A comment on a comment: A response to Corinne Grant and the Hoopla

The Hoopla has form when writing about immigration. As an emerging opinion site, they aim to draw eyeballs and publish what they see as fit. But this contribution from Corinne Grant today was, in part, particularly egregious.

I loosely agree the Opposition is mostly silent on anything to do with asylum policy and operations. You may or not may disagree with this as a political decision. By choosing to stay silent on these matters, the Opposition has likely made the decision that it is impossible to make distinctions and nuanced arguments in the highly charged environment of asylum policy. Personally I disagree as the implementation of Manus Island is obviously an unmitigated disaster and the case needs to be prosecuted.

While the ALP’s policy also includes offshore processing and resettlement, I’m sure the Richard Marles and Bill Shorten firmly believe they would have handled the implementation of the PNG policy (and Australia’s relationship with Indonesia) more carefully, resulting in improved policy outcomes. If this is the case, they should be making this case as strongly as possible.

However the following are paragraphs where Grant goes beyond simply voicing an alternative point of view:

The ALP need to stand for something real. They need to ditch the lame talking points and slogans and say the PNG Solution was wrong and must be abandoned. A man has died directly as a result of this policy. What the hell else needs to happen before ALP ministers stop protecting their own political arses and do the right thing?

Surely no-one could still be buying the whole ‘we just don’t want to see people drown’ bullshit. If you care that much about them, why lump them in facilities where they get stoned to death and shot at?

There is something extremely upsetting about this attitude of how governments make policy decisions based solely on political calculus.

While Grant may find it hard to comprehend, many people do still “buy” the argument about people drowning at sea. This is because it happens, frequently. Here are the official figures from the International Organisation for Migration for 2012 and 2013 for estimates of migrant deaths at sea:

South Pacific Christmas Island 214 242
Mediterranean Lampedusa, Malta, Lefkada 707 711
U.S. / Mexico Border Arizona, Texas 444 477
Caribbean Haiti-Bahamas 81 79
Bay of Bengal Coast of Thailand 785 500
North Africa Niger 129
Africa / Middle East Various unknown unknown
Total 2360 2109

I’m unsure if many progressives believe these numbers. They are real people, dying in ever increasing numbers since the start of the 21st century.

Governments and senior public servants operate in a global environment when making immigration policy. The death of an Iranian asylum seeker on PNG is tragic. It should never have occurred as he was owed a duty of care by the Australian government and those employed by the government to care for him.

But reacting out of emotion in the moment does nothing to build a more comprehensive policy in the future. This is especially the case if we ignore everything except for this incident. The ALP has a complicated, sad recent history on asylum policy. It is nothing to be proud of as a member, but it is driven by a desire to stop people dying.

The PNG Solution is far from perfect. The death of a young man highlights this unlike anything else. However a proper regional solution with cooperation between multiple states, including a role for PNG, is a valid policy option. There is a difference between a poorly implemented PNG policy and one implemented with care, nuance and the appropriate resources. Unfortunately this is a policy stuck to choose the least worst option.

In conjunction with other policy changes, it is far from ‘lame’ or a ‘dodgy deal’. Specifically, by raising the humanitarian intake to 20,000 – up from 13,750 where the Abbott government has reduced it to – the ALP have taken concrete steps to increase Australia’s humanitarian assistance.

It is entirely reasonable to have a policy debate – we need more of them in this country. But impugning a policy and the people who believe in it by ignoring serious consequences does nothing to help public debate.

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