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Should we feel proud of our generosity?

Peter Dutton flew to Geneva, without an offer, to talk about the refugee crisis while other countries started taking people in their thousands. I doubt his appearance was heralded by the UN as the arrival of a problem solver. In fact, he had a cheek to show his face there, which probably explains his rapid return. Is there a reason he couldn’t pick up the phone after we had decided what we were prepared to do to help?

Six months ago, in response to a UN report which found that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers breaches an international anti-torture convention, Tony Abbott, in his usual fashion, blasted the messenger, said ‘stopped the boats’ 50 times in rapid succession, and got in the usual reference to those smuggling enablers, Labor.

“I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations, particularly, particularly given that we have stopped the boats, and by stopping the boats, we have ended the deaths at sea.

I think the UN’s representatives would have a lot more credibility if they were to give some credit to the Australian government for what we’ve been able to achieve in this area

The most humanitarian, the most decent, the most compassionate thing you can do is stop these boats because hundreds, we think about 1200 in fact, drowned at sea during the flourishing of the people smuggling trade under the former government.

The conditions on Manus Island are reasonable under all the circumstances. All of the basic needs of the people on Manus Island are being met and, as I said, I think the UN would be much better served by giving credit to the Australian government for what has been achieved in terms of stopping the boats.”

Has anyone else noticed that, when faced with uncomfortable questions or criticism, this government has adopted the line “I reject/don’t accept the premise of your question.”

Peter Dutton said the government “rejects the views of the special rapporteur that the treatment of illegal maritime arrivals in detention breaches international conventions. Australia is meeting all its international obligations and with other regional nations provides a range of services to people who have attempted to enter Australia illegally.”

I am sure his heartfelt compassion for the plight of asylum seekers was well known when he fronted up in Geneva with his deadpan policeman face, and I am equally sure they recognised the grandstanding and gave him short shrift.

Far from being impressed with stopping the boats, this is how the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, put it recently:

“Those who believe the easy solution is to close doors should forget about it. When a door is closed people will open a window. If the window is closed, people will dig a tunnel. If there is a basic need of survival, a basic need of protection, people will move, whatever obstacles are put in their way – those obstacles will only make their journeys more dramatic.”

The Pope has called on compassion for asylum seekers saying “We have become used to other people’s suffering, it doesn’t concern us, it doesn’t interest us, it’s none of our business.”

Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said the pontiff would be “appalled” if he visited Manus Island, where asylum seekers are held under a policy he described as “cruel and dehumanising”.

The Australian Catholic Bishops issued a statement condemning the asylum-seeker policies of both sides of politics, describing Australia’s approach as “institutionalised cruelty”.

“Pope Francis would subscribe to that statement that the current policy supported by both sides of politics is morally unacceptable and shames our country and the need for it to be reconsidered is urgent,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“What is puzzling and indeed troubling in all of this is that you have politicians who are not themselves cruel people, quite the contrary, but they are presiding over a policy which has to be named cruel. And this can only happen if those who are seeking refuge on our shores are dehumanised – and that’s the heart of the problem.”

The decision to give the UNHCR an extra $44 million comes on the back of cuts of $3.7 billion to foreign aid.

With the exception of Cambodia, Nepal and Timor-Leste, aid to countries in Asia was cut by 40%. The Pacific and Papua New Guinea were largely spared (only a 5% cut to PNG and 10% cut to Pacific Regional funding). Sub-Saharan Africa was slashed by 70%, and aid to the Middle East was cut by 43% with aid to Iraq being phased out.

This will see Australian aid fall to 0.22% of Gross National Income (a global measure of donor generosity) in 2017-18, the lowest level in Australia’s history. The OECD has a target of 0.7% of GNI which the UK achieved in 2013.

In his campaign speech Abbott said “It’s much easier, after all, to persuade people to do more for others when it doesn’t involve robbing Peter to pay Paul.” But apparently taking with one hand and then giving back less with the other is just fine.

Labor increased the humanitarian intake to 20,000 – the Coalition cut that by 6,250 so taking 12,000 more refugees doesn’t even make up for the cut for the last two years.

Tony Abbott says that Australia is entitled to feel proud of our generosity – except that what he is offering is far less than he took away.

And while thousands of people remain locked up in offshore detention, Australians should feel nothing but shame. They still need our help.

