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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The shame of Dutton's blame game

The shame of Dutton's blame game

Australia's Liberal Party has waged war on refugees and asylum seekers ever since Prime Minister John Howard took the helm in 1996. Whenever, the Liberal Party's popularity dipped, Howard would roll out another boatload of asylum seekers to scare the population into believing that only he could protect us from this 'invasion'.

Truth never really factored into these unwarranted attacks. For instance, the lies about Children Overboard were exposed in a Senate Enquiry. Not that it made much difference because people ignored the truth and believed Howard's lies. Including the whopper that boat people are illegal entrants. Under the Refugee Convention that Australia is a signatory to, asylum seekers are not to be punished for entering a country in a manner that would normally be considered illegal. So Australia detained them indefinitely and subjected them to cruel and inhumane punishment, in contravention of a number of UN Conventions, including the Refugee Convention, the Convention on Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The demonisation and scapegoating continued with a passion under Tony Abbott who took to having billboards driven around the country advertising how many boats were entering Australian waters when the Labor Party was in government. Every boat arrival was grist to Abbott's mill. It meant that the Libs could now blame Labor for this fabled invasion of asylum seekers.

Most recently, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has upped the ante by extending the blame from Labor to one of his own. Dutton now blames the Liberal Party's former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. During the 1970s, Fraser ran a compassionate refugee program that allowed thousands of refugees in from Vietnam, Cambodia and Lebanon.

Dutton has stated that two thirds (22 out of 33) of the Australians charged with terrorist-related offences are second or third generation descendants of the refugees that Fraser bought into the country almost 40 years ago(1). Therefore, Fraser stuffed up ... according to the feckless Minister Dutton.

Process this: second and third generation.

Process this: NONE of the thousands of refugees who Fraser brought in were charged with terrorism-related offences.

Just when we think the government's racism and xenophobia can't get any worse,  Dutton jumps the shark.

Is Dutton suggesting that the Department of Immigration now vet the unborn off-spring of refugees? I'm going out on a limb and suggesting that this could be problematic. How many unborn generations are they supposed to assess before issuing visas? Should they stop at the third generation or the fourth? Maybe the fifth?

Rather than taking cheap political shots at others, Dutton should focus on the effects of the Liberal Party's refugee policies. Policies which legitimise torture and child abuse. Policies which have been criticised by the United Nations, Amnesty International and human rights lawyers for legitimising human rights violations of vulnerable people fleeing persecution.

These are policies which physically, mentally and emotionally abuse already fragile people. These are policies that keep families from being reunited, that pay refugees less than the dole while preventing them from gaining employment or undertaking training. These are policies which reinforce to refugees that they are second class citizens in Australia.

These are policies which have caused people to suicide or self-harm.

Yet Dutton and his Liberal Party colleagues continue to blame everyone else for their failures while failing to acknowledge the damage they are causing to asylum seekers and refugees in order to score political popularity with an electorate driven by xenophobia.

So unethical is the Liberal Party's approach to refugees that they are now wanting to ban any refugee, any GENUINE refugee, from entering Australia if they initially came here by boat.

Just a reminder of Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention(2):

'The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of Article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence'.

These refugees have come directly from their countries of origin to Australia. If travelling east from Africa (e.g. Somalia), Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and so on, then Australia is the first country they will come to who is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. The Convention doesn't say to go to the nearest country. It says that they are to come 'directly'.

Then there is the matter of refoulement, in which refugees are returned to their country of origin where they could be persecuted, tortured or at risk of disappearing or being killed. Article 33 of the UN Refugee Convention states(2):

'No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion'.

The federal Liberal Party is hung up on the rule of law and constantly labelling people 'illegal', yet their own actions are illegal under international law. Interestingly, the government's own website acknowledges that asylum seekers should not be referred to as 'illegal'(3):

'The UNHCR emphasises that a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution should be viewed as a refugee and not be labelled an ‘illegal immigrant’ as the very nature of persecution means that their only means of escape may be via illegal entry and/or the use of false documentation'

Dutton's blame game is his shame. It speaks volumes about the character of a man who is more interested in casting dispersion on people who can't defend themselves than he is in acknowledging and rectifying his own faults and those of his Party. Faults which have broken up families and driven innocent people to the depths of despair, to suicide, to self-harm.

If the government is so concerned about Australian Muslims becoming radicalised, then they should be spruiking policies of inclusion, not exclusion. People who are marginalised, criticised and made to not feel welcome in their own land will always be at risk of radicalisation. To counter that, all people need to feel welcome and valued, not vilified or harangued because of their religion or race. But policies of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance don't win political points, so Dutton and his ilk will resort to their go-to position of scapegoating and stereotyping.

Of course, any criticism of the government's policies by those who've experienced them firsthand is all but banned, with whistle-blowers risking two years jail if they speak out. It seems the Libs are happy to criticise others, but to expose their brutality and inhumane operations is to see them cower behind laws aimed at stifling dissent.

Fraser may not be able to defend himself against Dutton's asinine attack on policies that were far more compassionate and successful than those of today's Liberal Party, however, he had defended his record on numerous occasions when he was alive. Around 90% of asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia are found to be genuine refugees(3), and Fraser once commented, 'I do not believe you need the brutality of the policy of deterrent... If they are genuine refugees, there is no deterrent that we can create which is going to be severe enough, cruel enough, nasty enough to stop them fleeing the terror [they face] in their own lands'(4).


1. ABC News, Stephanie Anderson, 'Peter Dutton suggests Fraser government made mistake by resettling Lebanese refugees', 20 November 2016, Accessed 20 November 2016.

2. United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 'Convention and Protocol relating to the status of Refugees Accessed 20 November 2016.

3. Parliament of Australia, 'Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts', Accessed 20 November 2016.

3. ABC News, 'Former PM Malcolm Fraser calls for royal commission into Australia's management of offshore processing', 25 July 2013, Accessed 20 November 2016.

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