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Rudd ignores the human rights abuses in SL

October 17, 2009

The Daily Telegraph : Rudd needs to talk tough to Sri Lanka
Laurie Oakes, 17 October 2009

WE’VE heard Kevin Rudd promising tough action to stop asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat. We’ve heard him condemn people smugglers as vermin.

What we have not heard from the prime minister is any criticism of the Sri Lankan Government for creating a situation which drives ethnic Tamils into the arms of smugglers in the first place.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor has agreed to send Australian police to Sri Lanka to help the government there clamp down on the exodus of asylum seekers.

But there has been hardly a peep out of Rudd or any of his ministers about the appalling camps in which an estimated 300,000 Tamils are being held following the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. More

– Laurie Oakes is political editor for the Nine Network. His column appears in every Saturday’s Daily Telegraph

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2009 8:57 am

    Great article!! Well done to Laurie Oakes!!

  2. Australians for Tamil Justice permalink*
    October 19, 2009 12:25 am

    The Daily Telegraph : Rudd needs to talk tough to Sri Lanka
    Laurie Oakes, 17 October 2009

    WE’VE heard Kevin Rudd promising tough action to stop asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat. We’ve heard him condemn people smugglers as vermin.

    What we have not heard from the prime minister is any criticism of the Sri Lankan Government for creating a situation which drives ethnic Tamils into the arms of smugglers in the first place.

    Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor has agreed to send Australian police to Sri Lanka to help the government there clamp down on the exodus of asylum seekers.

    But there has been hardly a peep out of Rudd or any of his ministers about the appalling camps in which an estimated 300,000 Tamils are being held following the end of the Sri Lankan civil war.

    “I understand something of the plight of people around the world,” Rudd said yesterday. Of course he does.

    He knows exactly what is happening in Sri Lanka. He knows how the displaced Tamils are treated by the Sri Lankan Army. He knows the Sri Lankan Government denies international aid organisations access to the camps and shuts out the international media so conditions cannot be reported.

    Rudd is the full bottle on the hopelessness that causes people like the 260 he dobbed in to the Indonesian navy last weekend to risk their lives on a dangerous ocean voyage in a small, overcrowded vessel.

    The best way to stop Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka and paying people smugglers to get them to Australia is to make things more tolerable in their own country.

    But has Rudd heavied the government in Colombo? Not so as you’d notice. Easier by far – and electorally much more advantageous – to thunder on about taking a hard line on illegal immigration. Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser accuses the coalition of “scratching the redneck nerve” by attempting to exploit the recent increase in boat arrivals. But Rudd is scratching the same nerve.

    It is unlikely the asylum seeker issue has anything like the same potency that made it such an effective political weapon for John Howard in 2001. Back then it resonated powerfully because of the September 11 attacks in the US, combined with instability in the region.

    As Paul Kelly writes in his book The March Of Patriots, “The boats were framed in an ‘invasion’ context, resisted by the Australian Navy as the world contemplated the smouldering ruins of New York. For Australians, there were two paradigms on display: Muslims as terrorists and Muslims as asylum seekers.” The context is different now.

    One of the Coalition’s key 2001 strategists commented the other day: “There’s a whole swag of people who are over it, and who now say ‘Let them in’.”

    But in case there still are votes at stake, Rudd is determined to sound every bit as hairy-chested as Malcolm Turnbull.

    Howard was able to portray Kim Beazley as weak and indecisive on asylum seekers. Rudd is out to turn the tables, if possible. He ridicules Turnbull for demanding an inquiry, telling journalists: “Holding an inquiry doesn’t help a bit. What is required is action.”

    While taking out this political insurance, the Government is also going to some trouble to show that the scare campaign the Coalition is trying to whip up over boat arrivals has very little basis.

    Figures extracted from the Immigration Department tell the story – and it is a different story to the Opposition’s simplistic claim that Rudd encouraged people smugglers by weakening Howard Government laws.

    To begin with, the problem is global. While total asylum claims in Australia rose by 19 per cent between 2007 and 2008, the increase was 122 per cent in Italy, 121 per cent in Norway, 89 per cent in the Netherlands, 53 per cent in Switzerland and 30 per cent in Canada.

    The two big events swelling numbers of people seeking asylum in industrialised countries are the Afghanistan conflict and the Sri Lankan civil war. In 2008 there was an 85 per cent increase in Afghan asylum seekers claiming protection in industrialised countries and a 24 per cent rise in claims by Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

    In Australia, people arriving unlawfully by boat make up a very small proportion of all asylum seekers – on average, just 7 per cent. That is, more than 90 per cent of those who claim refugee status turn up at airports, often with fake documents or having destroyed their travel documents en route.

    Like the odious “Pacific solution”, the Howard government’s temporary protection visas, which Coalition hardliners claim were such an effective disincentive, only applied to boat people.

    The figures also show that, while the Coalition claims the Rudd Government’s abolition of TPVs was a welcome mat for people smugglers, unauthorised boat arrivals actually increased following their introduction in 1999. There were only 200 arrivals by 17 boats in 1998, but 5516 asylum seekers arrived in 43 boats in 2001. And all but 3 per cent of the 10,000 asylum seekers granted TPVs when they existed ended up remaining here.

    But back to the Tamils. The Government denies it has failed to exert real pressure on Colombo. The official line is that “Australia and the international community continue to watch closely”. That will have them shaking in their boots.

    Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, we are told, has spoken to his Sri Lankan counterpart six times this year about ensuring the protection of civilians and the need for reconciliation. Smith also had a word to Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Egypt in July.

    But everyone knows that Rudd drives foreign affairs. If he considers an issue to be important, he takes it over.

    When Australia wanted that boatload of Tamils intercepted, it was Rudd – not Smith – who called Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

    If Rudd picked up the phone to the Sri Lankan President, too, and did a bit of tub-thumping, it might make a difference. But it seems he’d rather beat the anti-asylum seeker drum.

    – Laurie Oakes is political editor for the Nine Network. His column appears in every Saturday’s Daily Telegraph

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