It’s 10 years since 438 refugees were picked up in international waters by the Norwegian freighter, the MV Tampa. It was a dark piece of Australian political history — the question is, has much really changed?
Former Liberal Federal Leader John Hewson says, when it comes to immigration, both sides of politics are in a race to the bottom. In a forthright interview he says he thinks there’s always been a latent racism in Australia and 10 years ago John Howard did play the race card to win the election, based on the Tampa incident, with no concern for the welfare of the people concerned.
The Centre for Policy Development (CPD) argues that the issue needs to rise above politics: there needs to be a circuit-breaker in our treatment of people seeking asylum from war and persecution. The CPD’s plan is for an independent commission that can facilitate informed debate away from the direct influence of politics. They also call for a phasing out of mandatory detention — all applications should be processed in 30 days — with the money saved used to provide better settlement services for new arrivals.
The approach is outlined in A New Approach – Breaking the Stalemate on Refugees and Asylum Seekers, published by the Centre for Policy Development, and supported by a broad range of prominent Australians, including John Hewson.
Change requires a broad education program, particularly for our politicians. We might need a changing of the guard on both sides of politics, although, as we discuss, Julia Gillard could shift her approach and claim the moral high ground on this issue — after all, what’s she got to lose?