Despite my disagreement with many of his actions and policies, I believe John Howard – in the main – acted on his beliefs to make Australia a better country.
I’m having a harder time coming to this position with Prime Minister Abbott. As someone who believes politicians improve society and the lives of people within it, this is disappointing.
What does ‘Team Australia‘ actually mean? If it means “you don’t migrate to this country unless you want to join our team”, what does that mean? Determining a neat set of social norms and formal rules for the “team” is not apparent in reality. Inequality, unemployment, intolerance. These are tangible matters heavily affecting how people view their position in society.
Presumably, these slogans and statements are intended to bring together. Yet they also have the ability to blur the lines between an Australian society accepting of difference and a country more homogeneous in nature. Promoting unity is important for a sense of community. But this requires care and nuance and context. None of this is evident in the Prime Minister’s words.
In a society where our differences are like shadows, flickering in uncertain light, we are all poorer for it. I think the way this has occurred and the inability to put a political argument against it (who is against ‘Team Australia’?) is a bad outcome. I’m glad Tim Soutphommasane is asking the right questions.
In another Coalition statement, Scott Morrison said:
“It was extremely disappointing that up to 4,000 applicants waiting in the queue missed out on places in this program (the Special Humanitarian Program), and that their places were being taken up by those who had arrived illegally by boat. This practice has ended under the Abbott Government.”
Morrison was talking about 4,400 protection visas (under the Special Humanitarian Program) which have been allocated for Syrians and Iraqis who are fleeing violence.
In the SMH article linked to, the journalist does an admirable job of reminding the reader that under the last government, there were 20,000 people provided with protection visas in 2012-13. This number has been reduced by the Abbott government to 13,750. For those counting at home, that’s 6,250 less.
Further, Minister Morrison did not elaborate on what the difference is between a Syrian or Iraqi fleeing violence by entering an officially-designated UNHCR camp and by boat via Malaysia and Indonesia. This is not an irrelevant question to the policy at hand. These are the opportunities to make the case for Australia’s asylum policy framework but they are ignored in favour of rhetoric.
Refugee advocates rightly call out this behaviour. However there is something even more odious which went unsaid.
The violence in Syria and Iraq is being used as the context to make this decision. This violence is highly regrettable. This policy decision is perhaps the right thing to do (a utilitarian would argue otherwise)
However when Scott Morrison uses this situation to make an explicit political point about previous government policy, he concedes the benefit of the doubt on whether he is acting because it is the right thing to do. He is playing politics born of violence.
There is little Australia can realistically do to help the situations in Syria and Iraq. Taking more refugees is one small way to assist. Making political hay out of this is highly regrettable and highlights the depth of our malaise on asylum policy in Australia.