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MIA: I smell an election year and it stinks.

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Scott Morrison speaking to the media yesterday

By MIA FREEDMAN

Yesterday, Coalition spokesperson on immigration, Scott Morrison made some cynical, appalling and patently untrue suggestions about against asylum seekers.

He was joined almost immediately by Senator Eric Abetz who did some even more distasteful dog whistling, in a revolting attempt to rustle up fear, anxiety and hatred.

What’s that smell? Oh that’s right. It’s the smell of an election year. And it’s putrid.

Here are the facts:

Earlier this week, a Sri Lankan man was charged with the alleged indecent assault of a female university student at Sydney’s Macquarie University.

Court documents say that Daxchan Selvarajah, a 21-year-old asylum seeker who is living in the community on a bridging visa, entered a unit at Macquarie University about 3.30am on the 14th February and put his hand down the pyjama pants of a 20-year-old student. After the woman awoke and screamed, her attacker fled.

Since the incident, it has been announced that asylum seekers – 55 of whom are housed at Macquarie University in an agreement with the Red Cross – will no longer be provided with accommodation at the campus. The accused man was not one of the asylum seekers being housed at the University.

Yesterday, Scott Morrison called for an immediate freeze of the provision of bridging visas for asylum seekers and said that a review was required into the guidelines of how people who arrive in Australia by boat (not in any other way), are released into the community. Mr Morrison said that the freeze should not be lifted until Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor and his department could give the community a clear guarantee that there were “safeguards in place”.

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Eric Abetz speaking in The Senate yesterday

Safeguards against what exactly, Scott Morrison? Safeguards that would prevent all humans committing crimes against other humans?

Wait, it gets worse.

Mr Morrison said police and communities should also be alerted when asylum seekers move into their neighbourhoods.

Currently, the only group of people who must go on a community register such as this are pedophiles.  (Western Australia introduced the first Community Register for pedophiles last year).

While Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent quickly came out to slam the “vilification of asylum seekers” by his own party as “unacceptable in this nation,” senior Liberal attack-dog Senator Eric Abetz backed calls from Scott Morrisson that communities be notified when asylum seekers are released from detention centres.

Senator Abetz was asked by reporters why the government should have to inform people about asylum seekers living in their community, when (in every state except WA) it didn’t inform them about pedophiles who are released from prison and Abetz replied “There is a register in relation to those sex offenders and the community has spoken in relation to that, that they do want a register.”

Right, so let’s be clear about this.

The Coaliton believe that asylum seekers – who have committed no crime by arriving here and seeking asylum in Australia under the International Refugee Convention (to which we are a signatory) – should be treated in the same way as child sex offenders. That they – as a group – present the same level of ‘threat’ to the community.

And all of this based on the fact that one man who happens to be an asylum seeker, has allegedly committed a crime.

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So, if we’re tarring enormous groups of people in society with the same brush and assuming they all pose an equal ‘threat’ based on the behaviour of one, two or even ten of them, does that mean parents of young boys will be notified when Catholic priests move into their neighbourhoods?

Will we have a community register for footy players?

In 1987, German tourist Joseph Schwab murdered five people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. What about a registry for German backpackers?

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘dog whistling’ it refers to the fact there are some sound frequencies that can only be heard by dogs. What it means in a political context is that when a politician says something that on the surface seems benign, it’s actually a coded message.

Look! Anh Do came from came from Vietnam as a refugee. He's proof that refugees make a positive contribution to society.
Look! Anh Do came from came from Vietnam as a refugee. He’s proof that refugees make a positive contribution to society.

In this case, Scott Morrison’s message is this:  Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are dangerous criminals who may rape and murder innocent people. They must be imprisioned behind razor wire and then sent back to where they came from or none of us will be safe.

Well sure they could commit crimes. They are humans after all and there is a broad spectrum of human behaviour, no matter where you were born. But in actual fact, there is a much, much, much LOWER chance of an asylum seeker committing a crime than a member of the general public.

Fairfax media confirmed today that asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas are about 45 times less likely to be charged with a crime than other Australians.  According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 12,100 asylum seekers have been released into the community since November 2011 on bridging visas and five or less have ever been charged with a crime.

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To suggest that this most vulnerable, traumatised group of people pose any kind of threat to community safety, is not only repugnant but factually incorrect. AKA: bollocks of the most cynical, political kind.

As ALP backbencher Doug Cameron said yesterday, ”The dog whistle you have just seen is the worst politics I have witnessed for many years in this Parliament”.

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Mia Freedman on the Drum on ABC

I was on The Drum last night fighting about this issue with former Liberal MP Ross Cameron, who was backing Morrison and Abetz. In the middle of the debate, another one of Eric Abetz’s quotes was played in which he laughably attempted to dress up the idea of a community register as faux concern for the welfare of the asylum seekers themselves:

ERIC ABETZ: If you want a cohesive society I would have thought it would be a good idea to say that somebody’s moving next door to you that might not be able to have all the English language skills that you might normally expect, or that they come from a traumatised background. It would be useful for the local police, for the local health authorities et cetera to be told as well.

Oh really? If Mr Abetz is suggesting that it would be good for there to be a community register of asylum seekers so we could – as neighbours – reach out and support them then I’m all for it. Because they need our support, compassion and friendship, no doubt.

And I would be first in line to bake a cake and take it to the home of asylum seeker in my community who had come here in desperation, risking their lives to make a better life for their families.

I can only assume that means the Coalition’s next suggestion will be that we have a register of elderly people and people with disabilities, so that as a community we can all be aware of who else might need our neighbourly support.

While it’s entirely appropriate to debate asylum seeker policy – nobody wants to see desperate people risk or lose their lives by coming here on a boat. This week’s effort by Scott Morrison and Eric Abetz to demonise such vulnerable people and attempt to whip up fear and hostility in the community is shameful.

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