My first quick reaction to the PM's Malaysian proposal, Gillard's refugee deal, was positive as one step in a possible broader solution. That reaction is not shared by many of my blogging colleagues. See, for example:
- Gillard’s Malaysia solution
- The Asylum Debate–No edification, but lots of soul destruction
- When you have a choice between the uninspired and the unspeakable….
Given this, I thought that I would set out the principles/issues that underlay my reaction simply and without supporting argument:
- The Howard Government's refugee policies were part of a pattern of behaviour that, at the end, swung me against that Government. The refugee policy may have stopped the boats, but it came at a high human cost and was (as I saw it) part of a progressive dehumanisation of Government.
- The initial policies of the new Labor Government may or may not have been sensible, but they were a reaction to Howard Government policies. However, Labor then became trapped in the political get tough rhetoric. Just as Mr Howard's policies ignored key regional dynamics, so East Timor regional processing got thrown in without thought.
- The Howard policy was simple. Make things tough at this end and we stop the boats. Mr Abbott's single minded rhetoric on the issue has been effective only because of apparent failures in Labor policy, as well as Labor's failure to articulate a clear alternative approach.
- Both the Howard and, to a degree, the Rudd-Gillard approach were crafted for domestic consumption and really didn't take into account broader issues.
- The refugee problem is complex. Further, the problems that countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia face are large compared to ours in terms of numbers and resources.
Turning now to the specifics that guided my instinctive reaction:
- There is no such thing as perfection.
- For a number of reasons including politics and humanity, we have to stop the boats. We have two choices: we can go the Abbott/Howard route or an alternative. None of those attacking the Gillard proposal have really put forward an alternative. If the current opinion polls continue, Mr Abbott may well win the next election.
- The Government is, I think, reaching towards a regional framework that will provide a more sensible approach. That can only be underpinned in the end if we take more refugees.
I am well aware of issues associated with Malaysia's treatment of refugees. I am old enough, among other things, to remember the treatment of Vietnamese boat people. That, it seems to me, is a matter to be dealt with in negotiation.
Ken Parish's In Praise of Gillard’s Malaysia Solution on Club Troppo provides another perspective on the Gillard proposals.