We’ve heard your stories one and all.
Widow, orphan, soldier amputee,
And how you strive to reach landfall
Here beyond the Arafura Sea.
You know that if you come by boat
People smugglers charge a hefty fee;
No guarantee you’ll stay afloat
To journey’s end across the Timor Sea.
If Tony Abbott now held sway
He’d stop your boat. That’s his policy.
He’d turn you round, have you towed away,
Deaf to your cries, back to the cruel sea.
Plans to lessen your suffering
Are coming from the ALP,
Anxious to find a buffering
Between Oz and the surrounding sea.
It’s been proposed by PM Gillard,
Wherever your starting point may be,
Boarding leaky boats will be barred.
You may not risk your life at sea!
There could well be an orderly queue
For you to join, perhaps certainty
That at last we might welcome you.
Though for that, you’ll have to wait and see.
Be patient. Understand you’re seeking refuge
In a land already sanctuary
To people whose anxiety is huge,
Girt as Australia is by sea.
Things here aren’t what they used to be
When we had endless plains to share
With those who came across the sea.
So forget all that, and – Come by air!
NOTES Another dreadful boat tragedy, this time in Indonesian waters, but on a boat bound for these shores. One grimly redeeming feature is that our search and rescue services have gone into action and saved as many souls as possible, bringing them here where they will be hospitalised if necessary and processed as speedily as possible. More than one hundred people have perished, many more than were lost off Christmas Island some eighteen months ago.
As in December, 2010, there is much shocked speechifying by politicians and calls for bipartisan action to prevent another such disaster. Already, we see Tony Abbott taking his stance. Bipartisanship is not enough, it seems, we need an effective policy i.e. my policy! Nauru! But there is a breaking of Coalition ranks at last with Liberal Mal Washer pleading with his party leader to compromise on this one issue. At the same time, however, we have Sarah Hanson Young re-affirming the Greens’ commitment to ‘onshore’ processing of asylum seekers. She has made it clear they are not going to support the proposal for a regional off-shore processing centre being promoted by Rob Oakeshott. His bill would allow offshore processing to occur under the Bali Process on People Smuggling, and by-pass the problem of Indonesia’s refusal to sign the UN Convention on Refugees. In spite of the Greens’ intransigence, with initiatives like Oakeshott’s and the calls for action from progressive liberals like Mal Washer we are surely closer to compromise now than ever before. Public protests in all capital cities calling for action have been been reported widely in the media.
Last year the UN Commissioner for Refugees was supportive of aspects of the government’s proposed Malaysian Solution and welcomed its efforts to reach a compromise with the Coalition, along with an increased intake of refugees from Malaysia. Sadly in August a High Court ruling dashed hopes for that plan. Apparently the government has not given up on its plans for a regional processing centre which will this time be High Court challenge proof. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s department has continued working with his other regional counterparts. The framework is there for a regional arrangement to at least be trialled, whether it be that proposed by the government or by Rob Oakeshott is immaterial. Arguing its pros and cons is no longer an option. Preventing further tragedies at sea is the priority.
I wrote this pome in May last year as a comment at The Political Sword in response to Ad Astra’s post about political sloganeering so skilfully used by the Opposition. Tony Abbott’s “STOP THE BOATS” is the supreme example of that. It was a day when PM Gillard’s agreement with Malaysia on boat people was all over the media, and looked like it was going to work. But the public debate was heated and in places unpleasant. Australia seemed hard hearted. Perhaps now that will change and soon I’ll be able to write some less cynical verses.