Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Why bother with the 'extra mile'?
The Australian Government, under Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is really struggling to persuade the Australian people that its most recent budget is fair and reasonable. Few except those in the government (and not even all of them) believe it is. Whenever this government is in trouble it always plays its favourite and most popular card: asylum seekers. I quote here from an article on the ABC website reporting the announcement by the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, of legislation to overhaul the way the claims of asylum seekers are processed in this country. Now, these laws do not apply only to ‘illegal’ asylum seekers, but also to those who follow the ‘correct channels’:
The bill ... raises the risk threshold for sending arrivals in Australia back to another country.
Currently, people will not be returned to the country they came from if there's a 10 per cent chance they will suffer significant harm there.
The Government will now raise that risk threshold to 50 per cent. Mr Morrison says the higher threshold is the Government's interpretation of its international obligations.
"It is the Government's position that the threshold applicable to the non-refoulement obligations under the [United Nation's] Convention against Torture and the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political rights) is more likely than not," he said.
"More likely than not means that there would be a 50 per cent chance that a person would suffer significant harm in the country they are returned to.
"Now this is an acceptable position which is open to Australia under international law and reflects the Government's interpretation of Australia's obligations."
Let’s be clear about this. Under the new legislation, before it is considered unacceptable to return an asylum seeker to their country of origin, they will have to prove that there would be a fifty percent chance of suffering significant harm. I imagine this usually means death, imprisonment and/or torture. (No doubt at some point this government will also attempt to redefine what it considers ‘significant’ harm.) You have to face a 1/2 risk of significant harm, otherwise you can be sent back where you came from. I don’t fancy those odds myself. Do you? Would I get in my car today if I thought there was a (say) forty percent chance of having a serious accident? Would I be obliged to work on a building site if there were ‘only’ a forty percent chance of suffering serious injury?
My feeling regarding this new legislation is: Here we go again. It perfectly encapsulates the attitude of this government on just about every issue. It will do only the barest minimum under its international obligations with regard to asylum seekers. It will provide as little in foreign aid as it possibly can. It will do only the barest minimum to assist its most vulnerable citizens. It will do only the barest minimum to address the environmental issues this planet faces. Does this accurately reflect the generosity of spirit of which this country is so proud? What happened to ‘going the extra mile’? If we let this government continue to erode our values, can we continue to regard ourselves as a generous nation? I suspect most of the world today would scoff at such a claim already.