The posturing of the Greens on the two big issues of this election, asylum seekers and climate change has given us two appalling policy outcomes. They sided with Tony Abbott in the Senate on both critical issues to defeat improved policy. The country is now paying a very heavy price. The perfect became the enemy of the good.
The Malaysian Agreement was not ideal and needed improvement but it was an important building block towards a regional arrangement. In opposing the processing of asylum claims in Malaysia the Greens were unremitting in their bashing of Malaysia. The collapse of the Malaysian arrangement gave oxygen to people smugglers in persuading desperate people to take dangerous sea voyages. The evidence is clear. When the High Court rejected the Malaysian Agreement in August 2011 irregular maritime arrivals were running at less than 300 per month. By May2012 they had increased to 1200.They have been rising rapidly ever since, reaching over 14,000 in the six months to June 30 this year The rot set in with the collapse of the Malaysian Agreement. We have been in a downward policy spiral ever since…. Nauru, Manus, PNG, TPV’s, turn backs at sea and even buying clapped out vessels in Indonesia. The madness continues. The Greens cannot wash their hands of the havoc they have wrought. The Government attempted to amend the Migration Act to correct the problems identified by the High Court but the Greens colluded with Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison to block the amending legislation.
Yet that Malaysian Agreement was actively supported by the UNHCR. The Director of UNHCR in Australia told the Australian Parliament on 30 September 2011 that
“Many persons of concern to UNHCR stand to benefit from the programme (with Malaysia) by having their status regularised. It could mean all refugees in Malaysia would, in addition to their registration and ID documents from UNHCR, be registered with the government’s immigration data base and thus protected from arbitrary arrest and detention. It would also mean that all refugees in Malaysia would have the right to work on a par with legal migrants in the country. This would also entitle them to the same insurance and health schemes as documented for legal migrant workers.”
This agreement could have been quite historic, a first between a refugee convention signatory country and a non-signatory country in our region. For Malaysia, this agreement was also quite remarkable progress. This is in a country that has a burden of much larger numbers of refugees than we have. But because the agreement with Malaysia was not enshrined in law it was discounted by the High Court. What that means is that if it wasn’t enshrined in law we could not trust the Malaysian government. What an awful outcome for refugees and our relations with the Malaysian government.
It is true that the numbers of boat arrivals who seek asylum in Australia are miniscule in world terms. . But we have a political problem with boats that is exploited by Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison. The Greens abetted the coalition in the name of policy purity. Then the Labor government joined the rush to the bottom.
The Greens must also accept major responsibility for the decline in public support for effective action on climate change. They opposed in the Senate the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme of the first Rudd Government. Belatedly the Greens then supported the Gillard Government’s legislation including the carbon tax which is much inferior to the CPRS. In the intervening years we have seen acrimonious and divisive debate and a denial of the science on climate change. As a result, public support for a carbon tax or Emissions Trading Scheme has plunged from 75% in 2007 to less than 40% today. The Greens cannot wash their hands of this debacle. They triggered it in the Senate.
Whether on climate change or on asylum seekers, Australia is paying a very heavy price for the Greens’ policy purity. Asylum seekers are paying an even heavier price.