The recent 7.30 Report on the riots and the awful circumstances that triggered them in Nauru and the SBS Dateline program on plight of asylum seekers previously held on Manus Island bring to the fore again the morality of holding people for extended periods, in makeshift accommodation, in out of the way places, behind razor wire. It is sickening; as is the Government using the picture of a distraught young woman to propagandise its doomed-to-ignominious-failure, so-called, PNG solution.
A civilised country cannot keep people in holding camps for long periods. Enough despots have done that without us adding to the tally. Yet that is what Mr Rudd has caused and proposes we perpetuate on Manus Island and elsewhere in PNG. This man has the hide to present himself again to Australian voters as worthy of being prime minister; and apparently many people agree. Jesus wept.
The only reason Howard’s policies worked is because they stopped asylum seekers coming; not because he locked people up behind razor wire and threw away the key. The majority ended up in Australia. Why was that feasible? It was feasible precisely because he stopped the boats.
Holding thousands of people in inhumane conditions is a sure sign that Rudd’s policies have not worked. We can’t keep people in inhumane conditions. It is un-Australian. It will justifiably besmirch Australia’s reputation for decades and decades to come.
Rudd undid John Howard’s successful policies and put nothing in their place. He, as prime minister at the time, is totally accountable for the deaths at sea and for inhumanely incarcerating people: men, women and children. It is worth repeating: Rudd is the man who did it, and his answer is to do more of it. He makes no apology, admits no wrong, and concedes no flaw. We cannot afford any more of him. He is a plague on Australia’s good standing in the world.
I believe in the strongest policies to protect our borders. But I draw the line at holding people in camps for years on end. Howard had strong policies. He was a strong man. His policies worked.
Rudd is a weak man. He put in place weak policies, which have sowed the seeds of misery. His weakness is evident in his refusal to accept responsibility and accountability, and to change course.
The left side of politics is notable (or notorious among conservatives) for too often implementing well-meaning policies which have unintended and damaging long-term consequences. It is the nature of the beast. However, the left does not deliberately set out to inflict damage; to harm people. It is therefore astounding and shameful that it has embraced Rudd’s PNG solution; devised, bought and paid for, purely to save Rudd’s skin. There is no great moral purpose here to mitigate the harm.
It is time for the rank and file of the Labor Party to stand up – forget the Doug Camerons and other wind vanes of the parliamentary party; they have shown how little their apparent moral principles matter – and dump Rudd and his policies, even at the cost of losing the election badly. Australia’s reputation is at stake.
As for Abbott, when in government, he should add to his well-articulated position on how he will stop the boats, by explaining exactly how he proposes to treat those already under our care, once the boats are stopped. It is untenable to keep people incarcerated for long periods. The solution is up to him, but he should come up with one, and a compassionate one. Then he will have shown that he deserved our vote.
The conservative position on illegal Mexican migration to the US provides a guide. First seal the border and then provide a passage to citizenship for those already on US soil. We can afford to be generous if we have policies to stop the boats. We cannot afford not to be.
Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics