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Gillian Triggs’ shameful politicisation of Australia’s refugee program

February 27, 2015

27 February 2015

In light of the farcical #IStandWithGillianTriggs hashtag that has trended on twitter during the week after government backlash against the timing of a report about children in detention, the issue of asylum seekers and Australia’s refugee program has reached ridiculous levels of political bigotry. When the crisis of illegal boats was at its worse in 2012 and 2013, both the so-called Human Rights Commission under Gillian Triggs and the twitteratti were notoriously quiet. The only exceptions were the nut-jobs advocating an open borders policy as a means to eradicate the problems of bursting detention centres and people drowning at sea.

The Abbott government has been right to proclaim the HRC’s recent report called the “Forgotten Children” as politically driven, and that the HRC and its sympathisers should, in fact, be congratulating Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the government for the massive reduction of people, especially children, in detention centres after the borders were finally secured.

Triggs’ report was due in 2013 during the election campaign and her defence of delaying it because it would have been “very dangerous politically” is bonkers given the facts of the time and that, you know, caring about “human rights”, especially those concerning children, and being independent should trump all political connotations, whether real or perceived.

Fact 1) Triggs was made president of the HRC in 2012 by the then Labor government under Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Fact 2) Triggs delayed her inquiry scheduled to start early 2013 because of an election date announced 9 months in advance and then delayed again during the campaign proper – when the government is meant to be in caretaker mode – at the whims of two Labor ministers worried about the impact it might have on the election result. This only adds a sinister motive to the already bizarre election announcement by Gillard, given that traditionally 5 weeks in advance is the call. Without that hard election date of September announced so far in advance in January, Triggs’ planned inquiry would have had no excuse to delay.

Fact 3) Labor had no credibility on border security and was headed for electoral wipe-out regardless of any inquiry or report. In fact, such a report might have helped Labor provide impetus to resolve the border problem and destroy the self-righteous morality of sympathisers – for example Greens senator Sarah “tragedies happen, accidents happen” Hanson-Young – more concerned with landing political punches than children drowning at sea.

Fact 4) Triggs could have released the report in the earlier stages of the new Liberal government, which would have validated their cause and affirm the mandate from the electorate to fix border mess.

Fact 5) Only once the Liberal’s border policies had worked, stopping the previous armada of illegal boats and clearing the detention centres at rapid pace, that the HRC saw fit to hold an inquiry and release a report. If there’s any relevance to a concept of “Forgotten Children” it’s that of the 90% now out of detention, the worry about mental and physical health, assaults, self-harm and risk of sexual assault that the report cited prolonged detention caused, can now be forgotten. Otherwise, the report is a total ambush and risks a return to an era that had child suffering of the magnitude of 10 to 1 compared to right now.

What is the report actually trying to say or achieve? Is there’s something wrong with a policy that’s removing children from detention and not adding anymore – a policy that already worked before Labor won office in 2007 where numbers of children in detention were zero and then peaked at over 2000? Are we to return to the old days when Australia says to the more than 40 million refugees waiting in UNHCR camps that if you don’t have $10,000 to fly to Indonesia and pay a smuggler, we don’t want you? Maybe had Triggs produced previous reports liked The Drowned Children, The Pawned Children, The Sacrificed Children and The Neglected Children Because I Stood By And Did Nothing For Political Reasons, then maybe the Forgotten Children would not have had its contents brushed aside in the face of the political storm.

You really must question Triggs’ judgement. Not just because she cited her own lame political reason for delaying the report, more galling is that she, a “professor”, could not not envisage such timing of the report would only ever been seen as political. Just look at how all the rabid LNP-haters have latched onto it, along with its sympathetic media. A decaying jock-strap could have predicted that outcome, and here we have Triggs really expecting sane people to believe there was nothing partisan with the timing? It begs the obvious question: If Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison asked her to delay such a report, would she? Hell no.

Thanks to Triggs, Australia’s back into partisan bickering with one side slamming “inhumane” policies that now prevent drownings and detention while the other side exaggerates, or fabricates, the negative immigrants arriving to this country might cause. Leading into the 2013 election, News Ltd exposed 10 common myths. It’s time to revisit them and also provide clarity on Australia’s migration history and situation:

Myth 1: We are being swamped

That’s the classic myth from the dawn of time. Facts are very few minorities make up more than 2% of the population, while Australia’s refugee quota – which is third highest in the world per capita – varies between 13,000 and 20,000 over the years. Most of Australia’s immigration, at over 200,000 per year most years, is legal.

