Make no mistake, the Malaysia people swap deal is a dog. There is a reason why the High Court found it to be illegal. In Malaysia, asylum seekers are treated worse than second-class citizens. They are routinely detained, and caned. On human rights grounds, critics are right to oppose the deal.
But… Tony Abbott should allow it to go ahead.
If members of the Australian public don’t realise that Labor is to blame for the surge in boat arrivals, they should. The Government struggles (refuses) to admit its mistake in dismantling the Howard Government’s border protection policies. But the devastating consequences are there for all to see; four consecutive years of asylum seeker arrivals in the thousands, and several shocking tragedies (that we know about) – including one which claimed around 90 lives last week.
The point has been proven. It’s time to move on.
So what is going to be done to stop the boats?
(For the sake of this argument, all options put forward by people who don’t advocate a serious deterrent have been dismissed, either because they are naïve or because they live in a strange world where they think it’s humane to let people die at sea.)
The Opposition is refusing to compromise with the government, insisting its old policies are the only way to go – namely offshore processing in Nauru, temporary protection visas (TPVs) and the option of turning back the boats. The theory goes that they worked once and they will work again.
The Immigration Department begs to differ. (Then again, what value is its advice if it did not foresee the surge in arrivals caused by ending the Pacific Solution?)
The Government has other concerns. On TPVs, it says they don’t work. On ‘Turning Back the Boats’, it says the policy would lead to more tragedies because asylum seekers would sabotage their vessels. Even still, the Prime Minister has suggested she is open to discussions about making more policy concessions. There’s the glimmer of hope.
But rather than sit down to talk, Tony Abbott dismissed the offer out of hand. It’s his way or the highway. This was his big chance to show he can do more than say “no” and he should reconsider.
If Mr Abbott could extract a promise from the Government to reopen a detention centre in Nauru, reintroduce TPVs and retain the right of turning back the boats, then he should allow the Malaysia deal to proceed.
It’s a win/win for him.
If the policy fails to stop the boats, he can blame the Government. He could say he never supported it and that he only allowed it to go through in the interest of compromise and saving lives. Furthermore, he could claim that it undermined the effectiveness of his policies, and accuse the Government of botching their implementation.
If the policy does stop the boats, he can take the credit. He could say it only worked because it was introduced in conjunction with his own policies.
Either way he wins (in a political sense at least).
If he does nothing, he may still win (in a political sense).But others will lose, their lives.
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