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Ruddstoration and the Refugees: The Ancient Regime Returns

Ruddstoration and the Refugees: The Ancient Regime Returns

by Binoy Kampmark
July 1, 2013

They are at it again. The not so ancient regime which was the previous ancient regime has promised that refugees heading to Australia will be given their fair share of rough treatment. In case you weren’t looking at the latest bloodied news, Australia’s restored Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has decided that refugees are a matter of law and order rather than human rights per se. In fact, the statute book can be thrown out altogether.

The populist trick here is an old attempt by the Australian Labor Party to undercut the Coalition opposition without violating a slew of human rights conventions Australia is a party to. If you need to deal with a problem, change the labels. Nothing else matters. Canberra is stacked with window dressing policy makers.

Rudd’s attempt has been to initially show the Coalition to be mad on refugees, distinctly different from the new approach of Labor. He has attempted to argue, for instance, that the Coalition promise to turn back the boats will set Australia on collision with their large neighbour, Indonesia. “Including the fact that my responsibility as prime minister is to ensure we have a first-class relationship with 250 million people in Indonesia, a country which constitutes our most important neighbour,” he told reporters on Friday.

While Julia Gillard, whose period in office will pass into Australian political taxidermy as an experiment not necessarily worth reliving, the Lazarus nerd like hero, Rudd, is keen to show that he is the old conservative Prime Minister John Howard, without the reactionary distastefulness. Who and what was Australia really electing when it chose to rid the country of the Member of Bennelong? To be sure, a cardboard cut-out inspired by honest John.

Howard was always an insular clown, a parody of proud philistinism. Rudd was the suitable dour alternative, a booby of convenience, the pale imitation Tony Blair to Maggie Thatcher’s strong brew. Neither Howard nor Rudd should be mentioned alongside Blair and Thatcher, but no prize for anyone who things they would like it.

Unspeakably, the law and order issue on refugees has become a panacea for an issue of principle. If you don’t want to genuinely consider a human being’s worth, package their plight neatly in the layering of some legal guideline. You are bound to be wrong. People can leave a country, deceive authorities, lie about their families, and still be perfectly legitimate candidates for asylum. Immigration officers tend to be sexless prigs and poltroons, making assessments dry and bloodless.

The head of any organisation rots from the top, and so, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister Bob Carr have decided that the refugees arriving in Australia are of the “economic sort” who need not bother applying. In Rudd’s faux wisdom, “Let’s face some facts here. A whole bunch of people who seek to come to this country are economic migrants, who are seeking to comport themselves as refugees” (ABC News, Jun 29).

Carr similarly has claimed that “there’ve been some boats where 100 percent of them have been people who are fleeing countries where they’re the majority ethnic and religious group, and their motivations is altogether economic.” In this postmodern twist, Carr evidently regards refugees who have any economic ambition (who doesn’t?) should be excluded from consideration in coming to Australia. Canberra has its own carpet baggers and effete classes who would rather not be threatened by the more competent sort. Besides, how dare they even consider this option?

As for the actual evidence, the vast majority of individuals processed as refugees do end up satisfying the guidelines set by the international community. As refugee advocate and lawyer David Manne explains, Carr’s comments are “in fact contrary to the history in recent times in this country of people coming here seeking asylum and in many cases being found to be refugees under rigorous examination, under due process of the law of this country” (ABC News, Jun 29).

When intelligence and sanity is demanded, any succeeding government, mediocre, caretaker, mummified monstrosity, embalmed buffoon, and indifferent twit, prefers the same approach: do not come to the provincial backwater girt by some sea. Go home. And in case you did not hear the message, go home again. Oh, and that, in case you forget, is irrespective on who is in power, one day to the next.

*************

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

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