We Need to Talk About Kevin Rudd

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WORDS Olivia Whenman

power |ˈpou(-ə)r|
noun
1 the ability to do something or act in a particular way, esp. as a faculty or quality”.

As of today asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia. – Kevin Rudd (16/7/2013)

Recently, the world has provided us with more than its fair share of injustice. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced that asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat will now be sent to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Come on up Kevin Rudd!!!!! You’ve just won this week’s “Cold-hearted PM” award.

Words like “inhumane” and “cruel” are strong. But when you have to leave your home for fear of being persecuted and then, get ready for it, land in Australia to be moved to an off shore detention centre that was recently described by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) as having conditions below that of international standards for the reception and treatment of asylum seekers… Then yeah that’s pretty inhumane and cruel.

In fact, Kevin Rudd pointed out that the first priority is to refurbish the facilities so that they are “up to standard.” But currently, asylum seekers are housed in tents and risk contracting malaria. Self-harm and suicide attempts on Manus Island are also common, as shown in a report shown on Four Corners earlier this year.

So asylum seekers cross the ocean in ramshackle boats to get to Australia in hope of a better future, and Kevin Rudd thinks his policy will stop the corrupt people smugglers who cash-in on the desperation of asylum seekers and bring them.  You can’t stop the boats unless you stop the conflict, and I’m quite aware Kevin Rudd doesn’t have the power to stop conflict.

But what Kevin Rudd does have is the power to give asylum seekers the human rights they deserve, the life they deserve.

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asylum |əˈsīləm|
noun
1 (also political asylum) the protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee
• shelter or protection from danger

Asylum seekers are looking for asylum “shelter or protection from danger.” An ABC interview with a people smuggler confirms that regardless of the new policy, people aren’t going to be deterred. People are still going to be seeking asylum because places like Manus Island are better than the places they are fleeing from. In the end, despite the conditions in the detention centre, they’ll be alive and that means they still have hope for a better future.

So Kevin Rudd is effectively punishing the people and not the smugglers. He opens up a door for people smugglers to exploit asylum seekers even more. Australia is party to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol, which outlines the definition of a refugee, the rights of the refugee and the legal obligations of the State. As a party to the convention, Australia agreed it would not send refugees back to the country they have fled from. But for some reason the convention has been cramping the government’s style and so it’s tried some “ingenious” tricks to sidestep it.

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loophole |ˈloōpˌ(h)ōl|
noun
1 “an ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rules”.

Recent loopholes the government have implemented to uphold the convention but simultaneously not actually uphold the convention include, the Australian migration zone. You know, that fantastic policy where the mainland of Australia is excised from the migration zone? Basically, it means that asylum seekers can be moved to detention centres because they do not have visas that give them entry into the country. And even though it’s not actually illegal to come into Australia without a visa if you are seeking asylum, the Australian migration zone means it sort of is illegal… and it also means you can’t stay in Australia, hence the detention centres. It’s at these detentions centres asylum seekers will be processed. But FYI, previous discussion on asylum seekers has highlighted that onshore procewwssing is much cheaper. Australia isn’t even “flooded” with asylum applications in the first place. Sweden has to process more applications than Australia.

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exceptional |ikˈsep sh ənəl|
adjective
unusual; “not typical”.

Oh and for those wondering how asylum seekers can pay people smugglers but can’t pay for a visa. You’ve obviously misunderstood the situation. It’s not always safe for these people to obtain appropriate documentation or contact the Australian embassy for a passport or visa and subsequently hop on a QANTAS flight to come here. Filling out forms isn’t a priority when your own life and your family’s life are at stake. Also, conflict might be so abrupt or escalate so quickly they are forced to flee ASAP. As the Refugee Council of Australia puts it, “Permitting asylum seekers entry to a country without travel documents is similar to allowing ambulance drivers to exceed the speed limit in an emergency – the action would be ordinarily be considered illegal, but the circumstances warrant an exception.”

So by forcing these people to go to Manus Island, Rudd’s forgetting the exceptional circumstances these people have come from. These circumstances sometimes include something called WAR. Not many of us have had to experience it, and we should remember this. We are extremely privileged here in Australia. So people smugglers aren’t ever going away simply because asylum seekers will now be taken to Manus Island. If there is war, and unfortunately at the moment there is a lot of war in the world, people will leave their homes, they will pay people smugglers and they will hop on boats. They will have seen things and experienced things we can’t even begin to imagine. And they will leave that all behind in the name of a better future in places like Australia because we are a privileged nation.

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empathy |ˈempəθē|
noun
“the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”.

I am lucky to be an Australian citizen. I was born here and I’ve lived here my whole life. I have also had the most amazing fortune of mentoring four refugee high school students through Macquarie University’s LEAP Refugee Mentoring program. I never thought that by having these students come into my life I would learn so much. Clever and creative, the girls I mentored were on their way to big and wonderful things.

Kevin Rudd lacks compassion. There are girls who will come over in boats seeking asylum, girls who are similar in character to the girls I mentored. It is because of this I know for a fact, that asylum seekers do not deserve Manus Island. They have a resilience that we will never know or understand. They have a courage that we can only dream of.

Amnesty International said the new policy marked “the day Australia decided to turn its back on the world’s most vulnerable people, closed the door and threw away the key”. And I agree.

These people are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. Rudd’s intentions were to stop the boats but in doing so he disregards the human rights of asylum seekers. If he had some empathy he’d realise that these people are worth more than a detention centre, because if we are than they are too.