Australian Parliament House

The Coalition government does a decent thing

Tony AbbottOver the past couple of years I have been highly critical of pretty much all aspects of Tony Abbott’s Coalition government, including its treatment of asylum seekers.

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All of those criticisms remain valid, however, today I have to give credit where credit is due.

Last week I reported on the tragic death of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, and the refugee crisis developing in Europe. I noted that, among other things, it was essential for the world to ‘build a committed coalition for accepting and settling refugees …’

If we fail to take tangible action, our sorrow and tears for suffering asylum seekers and drowned children are nothing more than meaningless crocodile tears.
The price of decades of failed Western and Russian foreign policies, The Vue Post (5 September 2015)

Initially it appeared Tony Abbott was more interested in bombing Syria, even though some question marks remain over the legality of such action, rather than assisting Syrian asylum seekers. The situation wasn’t helped by people like Pauline Hanson threatening electoral consequences of allowing Syrian refugees into the country.

Judging by the comments left on this Sunrise video, there is a significant substrata of horrific racism in Australia, despite our ongoing tone-deaf denials of racism. Given Australia’s hardcore racists are arguably part of the core constituency for conservatives, whether they like it or not, allowing Syrian refugees into the country could be an electoral nightmare for the Coalition government.

Yesterday, Tony Abbott made an unexpected announcement of 12,000 Syrian refugees to be taken in by Australia for permanent settlement, in addition to our annual refugee intake. Unfortunately, references have also been made to ‘persecuted minorities’ in the context of this intake, which many interprets as a code for Syrian Christians.

I feel uneasy about prioritising one group of asylum seekers over another, but if we are to focus on the ‘persecuted within the persecuted’ I would like to think ‘persecuted minorities’ would also include Syrian LGBTI people, given gay men are routinely stoned to death by ISIS. Gay asylum seekers also tend to be disproportionately affected by global unrest, and religious persecution.

The Coalition’s announcement was particularly surprising because they made a huge effort over several days, to avoid any specific commitment when it came to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Interview with Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, on The Project (9 September 2015)

In the meantime we also had a number of Coalition MPs, admittedly the usual suspects such as Cory Bernardi and George Christensen, coming out with some awful comments:

Sadly, Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher also saw it fit to opine on the subject and, in a manner less than befitting a Christian leader, called for Christian Syrians to be given priority.

I also have serious concerns about the proposed Australian involvement in the bombing of Syrian targets, as the Western coalition has a terrible track-record when it comes to military interventions in the Middle East, as evidenced by the current state of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the rise of ISIS. Bombings will inevitably cause further civilian deaths, which will be duly regretted by the Coalition forces, and are likely to lead to a further explosion in asylum seeker numbers.

But as I said, for now credit must be given where credit is due.

The motivations of the Coalition government may be suspect to many, especially given their track-record on asylum seekers, but what matters is that 12,000 desperate Syrians will find a safe new home in Australia.

Although I do question why Syrian refugees in our detention centres won’t be given the same consideration. The ‘we don’t want to reward people smugglers’ line rings hollow in this context, given every single Syrian asylum seeker in Europe arrived with the help of people smugglers, and our governments’ ongoing failure to implement a comprehensive global policy response to this unprecedented global crisis, leaves refugees at the mercy of people smugglers.

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