I generally agree with Gerard Henderson, director of the Sydney Institute, whose Weekend Australian columns customarily offer sound – if sometimes arguable – political and policy advice. He sends round a missive on Mondays (“In case you missed it”) as a prompt to those who might have. I don’t agree with his views in his column in the Weekend Australian of Feb. 13-14. And here’s why. (There’s a link to the column at the end of the post)
Yes, Gerard, I missed the boat on this one. Sorry, must pay attention.
Except (perhaps) for occasional abseilers, most people who object to the principle of offshore detention do so from a moral and ethical position that recognises the fact of informal population movement as a function of 21st century global politics. The phenomenon won’t end until the source countries of “boat people” create societies in which masses of people don’t want to leave.
In other words, don’t wait up.
I don’t think anyone seriously believes that the Australian authorities, or even the private contractors that they use to run offshore detention centres, actively set out to torture people. But the effect of isolation can be, and often is, mental torture. I don’t want people I have to vote for, or be fined for not doing so, to rattle populist drums and ignore the benefits of sentience. Nor do I want them to be bastards.
The “wave of reffos” that the political rhetoric used by those who support exclusion suggests is threatening Australia, is effectively a trickle. We’re very good at jumping at shadows and in persuading ourselves that it’s unfair to be fair.
There’s no doubt Australia faces a political and policy problem. Its near neighbour Indonesia has no real national interest in stopping the trickle of unauthorised migrants who would like to go on to Australia.
“Stopping the boats” is a rhetorical flourish. It’s ending the wider problem that Australia and the region needs to work on. Rather urgently. That will require intense diplomacy and expenditures by Australia – which doesn’t want this “unauthorised human flow” washing up in the Special Biosphere. At that end of the deal it’s Australia’s problem. No one else actually cares very much. Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.
In that situation, creating a bureaucratic excrescence that ships people off to isolated ill serviced islands and then tries to resettle them in Cambodia and other places is offensive. Well, it’s offensive to me (as generally a Liberal voter) and to a lot (though not electorally enough) other Australians.
It’s shameful, morally and ethically. That’s the bottom line. Max Weber notwithstanding.