Australia’s Labor Government worked hand in hand with the Liberal/National opposition to pass legislation to restart the offshore processing of refugees.

In particular Manus Island and Nauru will be used to house offshore processing centres. This so-called ‘Pacific Solution Mk II’ goes far beyond the discriminatory legislation introduced by the Howard government.

Refugees fleeing war and persecution will face indefinite detention on these remote Pacific islands. Under the pretext of ensuring there is “no advantage” asylum seekers arriving by boat will be forced to spend the same amount of time in detention as people waiting in refugee camps in the under-developed world. Estimates for waiting times in these camps vary from 5 to 20 years. This has all been done under the guise of stopping refugees drowning at sea.

Labor desperately wants to play on both people’s fears and compassion. It promotes policies of deterrence – basically treating asylum seekers so badly that others are afraid to make the journey – but accuses opponents of their ‘Malaysiasolution’ of sadistically playing with people’s lives for the sake of ideology. The ALP wants to have its cake and eat it too.

It is no coincidence that the ALP is painting itself as ‘tough but fair’ at this time. Languishing in the polls they are at great pains to sell their right-wing policies to the electorate as simply the pragmatic actions of a party that knows how to govern. The fragile nature of the ALP/Greens coalition has also been further exposed in this shallow debate.

The Greens were right to oppose offshore processing and to reject the ALP’s lie that with boat people you have to be cruel to be kind. But what the Greens have failed to recognise is that ordinary people’s response to refugees stems not simply from ignorance but from genuine concerns about the rising cost of living and the gap between rich and poor. Many people are asking: “If I am struggling to make ends meet wont more people just mean less to go around?” These questions need to be answered.

In relation to mandatory detention the Greens have not adequately made the point that on top of the humanitarian concerns, locking up refugees is expensive, privately run for profit and sucks funds that could be used on other public spending.

Refugees should be allowed to live in the community while their claims are processed. A fraction of the money paid to the private detention centre company Serco could be used to provide support for refugees and the rest redirected into areas that are suffering from funding shortfalls.

The ALP and the Coalition have desperately tried to distract people from the real problems they face with racist scaremongering about the alleged ‘flood of refugees’. They want to direct attention away from the economic problems that have created a situation where decent jobs, affordable homes and well-funded services are becoming more and more scarce.

So called ‘overcrowding’ is not the reason why people do not have proper access to decent jobs, affordable housing, healthcare and education. It is the economic crisis brought on by the insanity of capitalism that is responsible for job losses. Financial speculation is at the heart of high housing costs. Privatisation is what has led to the destruction of public services. People escaping war and persecution are not to blame for any of these things. Rather, it is employers, landlords, financial sharks and their Labor and Liberal representative in government who are responsible.

The issues of refugees, migration and the way that capitalism prioritises profits over all else, need to be addressed together. The call for refugee rights needs to be linked to an explanation of the problems with how wealth and resources are distributed under the current system. The truth is that if wealth was distributed more equally we would have more than enough to improve our living standards across the board and to offer much more support to asylum seekers.

Offshore processing and mandatory detention do not and cannot address the problems of displaced people. The only way to really address the issue is to change the system that creates war, poverty and refugees in the first place. A democratic socialist society based on human need rather than profit is the only way to remove conflict, to share out the wealth and to accommodate people regardless of their country of origin.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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