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Issue #1750      September 28, 2016

Turnbull’s shameful refugee charade

Prime Minister Turnbull appeared assured and relaxed during his recent visit to New York. The representative of the US’s most submissive ally was well received and his statements given an enthusiastic hearing. His boasts about Australia’s migration and refugee policies were taken at face value and applauded at the two refugee summits he attended.

“Addressing irregular migration, through secure borders, has been essential in creating the confidence that the government can manage migration in a way that mitigates risks and focuses humanitarian assistance on those who need it most,” he told the UN. He also claimed that the public’s “confidence” in the government’s border protection regime was safeguarding Australia’s successful multicultural society.

There was not a word about the notorious offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. There was no mention that these centres and the whole concept of “offshore processing” have been condemned as illegal and in contravention of Australia’s longstanding undertakings towards refugees. The hypocrisy was too much for detainees.

Iranian journalist refugee Behrouz Boochani spoke out from the Manus Island detention centre, calling for international pressure to end Australia’s indefinite detention regime.

“Australia’s offshore policy is not based on border protection, it is based on torture,” Boochani said. “The Australian government has kept us in this remote island for more than three years and it is clear that they don’t have any plan to settle us here.

“Please don’t allow [the] Australian government to pretend it has a good policy for refugees and please speak against this cruel policy. We hope that the world puts pressure on the Australian government to give us freedom.”

Turnbull used his time in the limelight in New York to announce a very modest increase in Australia’s refugee intake from the current 13,750 to 18,750 in three years time. Even with the increase, Australia’s annual intake is below the level of 2012, when 20,000 were given refuge.

“In a world where 65 million people are now forcibly displaced from their homes, and where more than 20 million people – half of them children – have been turned into refugees, we are not even back to where we were when Tony Abbott was elected,” World Vision Australia’s chief executive, Tim Costello, said.

Reports and leaks reveal refugees are languishing in camps characterised by systemic physical violence, sexual predation, punitive conditions and endemic rates of self-harm. Connect, the company running the camp on the prison island of Nauru, has had enough. It has announced that it will not re-tender to provide services. And Turnbull’s successful multicultural society is coming under enormous pressure.

Just one week after Senator Pauline Hanson’s appalling first “swamped by Muslims” speech to parliament, a poll has shown that 49 percent of respondents supported a ban on Muslim migration with only 40 percent opposing the idea. Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek claimed in the media that the result shows a lack of leadership on the issue. That conclusion is generous and wrong.

Howard, Abbott and now Turnbull have stoked the flames of fear and mistrust with their “we will decide” and “stop the boats” rhetoric. They are mild in their rebukes of bigots and their hate speech. They are happy that more reactionary party colleagues are pushing for the repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which outlaws racial vilification.

Most shameful of all is continued Australia’s involvement in US-created conflicts that throw up masses of refugees, such as in Iraq and Syria. And, as history shows, the suffering and displacement doesn’t end when the shooting officially stops. During his New York visit, Turnbull undertook to take refugees from camps in Costa Rica – people fleeing violence in countries like Guatemala and Honduras. Countries in the region have never recovered from decades of US-backed dictatorship, death squads and wars against the people that reached their peak in the ‘80s.

Governments like Turnbull’s won’t give up their commitment to the US and its military and economic strategy willingly. They are the paid servants of that global imperialist system and, honeyed words about “tolerance” notwithstanding, they know its survival depends on keeping its opponents divided and distracted. They have made some advances in this cause lately and it is up to us to stem the hateful tide and boost the opposition to racism and war.

Next article – Childcare educators’ action on pay

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