Refugee evacuation bill: Probing deeper

Aractus 15, February, 2019

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it can’t have escaped your attention that the Parliament this week passed legislation in defiance of the Government (the “medevac bill”). In doing so, one of the most awful and appalling situations that has been allowed to go on has finally been, well, partially addressed. That situation is denying medical treatment to offshore asylum seekers who are legally under the care of Australia.

What you may not know is how the House and Senate voted on this. Let’s begin with the Senate as it was the most recent. Currently there are 75 Senators and one vacancy (the vacancy is due to Liberal senator David Bushby resigning on 22 Jan). The numbers are therefore 30 Coalition senators, 26 Labor, 9 Greens, 2 One Nation, 2 Centre Alliance, and 6 others (Hinch, Leyonhjelm, Bernardi, Burston, Anning, and Storer). The vote was 36-34 meaning that there were 70 votes in total, and therefore there were three pairs. The pairs reduce the number of Labor votes to 23 and the number of Coalition votes to 28. Now we can work out how everyone voted very easily:

For votes (36)

  • 23 Labor
  • 9 Greens
  • 2 Centre Alliance
  • Tim Storer
  • Derryn Hinch

Against votes (34)

  • 28 Coalition
  • 2 One Nation
  • Brian Burston
  • Fraser Anning
  • Cory Bernardi
  • David Leyonhjelm

We can see that all the former NXT (Nick Xenophon Team) Senators voted in favour, and that all the current/former One Nation Senators voted against along with Bernardi who is former Liberal and votes with the Coalition some 99.8% of the time. No real surprises there – that leaves just two real outliers – Derryn Hinch and David Leyonhjelm. Leyonhjelm is leaving federal politics which makes his decision very interesting – in fact this was one of the very last bills of any significance that he voted on. Had the voted waited until he had left, along with Wacka Williams, then the vote would have been 35-32. Hinch’s vote would no longer have been crucial. What this also means is that had this vote been defeated on Wednesday then the Senate would have had the numbers to pass it at a later time.

Hinch made his final decision only after considering advice from Australia’s so-called “security” agencies. Sadly that term is misleading and inaccurate, he actually took advice from our intelligence/law-enforcement agencies. They might like to claim they are security agencies, but they are not. In a way, Hinch could well hold his head up if he chose to and say ala Trump style “to hell with what the intelligence agencies say we’re going to do what’s right”.

The house, well how everyone voted there has been well reported already. But to summarise:

For votes (75)

  • Kerryn Phelps
  • 69 Labor
  • Adam Bandt (Greens)
  • Rebekha Sharkie (Centre Alliance)
  • Andrew Wilkie
  • Cathy McGowan
  • Julia Banks

Against votes (74)

  • 73 Coalition* (noting that one member technically sits on the cross-bench)
  • Bob Katter

I have placed Phelps at the top because it’s her bill.

There are no real surprises in these votes, except perhaps for one. No one crossed the floor. I would have expected at least one Coalition MP either in the  Lower House or the Senate to have exercised their conscious and crossed the floor. What this tells me is two things – most importantly that they’re playing politics with this issue, but also significantly that even on an issue like this they are more scared of the optics of instability than they are of doing the right thing.

The political agenda

Three parties have been playing politics with this issue very hard – Liberal, Labor, and the Greens. It’s fucking disgusting. It’s a disgrace on all three parties. It really shows what a dysfunctional fucking parliament we have – let alone a dysfunctional government or opposition.

The government – well they can’t stop lying about the people who are on Nauru and Manus island. Two years ago Turnbull lied to the Australian people when he said that there was no people swap deal with the US, and when he said that his call with the US President went well. He said to the US President that “they are economic refugees” and “we know exactly everything about them”. Even though there’s no such thing as an “economic refugee”. I think this was the moment I lost all respect for Turnbull – you can’t trust a liar, and he was the Liar in Chief.

Morrison is even worse than Turnbull. He wouldn’t know the truth if it bit him in the ass. Even though Turnbull clearly said to to the US President two whole years ago that “we know everything about” the asylum seekers, he went ahead and claimed Australia was at risk of “letting in” rapists, murderers, and child molesters if people are medically evacuated to Australia for treatment. This threat is entirely fictional – even if we bring in those kinds of people they’ll be assessed by ASIO as a security threat and held in indefinite mandatory dentition – yes that’s what actually happens to refugees that arrive here that are assessed as security threats.

He has further claimed there is no problem with the current situation, even though actual deaths have been recorded after people were refused or delayed with their medical evacuation. Many other cases are costing a fortune in the courts – in short he’s been lying through his teeth intentionally. You can’t trust a liar. Also he “blames” Labor for a bill that is objectively good – it puts medical decisions into the hands of doctors instead of bureaucrats and politicians – and denies the fact that the Coalition actually caused the instability in the Parliament that led to the medevac bill passing even though it was a direct consequence of disposing Turnbull. Worst of all, instead of just accepting a positive change – much like Labor at the last election claiming to claw back the modest Senate electoral reform – he’s made an appalling promise to reverse the decision regardless of whether any boats come, and is in the process of re-opening Christmas Island even though the facility is useless. This investigative report exposes Morrison’s lie for what it is:

Video © ABC, 2016. Source & transcript.

What does the medevac bill actually achieve?

