Kevin Rudd last week puffed out his chest, talked about being tough, then beat up some of the most vulnerable people in the world. His government’s decision to send all asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea – not just for processing but, if their claim is successful, for resettlement too – was, perhaps, not surprising. Election season in Australia always seems to include a race to the bottom of humanity, a grubby contest to see who can show the least mercy towards men, women and children fleeing violence. And, granted, he didn’t lie about Afghan mothers throwing their children into the sea like one of his predecessors, John Howard. The language (“processing”, “solutions”) was clinical, cold, dehumanising. But again, it’s no different from what we’ve come to expect from frontline Australian politicians.
This felt somehow worse though, more grubby. Australia is closing its doors, paying Papua New Guinea to take its dirty linen in the way we pay Bangladesh to make it cheaply in the first place. It’s outsourcing; the ultimate globalised solution for the ultimate consequence of globalisation.
Claiming asylum is not illegal. It is a fundamental human right, one that all of us hope we will never have to rely upon. Remember where they’re coming from: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, Congo. Countries where you and I, if faced with persecution, would fight to our final breath to escape, cross oceans and deserts, put our lives in the hands of unscrupulous people smugglers, in the hope – a last, desperate hope – that someone, somewhere would provide us with an inviolable place of refuge.
It’s almost too obvious to point out that Australia is a land where the vast majority of people are descended from migrants or are actual migrants themselves. But if Rudd wants Australia to be a country where migrants aren’t welcome, let’s start with two he knows rather well. Julia Gillard, prime minster until last month, should be sent back to Wales. Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, should be put on a plane – or a boat, perhaps – and sent back to England.
Of course, that won’t happen. Those types of migrants are fine. This policy affects only those who arrive by boat. If you’ve got a bit of money, don’t worry, just head to Australia by plane. Those who turn up at Sydney Airport and claim asylum will have their claim processed there and, if successful, will be able to live their days out on Bondi.
The Greens’ leader, Christine Milne – currently vying for the coveted position of “last Australian politician left with any morals” – rightly called this “Australia’s day of shame”. It’s a shame the rest of us may share soon, though. Outsourcing asylum: it’s coming to a country near you, unlike the actual asylum seekers, of course.
Sending people to an island far away from home is never right, never just, as Kevin Rudd’s ancestors knew full well.
Steve Bloomfield is Monocle's foreign editor