As the refugee crisis around the world proliferates, the upcoming Australian election provides a critical opportunity for the public to shape the future lives of refugees and the abusive nature of Australian refugee policies. Despite the 8-week extension of the Australian campaigning period, Liberal and Labour parties are continually failing to provide adequate policy proposals and strategies to resolve Australia’s appalling refugee regime.
The voices and opinions of Australian citizens have been evidently ignored and shaped by the egocentric ideologies of both the Liberal and Labour parties. The new 2016 – 2017 Australian national budget sparked controversy over the current refugee regime in Australia: it failed to reserve money for closing the inhumane and torturous offshore processing centres operated by the government. As a result, with the extension of the current campaign, Liberal and Labour parties have been clearly distinguishing their stances on refugee policies amongst the Australian public.
At first glance, the decreasing living conditions of refugees worldwide appear to have been exacerbated by conflict in Syria, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, I question how much this could have been lessened if the Australian government were to change its xenophobic, realist policies and increase the admission of refugees in Australia. Instead of continually disposing of refugees in the pacific islands, Turnbull could have very well surrendered his priority of sustaining ‘White Australia’, in favour of upholding Australia’s accord to the human rights charter of the United Nations.
Policies imprisoning refugees on isolated Pacific Islands, such as the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres, continue to be maintained by both the Liberal and Labour parties. The Manus Island, however, is being shut down from the initiative of Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill. The Australian government was asked to immediately make alternative arrangements for asylum seekers, as the PNG Supreme Court determine Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus island illegal.
If it takes another nation to call out the proscribed behaviour of the Australian government, and the two major political parties refuse to publicly recognise the inhumane conditions – what will it take for Australian refugee policies to change? And more importantly, what will the future look like for refugees seeking safety and security in Australia?
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton recently commented that refugees are not “numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English” and therefore have no place in Australian society. Shortly following, a Labour spokesman stated that Mr Dutton should retract his statement and apologise for his deeply xenophobic and offensive comments, as Australia has a strong history of multiculturalism. Yet, considering our treatment of Indigenous peoples in Australia, it is hardly surprising. If Australia cannot treat it’s own minority group with dignity and respect, the chances for respecting and accepting refugees in Australia is far slimmer.
Unsurprisingly, Current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull continues to turn a blind eye at Australia’s human right abuses, in hope that no one acknowledges his ratification of Australia’s contemptible refugee regime. In preparation for the upcoming election and in response to the national budget, the Liberal Party has held strong on its stance on stopping the boats. In fact, they so much as declared that this action was integral to restoring the “integrity of Australia’s borders”. When did denying the human rights of individuals fleeing war zones and perilous living conditions begin to facilitate the “integrity” of Australia’s borders? Integrity is the principle of having strong moral principles, and evidently, there is no integrity here.
All hope for the Labour party to offer an appealing alternative is rather dim. Despite efforts of the Labour party appearing to be fighting for refugee policy reform, their proposals do not provide adequate solutions. Policies of the Labour party are merely surface level and deprived of any substance. Labour candidate, Bill Shorten, aims to change the Liberal party’s reverting efforts of turning away boats and undermining international law. Additionally, Labour is aiming to increase the annual humanitarian intake in Australia from 13,750 to 27,000 – almost double that of the previous Abbott government.
Rather than maintaining Australia’s sovereign borders, the proposed policies of the Labour party account more for the interests of refugees. Unfortunately, much to the surprise of the Labour party and the Australian public, maintaining ‘humane’ offshore processing facilities does not quite meet the standards of international law, nor does it resolve the objectionable refugee policies in Australia. The only resolve emerging from this policy is the continual cycle of misfortune for refugees seeking safety.
Australia has an international responsibility to accept those fleeing war and dangerous living conditions – so when will it live up to its responsibilities and leave integrity, sovereignty and economic security behind? Will individuals seeking protection in Australia be refugees forever?