By SENATOR SARAH HANSON-YOUNG
If the Labor Party still has a soul, it should be searching through it with a fine-toothed comb right now.
This week we saw the Government perform a complex and remarkably hypocritical double backflip (with pike) when it introduced legislation that Minister Bowen himself called “a stain on our national character” just four years ago while in opposition.
Excising the entire continent of Australia from the migration zone sounds extreme, and it is.
It is basically a move designed to withhold the international right to claim refuge in Australia from the handful of people who manage to make a perilous journey by boat all the way to our shores.
By making this change, the Government will be able to exile anyone who makes it to Australia to indefinite detention on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Under John Howard, parts of Australia were gradually excised from the migration zone but, because of a number of brave Liberals who stood by their conscience, he was never able to force legislation through the parliament that would delete the whole country from the migration map.
In a shameless and brazen display of hypocrisy, it is now the Labor Party who is copying Howard’s failed legislation and excising the mainland from the migration zone, despite slamming it in 2006.
At the time they said it ‘offends our decency’, that it ‘mocks the parliament’ and that it was ‘shameful and xenophobic’ as well as ‘ludicrous, harsh, indecent, inhumane, unfair and gutless’.
They were right, of course, but it seems nothing will dissuade Labor from implementing the legislation now as it competes with the current Opposition in a desperate race to the bottom on immigration policy.
This worrying change in immigration policy standards, where the old parties constantly attempt to outdo each other when it comes to punishing vulnerable refugees, is both bad for the people who get caught up in the resulting inhumane detention network and bad for the quality of our national debate.
While the two old parties are committed to policy changes that are so powerfully negative, it consumes the public debate and leaves very little room for the more humane and rational voices to be heard.
Labor and the Coalition are trying to dupe the Australian people into thinking there are only two options; ‘bad’ (punishing and deterring people) or ‘worse’ (people dying at sea), but the Greens and human rights and refugee experts like Amnesty International and the UNHCR know there is another option that is humane, safe and legal.
We could give these vulnerable refugees access to that quintessentially Australian idea of ‘a fair go’, we could give them protection and, importantly, we could save their lives at sea by offering a safer option than coming by boat.
It is disappointing that the excision is just the latest in a raft of bad immigration policy decisions being made by the Government.