This afternoon as I was moving about the office block in which I work I heard some snatches of Warren Truss being interviewed about asylum seekers on Sky News.
The parts I heard were:
... those who really care about asylum seekers...the ones of highest priority...
... it is best to keep them offshore as a signal to others that this is not an easy way into Australia.
Like most of the Coalition and many in the Government, Mr Truss manages to sound as though he has had a humanity bypass.
(1) Pontificating about the necessity to prioritise asylum seekers is the first resort of the naïf and the last resort of the scoundrel. There is no priority list, nor can there ever be. People flee persecution, and in the dire circumstances that create refugees, all that anyone can do is do the best they can for themselves and for those they care about. Some end up in a mass grave, some end up dead alongside the route of their flight, some end up in a camp, some make it to a place where they can avail themselves of their rights under the United Nations Convention on Refugees. Their right to flee and their right to claim asylum is not contingent upon the circumstances of others.
(2) The gorge rises at the thought of treating any of our fellow human beings in a manner that relates not to the circumstances and rights of the individuals in question, but in a manner shaped by the desire to send “a signal” to someone else. This is a ghastly form of semaphore.
(3) Apart from the inhumanity of such behaviour, it is an affront to any society which claims to be governed by the rule of law. Refugees have legal rights and should be treated with humanity and respect.
(4) It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the proposition that entering Australia as a genuine refugee in a boat is an “easy” way to enter Australia. Do the people who utter these words have any idea what they are saying? Neither the process of becoming a refugee nor the boat journey itself could by any stretch of the imagination be described as “easy”. No-one would choose it.
On reflection, I think tears are the appropriate response. As Bob Dylan said back in about 1963:
Oh, you who philosophise disgrace
And criticise all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
Now is the time for your tears.