Lest we forget.

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  1. mars08

    More important question:

    Should we feel proud of our eager participation in the needless, illegal, contrived war of aggression, which caused this tragedy?

  2. PC

    Abbott and his miserable regime are the epitome of the plight of many old boxers: They can still swing a punch but they sure as hell can’t take one.

  3. David

    “Pope Francis would subscribe to that statement that the current policy supported by both sides of politics is morally unacceptable and shames our country and the need for it to be reconsidered is urgent,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
    How coincidental leaders of both major parties are Catholics, educated by the same order of Priests the Pope took his vows with, the Jesuits.
    That however is where the coincidence ends. Neither conforms to the Catholic teachings as espoused by His Holiness. Abbott, Shorten thy name is hypocrisy.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Riverview students, who have some refugees there on scholarships, sent a letter and petition to Abbott and Shorten along with Hockey, Joyce and Pyne.

    “We feel compelled to express our disappointment that, as graduates of our Jesuit schools, you would allow those principles, cultivated in our common tradition, to be betrayed,” Henry writes.

    “We look for heroes among our alumni, for insignes (generous and influential people, as Ignatius styled them). Instead we see only allegiances to parties that trade human lives for political expediency, that choose the lowest common denominator to woo the populace, and that speak of economic problems rather than the dignity of the human person, especially the most vulnerable.”

    The letter says the policies of the Coalition and Labor “betray our national character of being large-hearted, of giving someone ‘a fair go’, and of ‘helping the battler’. They lack moral courage and, in the light of our international obligations, may be illegal”.

    “This is a very disheartening time for us. But your stance on this issue simply impels us to live out our Ignatian heritage in a more authentic way,” Henry writes in the letter.

    “It is imperative that we show our support if we want to push for a more moral, and a more just Australia. Remember how Jesus said our lives would be judged: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.”

  5. Matters Not

    you have politicians who are not themselves cruel people

    Not themselves cruel people. How does he know? Perhaps he asked them? Did they tell him? If one can’t judge others by their actions over time, then what is the alternative(s)?

    Perhaps he checked their religious affiliation and somehow extrapolated from that?

    Or perhaps he just has ‘faith’? And we know, particularly from recent findings, how reliable ‘faith’ is when it comes to judging character.

  6. Loz

    Absolutely agree with your article Kaye.

  7. babyjewels10

    Well said, Kaye.

  8. Kaye Lee

    Tony ordered a sortie into Syria before the by-election and he got his wish. We sent two fighter jets in there who did nothing and then came back to base. The refuelling and surveillance plane went with them. I wonder how much that cost us for Tony to flex his non-existent muscles.

  9. stephentardrew

    Great article Kaye.

  10. Florence nee Fedup

    Can’t see why we are unable to begin intermediately. Many in region have applications in for up two years and more. Could start going through that list first. No new facilities needed here. Already in place, Some have only recently been closed. Could speed up processing the 30,000 onshore, allowing them to get work, get on with their lives.

    Just let existing system get on with the job. No need to reinvent the wheel.

  11. mars08


    … Rahim is one of dozens of refugees with permanent residency who have told The Saturday Paper that their citizenship ceremonies were delayed or cancelled without explanation. One refugee whose ceremony was cancelled eight months ago said: “I got a text message and email [from the department] saying that my citizenship has been scheduled in error – please do not attend the ceremony as you won’t be given citizenship certificate.”
    Common thread is boat arrival

    After being alerted to the widespread delays in awarding citizenship for refugees, the Refugee Council of Australia began an online survey to find the patterns. Since it was launched two weeks ago, more than 160 refugees have responded, saying their citizenship is not being processed. A further 50 people have attended the council’s offices to raise their concerns.

    “The common thread between these people is that the vast majority of them arrived seeking protection in Australia by boat,” the council’s chief executive, Paul Power, says. “The evidence we have collated suggests this denial of citizenship for those who arrived by boat appears to have started around the time the present government was elected. We have contacted the minister for immigration to clarify if there has been a change of policy, because nothing on this front has been made public. He has not responded as yet.”

    Power continues: “Citizenship for someone who has been forced to flee their home and seek protection as a refugee has profound psychological and emotional benefits. We would strongly encourage the minister to ensure this cohort of people are freed from their legal limbo.”

