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Dec 21, 2011

Its time to fix the boatpeople problem now.

Cartoon: By Pickering.

The unfolding news of the latest refugee boat sinking highlights the need to find a proper solution to the need to prevent people smuggling activities once and for all. As if the Christmas Island disaster was not enough, this one has the potential to rack up as many as 200 lives lost if some of the figures are correct.

Given the weather and sea conditions, and the state of the ship at the time of departure, the organizers of this boatload had little concern for the welfare of either the crew or the refugees taking the trip. There is little doubt that even with the cyclone season starting, these people will keep sending the boats out as long as they can get people to pay and crews to man them.

The lack of an effective policy to prevent this activity has been caused by Labor, which threw out the unpopular but effective Pacific Solution put in place by the Howard government. Labor were attempting to appease the Greens on this issue and appear to have been genuinely stupid enough to believe their own propaganda which insisted that the boats had simply stopped coming and the Howard legislation had nothing to do with it.

After the Christmas Island disaster the government offered the opposition a ‘bipartisan’ deal, which Abbott agreed to discuss. Unfortunately this turned out to be grandstanding and the only option given was the government package with a complete refusal to consider the opposition’s proposals, after which Gillard painted Abbott as a wrecker.

This has come back to bite them, as with the Greens refusing to compromise, Labor needs opposition support. Such support is not likely to be forthcoming unless a reasonable deal is put on the table to discuss. Abbott is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but is not going to be caught a second time by the same stunt.

Meanwhile the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen is slamming the Greens:

Mr Bowen, struggling for a policy response to an ongoing flood of asylum-seeker boats arriving off northern Australia, described the Greens yesterday as "naive and out of touch" after the party's leader, Bob Brown, insisted offshore processing was no deterrent to people-smuggling.

The minister's comments came as government sources confirmed that they expected hundreds of asylum-seekers to enter Australia by boat over the coming holiday period and warned of a repeat of last weekend's sinking of an overloaded boat off Indonesia, in which as many as 200 Middle Eastern asylum-seekers headed for Australia drowned.

The tragedy continued to dominate political discourse yesterday as Labor and the Coalition parties insisted onshore processing was acting as a beacon to people-smugglers but remained deadlocked about the location for an offshore regime.
It is difficult to understand how Brown can make the claim that offshore processing was no deterrent to people-smuggling, given the fact it worked under Howard. In any case its time to bang a few heads together and get something done to fix the problem before another disaster occurs.

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