Tuesday 14 August 2012


This is Australia. Today.

Today was a triumph of faux conscience and political expedience over actual compassion and humanity. The vast majority of mainstream reaction to the Houston panel’s report and the Gillard government response showed that we now see a Pacific Style solution as necessary to save lives, which is quite an amazing act of cognitive dissonance. We are now so disconnected from reality that taking legitimate refugees off shore for an unknown period of detention is seen as a gift to them.

Perhaps, as Jon Kudelka suggested on Twitter, we actually asked the panel the wrong question. It seems they were asked “how can we make this problem go away (politically)?” To which the logical response is, I guess, “give the Opposition everything they want, but do with the backing of an expert panel”. This game of call and answer has no provision for ethics or humanitarian obligation, obviously.

There are really two great pieces I recommend you read on this subject, and in some ways they reflect on the question of what the panel were hoping to achieve and how the government has immediately responded. It’s clear that the government had already saddled the horse and were just waiting for the panel to give it a wee smack.

Here’s Waleed Aly on the nature of “the problem”.

And the always fantastic Bernard Keane at Crikey on life at the arse end of “least worst” policy making. Oh, and please, please listen to this fantastic This American Life episode from back in 2003 on Nauru and the reason it is such an amenable dumping ground for our uncomfortable problems.

Otherwise, I think today belonged to the cartoonists. Jon Kudelka’s terrific (and horrific) expert Gillard makeover is here. And Tandberg gives everyone a serve too.

And heere’s my effort on today’s proceedings…



  1. Martin Jones (@m_jns)

    Cheers for the links to the Aly and Keane pieces; both worthwhile reads.

    I have a minor quibble with Aly, when he writes:
    “In order to deter boat people we must subject them to circumstances worse than those they are fleeing.”
    Well, no: we just have to make the maritime route less attractive than the alternative we’d prefer. Despite that error, though, I agree with the majority of his article.

    Keane raises great points about morality, but also confuses me a little: he talks about detention, which the panel was clear to state it doesn’t want. He also raises the moral problem of “actively harming” people who haven’t committed a crime (i.e. asylum seekers found to be refugees who then still have to wait around before entering Australia), but later writes that the conditions in Naura would be preferable for many to those they currently experience.

    I guess it’s possible for the two notions to co-exist, but I don’t know how bad I should feel about “actively harming” people in a non-detention facility to the extent that they prefer it to their refugee camps in Malaysia etc. I guess it depends on how bad the conditions on Nauru and Manus Island will be, and whether or not the policies work.

    • therevmountain

      I think re: Aly (and to be fair, his article was written before the panel’s report was release) that he has a point – people will continue to arrive by boat, or plane, or however, while there is something to flee from. And most regional processing systems (ie. the way we’d prefer they come) are not the most pleasant of places. Unless we create a similar situation (or buy plane tickets for refugees), it’s probably still going to be attractive.

      The panel’s processing centres can’t really be understood as anything but detention though, can they? Or are we going to make little mini-sub states where people live prior to coming to Australia proper? But you’re right, he does sound confused on the difference of conditions and what exactly is worse exactly is worse for asylum seekers.

      I think on-shore processing, and a change in attitude to our perceived hardship would of course be the best solution… but it’s clear that’s not going to happen. I guess we can just hope that the panel’s suggestions on the conditions in these facilities are actually followed and policed.

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