Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Don’t let Rudd dump refugees on PNG!

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Fight for jobs, homes and services for all

Australia’s war on refugees has hit a new low. Last year, Julia Gillard excised the Australian mainland from the maritime zone to make Australia legally invisible to refugees. Since then there have been proposals to buy billions of dollars worth of military drones to seek out refugee boats along the coastline. Tony Abbott has crudely promised, if elected, to “tow back the boats”.

Now Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has outdone them all by announcing there will be “no possibility” of settlement in Australia for refugees who arrive by boat.

Instead, they will be dumped on Papua New Guinea (PNG) for both processing and settlement. While PNG is a signatory the UN Refugee Convention, it is excluded from having to allow the right to work, education, housing, and freedom of movement. In PNG homosexuality is criminalised and in some areas non-Christian religions are banned. PNG has a per capita GDP of $2,500, while Australia’s is more than 17 times greater at $42,640. The idea that PNG is more capable of processing and settling refugees than Australia cannot stand up to even the mildest scrutiny.

Since the announcement Rudd has been switching between claiming sending asylum seekers to PNG is a “deterrent” (ie. a punishment for seeking asylum) on the one hand, and a completely appropriate and humane regional solution for refugees on the other. This demonstrates the extent to which this is a political maneuver for short term electoral gain, an attempt to disarm opponents from both Right and Left, rather than a genuine approach to refugee policy.

Already the policy is starting to unravel for all its inconsistencies. But what it demonstrates is that this race to the bottom will continue, and there’s no low the major parties won’t sink to when it comes to refugees. The only solution is to build a political alternative to the major parties – both on the streets and at the ballot box.

Build a movement on the streets>

The level of public support for a ‘tough stance’ on refugees is the result of over 20 years of political manipulation and misinformation. A 2011 survey found that more than three-quarters of Australians have enormously overinflated ideas about the numbers of ‘boat people’ seeking asylum in Australia and the cost of resettling them.

However, it is not as simple as educating people on the facts. Another poll showed a rise in sympathy for asylum seekers, as well as a renewed understanding that the overwhelming majority of ‘boat people’ are found to be genuine refugees. The same poll showed is that a major concern among people is the rising gap between rich and poor. This is what lies at the heart of people’s current reluctance to actively support refugee rights and their willingness to support racist policies.

Politicians whip up racist fears to divert attention away from the underlying reasons for cost of living increases and financial strain. Labor, Liberal and the Greens have all pushed the idea that ‘overcrowding’ is to blame for diminishing access to jobs, housing and services like healthcare and education.

Globally, more than enough wealth is produced to cater for all, including all of the world’s refugees. But under the current system decisions are made on the basis of the profit interests of a tiny minority at the expense of all else. As we are seeing around the world, when capitalist markets crash it is ordinary people who pay the price. The trend of blaming refugees and undocumented immigrants for the hardship people are facing is gaining momentum and diverting people away from the real cause of economic crisis and global instability.

Winning broad support for the right to seek asylum and be resettled in Australia requires addressing the basis of people’s fears. The campaign for refugee rights needs to be linked to a political program that fights for jobs, homes and services for all.

Vote for refugees at the ballot box

It has become the norm for both Labor and Liberal to use asylum seekers to distract and divide people, especially at election time. Rather than admit they share the same neo-liberal policies that have led to an increasing gap between rich and poor, the major parties prefer to pass blame onto the most vulnerable in society.

We can’t just sit back and allow politicians to try to outdo each other in their cruelty to refugees. We need to force our way into the debate and make this election about refugee rights – for the right reasons!

Demand to know what the candidates in your area will do to actively support refugees. Ask for a commitment to vote against any anti-refugee policy, including any federal budget that funds offshore processing or mandatory detention. Organise a candidate forum specifically around the question of refugee rights. Produce ‘How-to-vote for refugees’ leaflets – ranking each of the candidates on their refugee credentials. If there is no-one in your electorate standing up for refugees, consider standing yourself to bring the issue to the fore!

In the seat of Melbourne, the Socialist Party is standing long-time refugee rights activist Anthony Main. In 2002, Anthony played a leading role organising the Woomera protest when a number of refugees escaped from detention. In 2009, Anthony travelled to Indonesia to support the 254 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees occupying their captured boat in Merak.

Unlike other candidates for the seat of Melbourne, Anthony has proven his dedication to refugees rights through his activism. If elected, Anthony has pledged to do everything possible both within and outside of parliament to bring an end to the vicious policies of offshore processing and mandatory detention. He has also pledged to take only the wage of an average worker, donating the rest of his MP salary to community campaigns like the campaign for refugee rights.

Blame the system, not the victims! Fight for a system based on human need

The reason that the major parties are willing to waste so much money on offshoring and locking up refugees is because they are trying to shift the blame for society’s problems away from their own policies and their big business allies. They would prefer that ordinary people fight amongst ourselves (and blame refugees for our problems) rather than coming together and fight collectively for a bigger share of the wealth.

As long as we live under a system that prioritises profit above all else, those who own and control the wealth will attempt to divide us. We need to fight against the demonisation of refugees by fighting for decent jobs, affordable homes and proper services for all.

By reorganising society along socialist lines wealth could be democratically distributed to where it is most needed. Removing the profit motive would unlock billions of dollars – enough to improve the lives of everybody, including refugees

But this won’t happen unless we fight for it! If you agree, get in contact with us!

By Socialist Party reporters


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