Myth 2: We’re a magnet compared to other countries

Half myth and fact. While the article cites far greater numbers seeking asylum in Europe and North America, the “magnet” refers more about “desire”. Yes, Australia is one of those most desired destinations. Does it manifest into huge numbers? Thanks to geography, no.

Myth 3: We take more asylum seekers because we’re a rich, First World country

That’s fact per capita and in terms or permanent resettlement. In sheer numbers, neighbouring poor countries in areas of a humanitarian crisis take the vast bulk of refugees and displaced people, mostly on a temporary basis until conflicts in their home countries are over and they can return. So, a myth in that sense.

Myth 4: They’re illegal, queue jumping undesirables

This is about semantics. As the article says, seeking asylum is legal, so is doing it illegally. The use of “immigrants” in “illegal immigrants” is also wrong as they are not immigrants until they can be verified. The official government description is “unathorised arrivals”. The “illegal” aspect can be correct when talking specifically about the boats. The boats, themselves, illegally leave a country and attempt to illegally arrive at another. Hence the use of “illegal boats” is fine. The article doesn’t answer about queue jumpers. Since Australia has a finite refugee quota, yes, if that quota is being filled by those on illegal boats, then others – typically already approved refugees waiting in camps for decades – miss out.

Myth 5: Most asylum seekers come by boat

This myth is born of perception. No one sees asylum seekers coming off planes. Even the original boat people, the Vietnamese, sympathises for recent illegal boats spread the myth of huge numbers so to validate the current situation. Only 2059 Vietnamese actually came from boats. When the humanitarian crisis was realised, 50,000 were expedited and arrived legally. The actual issue around the boats is that if aslyum seekers can fly all the way to Malaysia or Indonesia, why not just stay on a plane and make the small hop to Australia? The fact they prefer to cheat, by paying smugglers, means a quantifiable illegitimacy to their refugee bona fides.

The article cites that over 90% prove to be genuine refugees. That’s because the burden on Australia is to prove they are not. Those coming illegally throw away all documentation, making verifying their situation as almost impossible. It’s the reason that Abbott government recently proposed “no documentation, no claim for refugee status”. Often you here claims that if asylum seekers are prepared to go to such extremes to gain entry, then they must be legitimate. Again, if they had legitimate claims, why cheat? Bob Carr under the previous Labor government said 95% are actually “economic migrants”. So they are simply people looking for a better life, and they only way that can be achieved in Australia, thanks to the nation’s weak laws and sympathy obtained by coming on a rickety boat, is the illegal way.

Myth 6: Asylum seekers are taking our jobs

A myth born from the false perception of numbers. Facts are, Australia’s unemployment rate is typically low, and immigrants of all types often take jobs that other Australians refuse to do.

Myth 7: People from war torn countries cause problems

This myth should actually read “Most immigrants are from war torn countries” – it’s about numbers from various regions. Always been a myth. While post-WW2 there were many Europeans from war-torn countries, British immigrants still out-numbered them. These days, via legal immigration, it’s barely 5% of total immigrants from areas of war (typically the Middle East).

Myth 8: They don’t assimilate or contribute

Initially a minor truth to this, then a massive myth. Always there’s a small problem, notably with the second generation, that a tiny minority within a minority might cause a few problems. Fact is all Australia’s immigrant communities eventually settle in and become proud Australians and are massive contributors. From my perspective, immigrants and their offspring have contributed much more to Australian culture and prosperity than longer generation Australians.

Myth 9: Numbers are booming because we lack tough border protection policies

Part myth if you look over the decades. If you look specifically to 2012 and 2013, the facts are undeniable. A boat a day

Myth 10: We can just turn the boats back

This was mostly speculation. Some said it could be done, most said no. Fact is that the new government did turn boats back, or sent people back. How much of an impact that had on securing the borders, it was probably more symbolic than anything. Labor had already rushed in a policy that would use Papua New Guinea as the resettlement option for unauthorised arrivals. Without the guarantee of landing on Australian territory, the smugglers lost their business.

Full article


The Future

The real issue now is the solution, and then the future. Obviously the detention centres must continue to be cleared, which the government is doing and that Triggs did give credit in her report. There’s universal acceptance from all sides of politics that this must be done. The big issue, the one that no one is addressing, because it means making a stand and laying integrity on the line about Australia’s border control. Clearly there can be no more return to bursting detention centres and, especially, children in detention, so politics must move aside. It’s not a case of open borders vs closed borders. It’s a case of doing the right thing by the world’s refugees. That means the existing and successful policies must continue so Australia’s refugee quota is filled by those in most need, not those with the most money.


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