The medevac bill achieves something that was absolutely necessary for the refugees and asylum seekers and has been for some time. And that is to allow them medical treatment in Australia. While it is a bit strange to think that we’re extending a set group of people offshore greater healthcare than PNG or Indonesian citizens, we are legally obligated to provide that care.

But really the bill is too little too late. It achieves little in the way of long-term planning. One gets the impression that actually the Coalition government is happy to keep asylum policy on a knife’s edge so that at any moment they can cause a crisis and blame Labor. Labor on the other hand has shown a real inability to innovate or provide any real leadership in this area – let’s not forget this wasn’t a Labor bill at all, it was a bill put forward by an Independent with the support of the Greens that Labor jumped on-board with. At the end of the day Labor, the Greens, the Coalition, and to some extent the minor parties are all using asylum seekers as political pawns for their own agendas. It’s easy to do because it doesn’t affect Australians, and because it’s tied to border security policy. And most people agree, I certainly do, that Nation States have the right to control their borders. The Sentinelese people kill anyone who dares set foot on their island on-sight (in fact even if your boat simply drifts onto their beach and you never leave it you’ll be killed). Their preference is respected, and they are allowed to live “uncontacted” in the stone age without so much as the ability to make fire. Even though their island is under India’s jurisdiction, when they murder visitors no charges or arrests are ever made against them.

What’s the solution?

As I mentioned a few years ago, the solution to the people-smuggling crisis is not easy. We’ve seen that there are two loud strongly opposing views regarding this matter, and neither of them is really in the right. Since that time there has not been the political will to find the right solution – instead the government of the day has been content with the status quo. See here’s the issue – the world has more refugees than it can cope with. There are more forcibly displaced people in the world then can ever be addressed by resettlement alone, and the number is growing. For example Venezuela is currently in a humanitarian crisis and producing displaced persons.

This feeds a criminal industry that the government and media calls “people smuggling”. But the reality is far from the image that phrase may conjure up. What they really are is human traffickers. Traditionally that term is more associated with slavery and forced prostitution, if you want to have nightmares you might want to read about Peter Truong and Mark Newton (or see video below). They purchased an unwanted newborn boy in Russia for USD $8,000, brought him to Australia and groomed him for sex. They first started abusing him when he was just two weeks old. Not only did they both rape him – they trafficked the boy around the world to be raped and molested by other men that were a part of their pederasty/paedophilia network. They also produced and distributed a large amount of child abuse material (child pornography) featuring the boy.

Video © ABC, 2014. Source & transcript.

I bring this story up because this is similar to how refugees and asylum seekers are treated by “people smugglers”. Here is a brief outline of what happens: Desperate asylum seekers pay human traffickers for refuge. They are then moved to a remote location controlled by the traffickers, there they are raped, beaten, and abused while they are held for ransom and their families extorted. They are starved and depraved of basic necessities. Some, many in fact, perish at this stage – men, women, and children. Once they are of no further use as a ransom, they are then trafficked on a boat to Australia and they are indebted to the traffickers for huge sums of money that they pay in fear that their families will be persecuted if they don’t. It’s important to note they’re not put on a seaworthy vessel, they’re typically put on an overcrowded fishing boat. In six years of the Labor Rudd-Gillard government there were 51,000 illegal arrivals and about 1200 people perished at sea. An unknown number of people would have died in the traffickers camps, that number would almost certainly be at least a magnitude greater than the number that died at sea. In saying all this it’s important to note that the Coalition had no integrity on this issue at any time – they blocked the “Malaysian solution” which would have stopped about half the arrivals and cut the number of deaths at sea by around 600, as well as cutting the number of deaths in the trafficker’s camps as well. To put that another way, while it’s correct to hold Labor responsible or partly responsible for the 1200 deaths, it’s also correct to hold the Coalition squarely responsible or partly responsible for 600 of those deaths. And it’s also correct to hold them both responsible for the deaths in the trafficker’s camps.

Video © ABC, 2015. Source & transcript.

The threat of the human traffickers starting up again is very real. In fact we don’t really know to what extent the activities outlined above have ceased. It seems unlikely that the horrific abuse of people has stopped – the only thing we know that has stopped is Australia ending up as the final destination for the trafficked and extorted people.

The harsh reality that policy makers in this country have to face is that they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand if they provide lots of assistance to these victimised asylum seekers they are enabling and in fact funding the human trafficking operation. On the other hand if they don’t, then people who have already been through a living hell are left with no hope or assistance. So what the government has done for the past 20 years or so is enlist a disinformation strategy – a thinly veiled bluff that appears to work to stop the boats arriving. But the reality is they still do provide assistance to all the refugees and asylum seekers to provide them with medical care and to permanently resettle them in to civilised society.

The problem as I’ve just mentioned is that this is all an illusion. It works because the human traffickers can’t wait 5 or 6 years for people to be resettled before receiving their extortion payments. Their victims legitimately have no way to pay them. If they believe their extortion efforts will be rewarded then the trafficking will start again.

So what then is the solution? Firstly scrap the mandatory detention policy altogether. It has never actually achieved anything, and it was illegal and unconstitutional in PNG and when it was dismantled it made no difference to arrivals. In its place set up permanent refugee processing facilities in PNG and Indonesia. Secondly – boat arrivals: (a.) turn the boats back, (b.) deport any successful arrivals promptly to PNG and Indonesia, (c.) work more closely with PNG and Indonesia. That strategy will make it clear to the human traffickers that there is no point in brining boats to Australia.

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