The medical evacuation bill has passed both houses of parliament, and that's a good thing for the people who are currently detained on Manus Island or Nauru. Many thanks to the activists who kept this issue constantly in the public eye.
The challenge now is for Australia is to completely reform the way it looks at asylum seeker and refugee policy. We need to start engaging with the problem a bit better and understanding the problem a bit better.
The problem, by the way, is not these people, who are seeking asylum and who have done nothing illegal. The problem is that tens of millions of people every year are displaced and forced to migrate.
Academics and people with lived experience as refugees have lined up to give their advice and we haven't really listened. In 2012 we did assemble an Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers and we did take their short-term advice to open the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres. But their medium- and long-term advice of working with Indonesia and Malaysia in particular to process claims faster and bring people to safety? Not so much.
And now, Scott Morrison has announced that Australia's going to re-open the Christmas Island detention centre, seemingly without asking anyone on Christmas Island whether that is feasible.
Now, I reject offshore detention mainly because of the lack of oversight there. But it's also hideously expensive and it funnels public money to private providers, often through not necessarily the most transparent means. That throws up the question: Why does Australia spend so much money (upwards of $1 billion a year) just to break people?
So when we ask the government, "Why?" they of course say it's a "matter of national security", it's "protecting Australia's borders". But from what? What actually is the threat here, from these people who need to come to Australia for medical treatment? When pressed on that, and they don't have a further answer, the second line of argument is that, "We've got to stop the deaths at sea". Nobody — absolutely nobody — wants people to make that hazardous journey by boat to Australia. But Australia's laws are not stopping anyone from doing that. Australia just turns the boats away so that these people can die somewhere else.
If our government was honest, they would say that they just need to demonise a small group of people to make us feel safer. But we can be The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. We can reject these politics of fearmongering. We can reject the idea that a few innocent people must suffer in order to make us feel safer.
Australians won't be fooled this time around. We've gotten wiser since John Howard tried to pull this on us in the early 2000s, and if the Victorian state election showed us anything, it's that we won't accept fearmongering as a substitute for policy and vision.
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