Events of the last few weeks demonstrate the extent to which, if it goes unchallenged, cruel refugee policy will be the bipartisan standard. The Campus Refugee Action Collective (CRAC) held a pro-refugee speak-out outside opposition leader Bill Shorten’s pre-budget address on campus in recent weeks, where we spoke to many attendees, including Labor members, about the need to end offshore processing. After his address however, Shorten made clear that a Labor government in power would be determined to stop the boats. He even refused to rule out boat turn-backs. Shorten uses the same flawed ‘saving lives at sea’ argument as the Liberals. Stopping boats doesn’t save lives, it kills.
Treasurer Joe Hockey seems to think stopping the boats has a somewhat different effect. After the recent budget, Hockey said that the Liberals’ “have stopped the boats…As a result, we are saving more than $500m from closing unnecessary detention centres and…the costs of processing new boat arrivals.” Savings certainly could be made by closing unnecessary detention centres: refugees could be welcomed and processed in the community, saving the government more than $7 billion on offshore detention.
Instead, the Liberals’ real strategy for saving ‘costs’ is to bully and bribe our poorer neighbours. Alongside a coincidental $40 million “aid” packet, Australia has hitched a deal with Cambodia for refugee resettlement. CRAC held a forum on campus last week to expose the true nature of the ‘Cambodia solution’. Cambodia is the 48th poorest nation in the world and has repeatedly refouled refugees– a group of Uighur refugees, from Muslim minority persecuted by Chinese govt. were sent back to China– the next day China handed over $1 billion in aid.
The Cambodia deal is essentially a way for the government to plug up the holes in its offshore processing system which has been in crisis since day one. But the contradictions in the government’s policy are insurmountable – the boats continue to arrive, because asylum seekers are just as desperate now as they were before. We should not be shifting our responsibilities on to desperately poor countries, effectively bribing them to cooperate with Australia to undermine international human rights treaties.
The Campus Refugee Action Collective is campaigning to end offshore processing and mandatory detention. To turn the tide on public opinion and pull down the fences, we need to build the campaign everywhere. We encourage all students to get involved with us – we meet every Monday 11am in the SRC.