Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The long awaited Houston report

into the mess that is Australia's asylum seeker debate has just officially come out. As expected it demands compromises from all sides - something it may or may not get.
The twenty two recommendations are laid out in the Australian this morning. Along with those are an indication of where the Government, the Opposition and the Greens stand or lie on the recommendations.
I wondered just how far Houston, once our Defence Force Chief, would be prepared to oppose the government which appointed him and two colleagues to do the review. One of his colleagues claim there was political consultation and also community consultation. I doubt the consultation went far enough.
It has been done in haste and I can see some things have been left out. Perhaps they were outside the terms of reference provided. It is likely. The government would not want to climb down on some issues.
As it is the report does go against government policy. The recommendations provide for a "no advantage" scenario for people who attempt to come by boat. If the necessary legislation passes they will no longer be able to do what is viewed as "queue jumping". It will take away some, but by no means all, of the incentive to pay a people smuggler a large sum of money in the hope of resettling in Australia - and then risking your life in the hope that the navy vessel will pick you up when the bung is removed as the ship appears.
Many of the recommendations in the report closely align with the policy of the Opposition. That is hardly surprising. It was plain that they were working before they were dismantled. It is going to be much, much more difficult to get them to work again. People smugglers, indeed Asia as a whole, see the present government as "soft" and that perception is not likely to change quickly. Indonesia has no real interest in solving the problem. The current situation means that some of those in high places are making a lot of money from the misery of those endeavouring to come to Australia via Indonesian soil. They may make noises to the contrary but they will do very little.
The proposed "Malaysia solution" is still there too - and I think many people will be unhappy about that. Admittedly the report recommends it not be put in place unless there is further discussions and safeguards are put in place. The problem is that it is still a "people swap" deal and we should not be trading in human beings, especially with a country that has a very dubious human rights record and has not signed up to the Human Rights Convention.
There is something else we need to do however and that is demand much more of those who are now in detention. You want to come to Australia? Then you will attend English classes while in detention. You will learn English and show us that you have some basic communication skills. You cannot read and write in your own language? Then you will attend classes and become literate in that language too. You have no work skills? Then you will attend still other classes that will give you work skills we need - and you will go where you are sent to work.
There will be people who say "but refugees are too traumatised to cope with this sort of thing". I disagree. Most refugees are desperate to learn these skills if they do not already have them. There will be some who cannot cope but most will be able to cope. They will want to learn. My guess however is that many of those who arrived, and will arrive, by boat will suddenly "acquire" literacy and work skills.
The problems are a long way from solved but, if you want to come here, then there are things you must make an effort to learn - just as I would expect to have to learn your language and abide by your way of life if I went to the country you came from.
That is still a major failing of our asylum seeker policy.

No comments: