All at sea again.

Jun 26, 2014

Lt Gen Angus Campbell, the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders is at it again highlighting the policy and political achievements of the Coalition government on asylum seekers rather than sticking to his last, and ensuring that Australian naval vessels don’t stray into Indonesian waters.

Gen. Campbell says that as a government employee, he doesn’t comment on government policy. But apparently he has no constraint about commenting when it suits him. He declines to comment when there are embarrassing political questions. He then says they are ‘on water’ matters.

On Tuesday this week at a speech to the Royal United Services Institute of NSW  he made two political points as reported by the Guardian.

The first was that Australia was among the top three nations resettling refugees, according to the UNHCR. That is technically correct, but it is quite misleading. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

There is a UNHCR resettlement program which resettled 88,578 refugees in 2012. We were ranked third behind the US and Canada in this program. This is a useful program but it is quite minor when set against the total refugee problem. In 2012 there were 15.4 million refugees in the world. There were another 28.8 million displaced persons. The numbers would have increased since then particularly with the disasters in Syria and Iraq.

Of the 15.4 million refugees in 2012, the top five hosting countries were Pakistan 1.638 million people, Iran 868,000, Germany 590,000, Kenya 565,000 and Syria 477,000. Australia ranked number 49 in the world in hosting 30,000 refugees. Taking into account our population, we had a world ranking of 62 and on a wealth/GDP basis, we were ranked 87. That is all a long way from the third ranking that Gen. Campbell tells us about. His claim just does not bear close examination when we consider the total problem.

The second thing that Gen. Campbell said to the Royal United Services Institute was that the policy that he was implementing in OSB had saved lives. He estimated that without OSB, up to 180 more people might have been drowned.

Is he really suggesting that the purpose of OSB is to stop drownings? It may be a consequence but it is not the objective of OSB. The objective of OSB as Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison cannot help telling us is to ‘stop the boats’. It is not to stop drownings. Gen. Campbell’s public relations gloss is designed to hide immoral and cruel policies. If it was about saving lives at sea, the government would be nominating him for a human rights award.

The Director General of UNHCR, Antonio Guterres, has recently spoken of our ‘strange’ phobia about boat arrivals when we ignore the 8,000 plus asylum seekers who come by air each year and, in world terms, the few asylum seekers that come to Australia. As with refugees, Australia ranks well down the list in the number of asylum seekers coming to our shores and seeking protection. That is one of the benefits of our remoteness. In 2012 the five top countries receiving asylum seekers were Turkey 325,000, Jordan 136,000, Lebanon 135,000, South Sudan 101,000 and France 98,000. Australia ranked number 20 with less than 30,000 asylum seekers coming to our shore either by boat or by plane. In relation to our population our world ranking was down at 29 and in relation to our wealth/GDP we ranked 52 in the world.

We are nowhere near as generous as Gen. Campbell suggests in trying to justify the immoral policies which Australia is pursuing and which he is helping to implement.

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