Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reason, War and Refugees

A recent article on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's, (ABC's) website by Kellie Tranter raises some interesting questions on the whole debate concerning the arrival of refugees to Australian shores. Ms Tranter's article points to some fairly basic facts underlying the recent increase in arrivals by boat, facts that go to a causal connection between hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq and the dangerous passage of those seeking asylum across vast distances in barely seaworthy vessels.

The logic is quite simple. Australian soldiers are currently deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan undertaking duties associated with campaign objectives that are articulated by the Australian Government on regular occasions. Our Prime Minister has, in the past, been quick to alert the public to the ever present danger being faced by our soldiers as a result of activities in both those countries. He has also drawn a link between the need to persist with efforts in Afghanistan and the potential for domestic terrorist activity in Australia if the campaign to eliminate Taliban activity is in Afghanistan fails to conclude successfully. Clearly he believes that a democratised Afghanistan is preferable to one dominated by a theocratic autocracy in Kabul. A shame then that our actions seem to be supporting the ambitions of the incumbent Prime Minister, Hamid Karzai, who has most recently been accused of mental instability and drug addiction. It would be wrong to conclude that these assertions are accurate, given the obvious lack of evidence and the source of the accusations, but it is clear that Karzai has been behaving erratically for some time. Setting this aside, it is interesting that the Australian public are being told that conditions in Afghanistan, and Iraq, are dangerous and unstable.

What makes this an interesting observation? Well, in the face of this we have Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, he of the 'heinously red budge smugglers', asserting that the increase in arrivals by boat is essentially a question of weakened border protection policies introduced by the Rudd Labor Government. Constant criticism has been levied at adjustments, largely minor in constuction, to statutory instruments that govern immigration policy in Australia. One of the most regrettable features of the Rudd Government's legislative reform programme has been its apparent inability to seriously and demonstrably alter the former immigration regime established by the Howard Government, despite early indications that serious reform was planned. The Leader of the Opposition is adamant that any increase in asylum seeking arrivals should be attributed to current Government policy without exception.

So, where does this leave the Opposition. Well, clearly, and logically, the corollary of this argument is that Afghanistan and Iraq are essentially peaceful and that asylum seekers are merely taking advantage of loosened regulation and border protection to seek a new life for themselves. One would think that this would, logically, result in calls for the withdrawal of Australian forces from both theatres; but this does not appear to be the intention, or indeed the conclusion being drawn by the Opposition Leader. In fact, on 9 December 2009, Abbott suggested that Australia should not rule out sending more troops to Afghanistan. Surely if there is no imperative for Afghan asylum seekers to leave Afghanistan in search of a safe harbour there is, consequently, no reason for any elevation of Australian military engagement there? Or am I missing something?

For Abbott and his colleagues to claim that Afghan, and indeed Iraqi, asylum seekers are essentially opportunitists seeking to exploit less overtly oppressive border control statutory measures is utterly disingenuous. For Abbott the insistence that this is the case is sounding thin, a mere dog whistle that will, eventually, lead to the conclusion that his assessment of both military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq and his professed position on asylum seekers from both countries is inconsistent and, indeed, contradictory. If Abbott wishes to be seen as right about asylum seekers, he cannot logically call for a continuation of military intervention in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Conversely, if he calls for increases in the Australian commitment to either theatre he needs to resile from his current position on asylum seekers and admit that his assertions regarding increasing arrivals and Government policy are totally incorrect.

What's more, if he fails to admit his conceit he should be roundly condemned. An apology to those seeking asylum is in order Mr Abbott; I wonder if you can find it in your heart to issue such an apology?