Are there no bounds to the Coalition government’s cynicism, mismanagement and disregard for fiscal responsibility and human dignity when it comes to refugees and people seeking asylum?
Ahead of establishing orderly regional processing, something the government has inexplicably neglected, the key deterrent now for people smugglers is intercepting their boats. Turn-backs are more effective and far less costly than mandatory, unlimited offshore detention, a policy that has shamed the nation, wasted several billion dollars of taxpayers’ money, and caused deaths. It has also led to the chronic mental and physical ill-health of most of the desperate children, women and men marooned for years on Manus Island and Nauru against international law.
Australian Border Force is struggling with budget constraints and relying on the Defence Department to make up the shortfall. This is compromising our military services. Leaked minutes from a top-level meeting at the department reveal Defence was forced to reduce counter-terrorism ocean patrols, cancel a maritime operation with key Pacific neighbours and cancel an air surveillance exercise with Indonesia.
Border Force’s underfunding is causing on-water deficiencies and poses ‘‘an increased risk’’ to maritime security, the leaked documents state. The lack of bucks stops, as it were, with the government. Border Force had to curtail ocean patrols to save money on fuel, a shocking false economy initially denied by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram. There is a 20 per cent shortage of staff – not expected to be resolved within two years.
Yet the minority government, which has been forced by Parliament to allow doctors more of a say in determining whether a refugee on either island requires medical evacuation to Australia, readily and recklessly plunged $1.4 billion into reopening Christmas Island, even though it has paltry medical services. The government arrogantly refuses to tell taxpayers how that $1.4 billion was calculated.
It has long been evident that the government’s policy is as much about dog-whistling on race as it is about saving lives at sea. Otherwise, it would have pushed for and led on regional processing (at the moment there is no queue to jump), and would not have been so hypocritical about the finances. A baseline cost/benefit analysis reflects poorly on the government, and some could suspect the government is signalling to people smugglers to have another go ahead of the election. Since he lost the medevac vote in Parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly suggested it will start a flow of boats, despite the fact the legislation, which has yet to trigger a single application, gives the minister veto powers.
A judicial inquiry into the treatment of asylum seekers would condemn the Coalition and Labor, which started offshore detention. So neither side is likely to do it. The Australian people will probably continue to be kept in the dark, and people seeking asylum kept in misery.
This article was published by The Age on the 9th of March 2018.