RAW: Australia exports responsibility to South-East Asia.

By Lewis Dowell

This week two of the biggest stories in Australian politics have been the Malaysian refugee solution, where Australia off loads illegal refugees to detention centers in Malaysia in return for Malaysian refugees, and the transportation of Australian livestock to various Indonesian abattoirs. Yes it would seem that Australia’s number one export to South-East Asia is currently responsibility. Responsibility of the welfare of both our livestock, and asylum seekers who arrive illegally to our shores.

Now many of you may feel uneasy about the comparison, it seems offensive that I would compare the livelihood of cattle to that of people. Surely the welfare of our fellow human beings is more important than that of cattle. But the political and social reaction has not matched that sentiment. In fact after the 4 Corners’ story on Indonesian abattoirs, public reaction was so strong that the government immediately suspended transportation to up to 11 Indonesian abattoirs. The action was deemed by the public and many in the media as insufficient as there are over 100 abattoirs that we export to, and for all we know, are just as bad as the 11 we have banned.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has just today claimed that the government’s action on the matter was ‘grossly inadequate’ and has demanded the government ban all live trade to Indonesia.

The reaction to the Malaysian solution for refugees has been much different. There have been calls against the transportation of unaccompanied children, and talk amongst left wing politicians and some media about the fact that Malaysian detention centers may have strong human rights issues. The fact that the UN is unconvinced should tell us something (even though the UN is rarely taken seriously in these types of circumstances. A condemnation by Shane Warne would probably carry more weight in the minds of the public).

The Liberal party’s condemnation of the ‘solution’ has mainly been along the lines of ‘it’s the same as the plan we had that you didn’t like’ which is as about as helpful as a condemnation by Shane Warne. The Liberal party have no concern over the welfare of those who will experience the journey, probably because they realise criticism along these lines may burn the bridge that will let them treat refugees in a similar fashion if they get back into power. Focusing on the hypocrisy, and saying they could do it more efficiently (not more safely) is a safer line for them.

There is of course hypocrisy in the solution. The Labor party fought hard against former Prime Ministers stance against refugees and boat people, and played the morality card that the Liberal party is currently staying far away from.

There is another aspect to the solution that has received much criticism from conservative commentators and the Liberal party. The fact that it isn’t an export but a trade, the fact that we will send over 800 asylum seekers in return for 4000 refugees. This has seemed to confuse a lot of people. It is only confusing if you see the point of the plan as lowering all immigration of asylum seekers to Australia. That may be the wish of many a member of the Liberal party and the public but is not the motive of the plan. The idea of the plan is to discourage illegal and worse of all, extremely dangerous transport by boat to Australia, but in turn continue to take in refugees who have been waiting for resettlement. We send over 800 asylum seekers, who have come by illegal boat transport, and we receive 4000 recognised refugees who have been waiting in Malaysian detention centers to be resettled.

Andrew Bolt and other conservative commentators have been highly critical of the plan for this point, the fact we receive 4000 for 800, blatantly ignoring the international bureaucratic difference between the two types of refugees. What this tells me was the reason and justifications given during the boat people debacle during the time of John Howard, that they weren’t against refugees, but against queue jumpers, that it wasn’t the amount of refugees coming in but the fact they were coming in before refugees that had waited in detention centers for legal resettlement, was just a cover for their inherent xenophobia. It wasn’t the manner they came at all but the amount coming in.

However the fact we will be taking in a great number of refugees from Malaysia does not change the fact we are sending 800 people, a high number of which are unaccompanied children, to an uncertain fate. Luckily many politicians independent and otherwise, are now speaking out against the plan, particular on the basis of the welfare of those we send abroad, many of which are calling for the plan to receive backing from the UN on the basis of human rights.

The public’s reaction is still out. As we see more and more people socially up in arms about the transport of live cattle to Indonesia, calling for further research into the safety of the transport across the sea, the quality of the abattoirs they are sent to, and the call for a complete ban of export of all live stock to Indonesia, I find it baffling that the Malaysian solution has not received the same outrage.

Why aren’t the public calling for thorough research into Malaysian dentention centers, the safety of travel, and the likely welfare of those we send across the sea. I have heard (and used in this article) the term ‘unknown fate’ surrounding the Malaysian plan. If it truly is an unknown fate than why our government would be so negligent is beyond me. It seems like an obvious research standard to investigate the quality of institution we are sending people into. Then again it would seem that they were negligent enough to blindly send our cattle to abattoirs that disregard the welfare of our livestock, so maybe the government’s attention span only lasts till just off the coast of the Northern Territory.

In this day and age, you would hope that the welfare of any human despite nationality and international bureaucratic categorisation (asylum seeker, boat person, refugee), would receive a higher concern than that of cattle. The term human rights is not a buzz word, but an important international standard that needs to be taken seriously. Human rights are important and so is the UN’s approval, and the public should put more pressure on the government to uphold welfare standards for refugees. The fight for animal welfare is important and necessary, but if we don’t apply that same passion and outrage to that of the welfare of our fellow man then our priorities are in desperate need of attention.

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