Yesterday the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth Parliament met for many long hours discussing and debating a legislative response to the prevailing stalemate about how best to respond to the phenomenon of ‘people smuggling’. Eventually the House passed a bill that would deal with the issue and this has now been sent to the Senate for consideration. It is widely expected that the Senate will reject the bill, with both the Opposition and the Greens Party having the numbers, and concerns with the bill, to reject the bill.
I am ashamed, as a citizen of Australia, that our Federal Parliament would have such difficulty in addressing a humanitarian issue. I am ashamed that politicians seem more intent on scoring party political points than attending to a grave injustice which puts the lives of people at risk. I am ashamed that the value of some lives are deemed to be less than others.
The issue of asylum seekers is not however an issue of border protection, despite the protestations of some to the contrary. It is an issue of morality, and fundamental respect for human dignity. Those people who, by whatever means, arrive in Australia and claim asylum have done nothing illegal in doing so, and for any political party to claim that they do is simply peddling fear to an easily sway populace. Any solution must address the legitimate right of people to come here and press their claim for asylum.
By definition, asylum seekers – in any context – will enter the borders of a sovereign nation (including Australia) without ‘official permission’. The reality is that they don’t need ‘permission’ to exercise their legal and human right to seek asylum from persecution, fear and tyranny. It is not illegal to do so, and those seeking asylum will only become ‘illegal immigrants’, subject to detention and eventual removal, if their claim for asylum is assessed and subsequently rejected.
The country in which ‘asylum seekers’ arrives (including Australia) have a legal and moral obligation to consider their claim for asylum regardless of the manner in which they arrived. Until a claim for asylum is assessed, and either accepted or rejected, those claiming asylum are not doing anything illegal, and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity – not vilified as presenting a danger to our nation. The treatment of the humanitarian issue of asylum seekers as an issue of ‘border protection’ (or ‘national security’ as is sometimes used) is simply nonsensical, and represents an oversimplification for the sake of political spin.
The sooner the Australian population – and the Commonwealth Parliament – recognises this the sooner we can find a solution. I believe that in the last twenty four hours the entire Commonwealth Parliament has failed the Commonwealth of Australia, and prostituted our international reputation to partisan political gain. As a citizen of Australia I expect better from our elected representatives, and that they have failed (again) to act in the best interests of our nation will come back to haunt them at the ballot box.
It is time to put politics aside and realise the the Parliament of our nation is supposed to be the place with policy and solutions are found – rather than mud slung.