The Hon. Tony Abbott, MP
Dear Mr Abbott,
I’m very glad to read that you welcome feedback, and advice as you seek to lead “an accountable and open government”. These are laudable values for any government. I recently read some comments you made, and what began as a small Facebook comment regarding these comments, turned into an open letter of sorts, which I am writing for your consideration.
In regards to the issue of offshore processing of asylum seekers, in the Guardian newspaper you are quoted as saying:
“Let’s remember that everyone in these centres is there because he or she has come illegally to Australia by boat. They have done something that they must have known was wrong.”
The problem is that this is an unnecessary distortion of the facts. Seeking asylum (even if arriving by boat) is not illegal. It is a human right. As the Parliament’s own website states:
‘There is no offence under Australian law that criminalises the act of arriving in Australia or the seeking of asylum without a valid visa.’
Moreover, it is no “idle curiosity” to ask for transparency in the treatment of asylum seekers. We are not at war with asylum seekers, but have legal and moral responsibility to process their claims fairly and humanely, and it would appear to many (including the UNHCR ) that our government is not doing this. That is why we want to see what is going on. As noted, you are seeking to lead an open and accountable government, and this is an issue of accountability.
You claim that “the vast majority of these people, as the former foreign minister Bob Carr said, are economic migrants”, but this is simply not supported by the facts. Again, see the Parliament’s own website which states that boat arrivals:
‘are in fact more likely to be recognised as refugees than those who have arrived by air. For example, the progressive protection visa grant rate for asylum seekers from the top country of citizenship for boat arrivals (Afghanistan) has varied between about 80 and 95 per cent since 2009′.
Your predecessor, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, even castigated Mr Carr for making this unsubstantiated claim. I’m confused as to why a Liberal Prime Minister would therefore choose to echo the unfounded sentiments of an ALP politician instead of the humanitarian ethos of a notable Liberal statesman.
Indeed, as Mr Fraser pointed out, the only way Australia will “stop the boats” is to become worse than that which people are fleeing from. I don’t think any of us want that.
Rather, can we stop seeing and portraying asylum seekers as the other, as ‘these people’, as an enemy to be defeated, and instead recognise that they too are bearers of God’s image, deserving of just and humane treatment, and the traditional Aussie ‘fair go’?