By Malcom Fraser, via http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/abbotts-evil-policy-work-20120617-20hzs.html
The Coalition’s latest asylum seeker plan is inhumane and lacks integrity.
Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison recently stood in front of Australia and proudly presented the Coalition’s plan to “ensure integrity and restore confidence in refugee assessment”. There is not much to be proud about in this policy. The announcement was based on misinformed and misleading information that plays straight into the unfounded public fear of asylum seekers.
How can you “restore integrity” to the policy affecting asylum seekers when the proposals embraced are based on falsehoods, misinformation and a blatant playing of politics with the lives of vulnerable people? This is the opposite of integrity. It is inhumane and demeans Australia. Is this the basis on which Abbott will operate if he, as he believes he will, becomes prime minister?
Australia has a robust and effective legal system to assess whether or not someone is a refugee. Declaring that a tougher and more rigorous process is required ignores the fact that we do not have an asylum seeker problem and we have not lost control of our borders.
In 2010-11, 4730 asylum seekers arrived by boat. During the same period, more than 13 million people crossed our borders and arrived in Australia; 4730 out of 13.9 million is not a “system vulnerable to abuse”. Instead of restoring “integrity and public confidence”, the Coalition’s policy is detrimental to people seeking asylum, breaches our obligations under the Refugee Convention and appears to work from the position of the assumption of guilt.
The most effective way to restore integrity and public confidence in asylum seeker policy is through strong leadership, myth busting and accurate information. Not to present a policy that is the closest thing to evil you can get. A policy that is full of misinformation.
To begin, Abbott referred to “illegal boat arrivals” — yet we have been reminded numerous times that it is not illegal to seek asylum, regardless of mode of arrival. How can we expect the public to know facts such as this when a possible future prime minister of Australia doesn’t?
One of the main points of the Coalition policy is to introduce an independent Integrity Commissioner for Refugee Status Assessment. Yet the current administrative arrangements in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship already include rigorous assessment of applications, plus summaries of trends and totals. The Coalition’s proposed six-monthly audits would add little that is new and would undermine an existing, robust government department.
Another major part of the policy is to draw an unfavourable inference about an applicant’s identity if they arrive without documents. The reference to “90 per cent of arrivals having no documents whatsoever” is a blatant attempt to mislead the public. A footnote refers to a budget estimates hearing relating to asylum seekers arriving without a passport. But arriving without a passport is not the same as arriving with no documents “whatsoever”. While people may arrive without a passport, it does not mean they do not have other identity documents.
There are numerous reasons people arrive without a passport: they may not have one, they have had to hand it over to people smugglers, or they have panicked and destroyed it because it is their identity that has caused persecution, torture and imprisonment in the past. Further to this, to prove an asylum seeker is a refugee, identity documents must be provided – therefore there is no way to be found to be a refugee without any documents. This is not indicative of a system “wide open to abuse” or one in which assessors are forced to make a “best guess”.
The reason nine out of 10 people who arrive by boat receive visas is that they have proved they are refugees. They have provided identifying documents and have proved that owing to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” they are unable to return to their home country. Fear that has forced them to flee and seek protection in Australia. Protection that, as signatories to the Refugee Convention, we are obliged to offer and should be proud to offer.
Asylum seekers are not granted refugee status because they do not have documents or are cheating a vulnerable system. The presumption that people who arrive in Australia seeking our protection are trying to cheat our system is offensive.
As a final indication of the value of this policy, it refers to section 49A of the Migration Act. There is no section 49A.
This policy lacks substance and needs to be seen for what it is — opportunistic and based on misinformation. It fuels an unfounded fear and ignores what asylum seeker policy should be based on — humanity.
One thing Abbott is right about is that integrity needs to be restored — but not with the system, as he asserts. What is missing is integrity in the presentation of information and integrity in our politicians and their policies.
The race to the bottom of the barrel in the asylum seeker debate continues and, with this policy, Tony Abbott is winning.
Malcolm Fraser was Liberal prime minister from 1975 to 1983.
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