The stalemate in Australia’s federal politics over the issue of processing asylum seekers offshore must surely make every citizen feel sick and disillusioned, regardless of whether your ideology lies to the left or right.
Today’s evolving story is that yet another overloaded boat has capsized north of Christmas Island. 150 Afghan asylum seekers, all of which are believed to be women and children are now dealing with a horrifically fatal scenario. If the events of today and the past week fail to reach some sort of compromise or stopgap then or political system has truly sunk to the very bottom of morality and leadership.
The failings of Labor’s policy have become glaringly obvious, its inability to protect the safety and the lives of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people need to be addressed. Just as the unbelievably harsh policies of the Pacific Solution needed to be wound back. Finding the middle ground has never been harder. On one hand the aim of deterring people from risking their lives on failing boats and being exploited by people smugglers and on the other is treating asylum seekers humanely and upholding their right to seek asylum. The Labor government is without doubt responsible for the current situation, in trying to create a more humane process for asylum seekers they have lured many to their deaths.
Distributing blame wont help solve the situation. The Coalition’s early rhetoric of Labor working out a deal for offshore processing with the Greens has rightly been dismissed by the media. They tried to link disagreement over policy with a lack of confidence in the government, this has rightfully been pushed to the fringes of the right’s rhetoric. The two major parties both support offshore processing and are obliged to come to some sort of solution, even if merely a stopgap. Labor has proposed the linked policy of Malaysia and Naru. Many were opposed to the Malaysia Solution because they felt it reduced human and individual lives to a trade able commodity. Punishing asylum and seekers and denying them their right to seek refuge here and instead damning them to Malaysia without an iron clad commitment to their welfare. Many still consider these to be valid criticisms of that Solution, but compared to what awaits them at sea a the moment the MS and Naru may be the lesser of two evils.
The Coalition has been been unbelievably unwillingly to cooperate. Whether out of political opportunism or because of a genuine belief that the MS wouldn’t work and that the Pacific Solution has been proven successful. Crikey’s Bernard Keane yesterday said that the Coalitions stance to was the closest thing to being evil that he has ever seen. Many would agree with this whilst others tend to believe/hope that their stance is based on the perceived success of the Howard policies and the failings of the MS. However their insistence that TPV’s be included in any agreement shows just how unwilling they are to compromise. Labor wouldn’t be likely to agree to their reintroduction and for good reason. TPV’s were a complete and utter failure, after their introduction the number of IMA increased as did the number of women and children making the voyage.
The Coalitions unwillingness to compromise on any aspect of their policy has already exposed fractures from within the party as individual members have become vocal in their demands for an end to the impasse. Externally their position will surely polarise many of the independents/centrists in the community. Make no mistake the mess we find ourselves in today is of the Labor government’s doing and it is their responsibility to see to its rectification. But the Coalition itself has a responsibility as a duly elected group to come to the table, develop a policy and represent a voice to their constituents. Their cannot be to many conservatives happy with the status quo. Holding out whilst people are drowning in an attempt to teach Labor a lesson isn’t virtuous and it doesn’t make Abbott appear any more a statesman.