Viewed without thought for the politics, it is fantastic to see Labor breaking from its recent tradition of rubber-stamping Coalition border policies to reject the recent proposal for a lifetime travel ban for any refugee that arrives here by sea.
I have stated repeatedly (along with the UN, Amnesty, parliamentary committees, our own Human Rights Commission and a chorus of prominent health professionals) that the treatment of refugees in the offshore processing centres that we spend billions on- but take no responsibility for- is abhorrent.
And while the ALP’s recent rejection of legislation that would seem to contravene international law is, at best, a baby step away from the bipartisan cruelty to refugees we have come to expect; it is encouraging to see the opposition emboldened enough to differentiate itself from the government even this much on this issue. I suspect the Australian people can only be led towards some change in this area very slowly anyway.
However, as right as the decision is, I have to wonder whether it is exactly what the government was hoping for. The Coalition has a long an effective history of fostering and exploiting our fears around refugees through exaggeration and outright deceit stretching back to Howard’s lies about the ‘Children overboard.’
It doesn’t take much imagination or a long memory to picture the kind of scare campaigns that will be used by the Coalition and their supporters. Suddenly those who have shown no compassion or interest in the fate of refugees will start to sound very sanctimonious talking about drownings at sea and the depravity of people smugglers. The unscrupulous journalists of News Corp won’t let truth or context get in the way of their cheerleading on this debate either, creating an undercurrent of fear that many people can get swept along in.
So sadly I cannot greet this news with the unbridled enthusiasm I should. I wouldn’t condemn the poor souls on Manus and Nauru to another three years of suffering to improve our chances of removing this corrupt, homophobic, Trump-like government. However a part of me does worry the ALP has now exposed a chink for the selfish and the fearful to exploit.
Let’s be honest. On current evidence around the globe it seems people will vote for anything if you play to their fears.