Campaigning 2022: Which Major Can We Trust to Treat Refugees With the Most Cruelty?

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Election 2022

Having fled their countries of origin due to conflict or persecution, often with little more than the clothes on their backs, refugees are some of the most desperate people on the planet. And in our country, they’ve also played a crucial role at electioneering times for the past two decades.

The 2022 election is no exception. With the vote just weeks away now, the subject of refugees and whether the Labor Party can be trusted to treat them as harshly and inhumanely as the Liberal Nationals have done over the last decade has become a key issue.

At the first public debate between Morrison and Albanese on 20 April, turning back the boats was front and centre. And the PM assured the audience that of course he can be trusted to ensure that the boats will be turned around, because he designed the 2013 Operation Sovereign Borders policy.

The Labor leader, however, was able to gleefully turn towards the Sky News presenter to state that “he was the deputy prime minister when we established offshore processing”. And he then underscored that in government he’ll continue that practice, as well as the turning back of the boats.

But Morrison smugly swung back with the question, “So when you were deputy prime minister, why didn’t you support boat turn backs then?”

Owning the cruelty

The inevitable entry of how inhumanely our nation will be treating some of our fellow human beings whose lives are under such duress that they’re willing to risk it all on the hope that a wealthy nation like ours might lend a helping hand was prompted by the press last week.

A reporter put it to the opposition leader whether people smugglers might take advantage of a change of government after the 21 May election, which was a question inferring that Labor might not be as cutthroat in its treatment of these desperate people as the Liberals have been.

“We will turn boats back,” Albanese told the press on 14 April. “Turning boats back means that you don’t need offshore detention.”

This was an answer, however, that cost the Labor leader dearly for a brief period during the campaign as it seemed to suggest that Labor would be ending mandatory offshore detention in countries like Nauru.

But at the next given opportunity, Albanese clarified once more that he was deputy PM under Kevin Rudd when the policy of mandatory offshore detention for any asylum seekers arriving by boat was set in place, and he surely wasn’t going to be abandoning it now.

Although, Morrison continues to claim an upper hand in the debate on which party is going to go tougher on refugees following the next election, because the Coalition continues to support the ongoing use of temporary protection visas, while Labor wants to abolish them.

TPVs mean that around 18,000 refugees who’ve been living within the Australian community since 2013, exist in a permanent state of limbo as every three years their temporary visa expires and they have to apply for a new one, with no guarantee that it will be forthcoming.

Representing the people

Twenty six of the Medevac refugees were recently released from the Park Hotel in Melbourne where they’d been locked up since December 2020, leaving around five or six detainees left in the immigration prison after nine years of detention in total.

So, the cruel truth of the matter is that the Coalition imprisoned thousands of asylum seekers and refugees offshore, and later a number of them onshore, for various amounts of time – some for as long as nine years – only to eventually let them go.

Torture for tortures sake might be another way of putting it.

But when the question is ever raised as to why such harsh policies on refugees is an election issue of utmost importance, the response is always it’s a vote winner, which leads to the question as to what it is about the Australian psyche that wants to see poor desperate foreigners punished.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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