Friday, June 4, 2010

The parting shots of Petro Georgiou

In his farewell speech to the Federal Parliament the Liberal backbencher and Member for Kooyong Petro Georgiou has gone out swinging at his own party and its current leader Tony Abbbot on its asylum seeker policies.

I admire Georgiou because he was one of the few politicians who took a very public stance against the despicable policies of the Howard Government (of which he was a member) on asylum seeker policy. Most politicians are silent about policies of their own governments with which they disagree vehemently and only speak up once they have left politics. Georgiou was a notable exception.

Georgiou, whose views on border protection, civil liberties and social justice were often at odds with both political parties, accuses Tony Abbot and his party (as well as the Rudd Labour government) of "regressing" to policies on asylum seekers that are cruel and harmful. Georgiou condemned both sides of politics for once again making vulnerable people into a football to be kicked around in the interests of partisan politics.

I am no fan of the conservative side of politics but Georgiou is a huge loss to the Parliament. We need more people like him, true Liberals, in the Liberal Party. I would have even considered voting for him!

Here are some extracts from his farewell speech:
Mr Speaker, for much of my life I believed in the inevitability of progress. The reality has been that many of the things that I believed were embedded parts of our polity - multiculturalism, inclusive Australian citizenship, the protections of civil rights - have been rolled back.

Also rolled back has been a more decent treatment of asylum seekers. Until a few months ago I believed that the reforms made by the Howard and the Rudd Government meant that we had irreversibly turned the corner.

I wrote that we were closing a dark chapter in our history. This chapter had seen men, women and children seeking refuge in our country incarcerated; innocent people imprisoned for periods longer than convicted rapists, robbers and kidnappers. Escapees from persecution were demonised. Detention centres traumatised not just detainees but their guards.

That chapter has been reopened.

Regression has become the order of the day. With an increase in boat arrivals, asylum seekers are being subjected to increasingly virulent attacks. The Labor Government has frozen the processing of Afghani and Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and is reopening the Curtin detention centre, historically the most notorious detention centre, a place of despair and self harm.

Opposition policies would turn back boats, process asylum seekers in undisclosed third countries, and restore the destructive temporary protection visas. These policies are cruel. They do not have my support.

This regression does not reflect credit on either side of federal politics. Vulnerable people are again being made into a football to be kicked around in the interests of partisan politics. This is despite the facts and the best values of our society.

The fact is, Australia's punitive approach did not deter people seeking to come to Australia. Mandatory detention, charging asylum seekers for the cost of their detention, the introduction of temporary protection visas and the Pacific Solution did not deter.

After mandatory detention was introduced, boat arrivals increased. After temporary protection visas were introduced, boat arrivals increased. Most of the people subjected to the Pacific Solution were found to be refugees and resettled in Australia and New Zealand. We have not lost control of our borders. People smugglers do not determine who comes into Australia and who doesn't.

We can support orderly processes; we can warn people against people smugglers and risking their lives on unseaworthy boats. We have to realise, however, that escaping from persecution is not an orderly process. Desperate people do take desperate measures. Beyond the arguments about deterrence and what causes what, however, is a deeper issue.

It goes to our obligations. I believe we have a fundamental obligation as a nation. That obligation is to not further harm those who bring themselves into our orbit of responsibility seeking safe haven.

We should not, as Australians, compound the persecution of genuine refugees, delaying their processing, locking them up in unnamed third countries or keeping them in permanent insecurity on temporary protection visas.

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