Julia Gillard’s Malaysia solution bill was passed in the lower house yesterday and is the subject of a highly emotional debate in the upper house of parliament today. This in response to the death of 94 boat people on their way from Indonesia to Australia in the last week.
I have written a full background to this previously so you can get the dummies guide here, but I have a few more questions…
Just remind me what the Malaysia Solution is again…
Under the plan, Australia would ‘trade’ 800 AS’s arriving by boat to Malaysia in exchange for 8000 UN certified refugees – a “people swap”. The deal was scuttled by the High Court – unsatisfied that AS human rights will be protected in Malaysia, as it is not a signatory to the 1951 convention for the treatment of refugees. This has lead the Gillard Government to bring to parliament a bill to change the human rights legislation in order to make the Malaysia solution legal and do-able.
The Government – including independent MP Rob Oakshott who put the bill forward – is hoping that 1 or 2 members of the opposition will cross the floor in favour of Julia’s plan, but the Greens oppose all third-country processing options and Tony Abbott is unlikely to support her either.
How is it different from John Howard’s Pacific Solution?
John Howard and Kevin Rudd came up with a series of deterrents to boat people, firstly, they officially excluded many islands targeted by boat people from the Australian migration zone, which meant that ASs who didn’t reach the mainland couldn’t apply for refugee status. Then they recruited the defence forces to intercept boats and transport them to detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. These ‘third world’ islands agreed to the idea in exchange for increased aid.
Why won’t the opposition vote to pass the bill?
Because they want to make amendments to the Migration Act that will ensure humanitarian safeguards for Asylum seekers, namely that they will be processed only in countries signed to the UN Refugee Convention. They describe the Malaysia Solution as a stalemate, not a solution at all and argue that the bill’s exemption of women and children being taken to Malaysia will result in boats setting off carrying only women and children.
The Greens are consulting experts on the issue and will present their alternative solution soon. Hmm, interested to see that but you can bet your arse it’s nothing to do with processing in third world countries and all to do with open doors.
The Government argue that while they know it won’t be a ‘holiday camp’ in Malaysia, they would “rather see children go through a ‘tough schooling experience’ than drown at sea.” They also claim that the people smugglers will be watching for a result and if the opposition stops the bill, the people smugglers win.
It has been reported that in Malaysia, conditions for refugees can be horrific. housing is cramped and asylum seekers can’t legally work. They allegedly spend their time hiding, either from raids on illegal workers or Muslim gangs who target refugees women for sex crimes. There is talk of intimidation, poverty, ill health, food shortages, substandard hygiene, floggings and endless waiting.
What are the boat people running from?
It looks like the Nationality of the people on board the most recent boats from Indonesia are still unknown, and of course every case is different. But pick up a newspaper and you’ll find a plethora of reasons for people fleeing to Australia via Indonesia. But generally speaking, the Taliban seem to be a world wide reason for increased Asylum seeking. Julian Burnside gives a good example:
“Imagine yourself as an Afghan Hazara, fleeing the Taliban genocide: you get to Indonesia, you are assessed by UNHCR as a refugee; you know that Indonesia has not signed the Refugees Convention, and does not offer you protection; you know that you will be jailed by Indonesia if they find you; you cannot work and you cannot send your kids to school. UNHCR tell you that it will take between 10 and 30 years before another country will offer you resettlement and safety. But you could take a chance, get on a boat and head for Australia. What will you do?”
Can we stop the boats?
I mean, can we get ahead of the problem and find an alternative escape or protection for these desperate people than a leaky boat? Can we provide protection within their country and stop them considering taking such huge risks? Sure we can rant and rave about the ‘scummy’ people smugglers but shouldn’t we just push them out as the last, desperate hope? Couldn’t we work with the Indonesian Government to create a new hope over there before desperate people seek the help of the smugglers?
These are questions that are seemingly unanswerable. What will the Greens come up with? What do you think we should do?
What a complicated issue and the way things are looking, by the end of the day, it will remain unresolved. Perhaps doing something, Mr Abbott, is better than doing nothing.