    It’s not only the refugees who are kept in the dark about the delay, but refugee rights groups and legal services. Jemma Hollands, a senior solicitor from Refugee Advice and Casework Services, says: “It’s quite new to us and the department is not telling as to why it’s happening. [Refugee clients] are not told the reasons and they are not given any meaningful explanation by the department of immigration as to why the delay is happening.”

    The Department of Immigration and Border Protection refused to say if any permanent residents who arrived in Australia by boat had been granted citizenship in the past six months…

    Another mongrel act. The heartless bastards can’t help themselves.

  12. Peter F

    Kaye “Tony ordered a sortie into Syria before the by-election and he got his wish”. Clearly Kaye, this was not an ‘operational matter’, or we would not have been told about it, so it must have been ordered for some other reason – surprise, surprise.

  13. Douglas Evans

    Should we feel proud of our generosity? Of course not. Leaving aside our disgraceful bipartisan off-shore ‘indefinite detention’ centres for now, the Abbott government slashed our annual refugee intake by a third to 13,750 when they came to office. They undertook to ‘increase’ this number to 18,750 over four years. The ‘extra’ 12,000 places for Syrian refugees is a one-off increase in our fairly paltry overall refugee intake and has only occurred because a desperate PM wants to cling to power a little longer. Presumably once the 12,000 places have been allocated we will (if this government remains in power) return to a process of gradually ‘increasing’ annual refugee intake numbers to 18,750. However Australia’s refugee intake in 2015 is significantly smaller, in gross terms and proportionally, than it used to be: in 1980-81, Australia accepted 22,500 refugees, at a time when the country’s population was only 15 million. The contemptible Abbott government is particularly heartless in respect of this matter but, while Labor’s record may be better overall, Australia’s meanness to refugees has been a characteristic of both sides of our political scene for a very long time.

  14. mars08

    @Douglas Evans… well said. Best comment I’ve seen on this topic … anywhere.

    As a nation, we should be ashamed.

  15. Douglas Evans

    Hidden somewhere in the lower echelons of the ALP there may lurk our very own Jeremy Corbyn, someone who speaks out bravely and consistently for refugees. Despite the right-wing dinosaurs’ apparently unbreakable grasp on power within the Labor Party, I can imagine that the rank and file, finally revolted by the Party’s infatuation with neo-liberalism and focus-group-driven, lowest-common-denominator politics, will somehow rise up and unite behind such a person. Fired with their renewed idealism it is conceivable (just) that the Party will take to an election sometime soon a platform and policy suite characterized by rationality and compassion. But try as I might, I can’t imagine that an entitled, self-absorbed Australian electorate profoundly uninterested in such ideas will suddenly see the error of their way and vote for such a package. It’s just not going to happen is it? In the same way I fear Jeremy Corbyn’s re-invented, re-energized Labour Party will fail spectacularly at the next election.

  16. Adrianne Haddow

    Yes, Douglas, of course not. There is no generosity in anything this government puts its grubby hands to.
    John Howard and the daily telegraph have a lot to answer for.
    Our demonisation of refugees, in particular those from Muslim countries seemed to begin just prior to Johnny’s bid for joining the big boys in Iraq. And was daily reinforced by the murdoch press with reports of criminal activity perpetrated by people of Middle Eastern appearance.
    From then on it’s been a downhill road for Australia as a multicultural nation.
    One only needs to look at the number of times the word ‘jihad’ appears in headlines, often with no connection to any religious news story, and often by government ministers in describing any attempt at true reporting about this government and it’s bungles. Their misuse of the terms racist and xenophobe toward people with opposing principles adds to the hypocrisy.
    I suspect those in the government don’t want a big increase in the numbers of refugees because we need those places for the influx of Chinese workers who will be arriving under the terms of CHAFTA.
    As for generosity, I suspect their response to the European crisis had more to do with abbot’s bad press in the New York Times, than any heartfelt empathy.
    If, this government wants to retain any credibility, they must close those detention centres, and give the refugees who have been held there a chance at life.

  17. David

    I am, have been for months at the treatment of Asylum Seekers on Nauru and Manus. Still waiting for the naming and trial of the murderer of Reza Barati…it is beyond comprehension and true justice a violent murderer walks free seemingly beyond the arm of the law.

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