Unlike the Greens, neither party talks about processing people in border countries where they are fleeing nor do they mention increasing the intake of refugees.
The saddest part of all is that if they all put their heads together and genuinely tried to work through the issue, they would find no one party has the answer. But they all just may have bits that could work. Until then, claiming one extreme will work over another is just polarising the debate.
I’m sure if we stopped asking Australian voters how big of an issue this is for them and actually asked them what really is important, we would see a very different answer.
If a journo stopped me on the street and said do you think asylum seekers are a threat to our country? I would say no more than Tony Abbott or Kevin Rudd.
Seriously, when I wake in the morning I worry more about getting out the front door in time. That my son is fed well, is warm and about to receive care and love from the child care workers I am about to entrust him to.
When I am at work I’m more worried about how my small business will manage its clients and onerous administration and compliance. Then when I get home I worry about how much energy is being used to heat my home.
And when I turn on my TV and the headline is how many asylum seekers arrived by boat today, my first thought is thank god they got here safe. Now I’m sorry for what is to come.
First published on Discordia, August 2013