Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

An act of cowardice

By Bruce Haigh - posted Tuesday, 20 April 2010

That Rudd should have allowed himself to be spooked by Abbott over refugees is a measure of the man. Abbott and his Coalition stand little chance of winning the forthcoming election, likely to be in August.

Rudd cannot handle criticism, to avoid it he will apparently go to any length, including attacking the fragile rights of refugees and behaving like King Canute. The situation in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka will not improve just because he wants it to.

For the Australian Government to declare that the security of Tamils in Sri Lanka is improving flies in the face of evidence coming out of the country. If the Australian High Commission in Colombo cannot report on the situation as it is then why are we funding it?
Sri Lanka has just been through a 30-year civil war, which ended with the crushing of one side by the other. The majority Sinhalese have shown no inclination to deal with Tamils unless it was on the basis of inequality. For Tamils to survive amongst Sinhalese they must tug their forelocks and accept second best.


It cannot be expected that against the background of the war with all of its attendant cruelties, the continued detention of 10,000 young Tamils as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE) suspects, the continued arrest of young Tamils off the streets, the expropriation of Tamil land in the north and the rampant Sinhalese nationalism now abroad that Tamils will find equality in Sri Lanka. In addition the government of Sri Lanka is corrupt and press freedom is proscribed. Journalists have been detained and killed; a regime as morally bankrupt as that in Sri Lanka can hardly be trusted with the protection of a crushed minority. Have Evans, Smith and Rudd let go of their senses? If they want to stop the boats they should put real pressure on the government of Sri Lanka to reform.

As Afghanistan moves into the summer months, military activity, by war lords, drug barons, coalition hating Pathans, and the Taliban, will increase and this year looks like being more intense than anything so far experienced in the current Afghan war. The Afghan Presiden, Hamid Khazai gives a sense of it with recent statements criticising the conduct of the war by Coalition forces and indicating that negotiations with the Taliban should take place. Khazai knows he will be under pressure and is preparing the ground for his political survival; it’s not likely to happen no one wants him, if he is lucky he will see out his days in the US or Switzerland.

With the build up in military activity will inevitably come increased numbers of refugees, where is the reality check that should be governing the Rudd government’s decision-making. The Taliban and hangers on will be well aware that there is an election in Australia this year and will probably try to influence public opinion toward a withdrawal of Australian troops. Tarin Kowt will not be the place for grandstanding Australian politicians looking for a khaki backdrop to enhance their election prospects.

The UNHCR would be well aware of the foregoing, so what has prompted talk of a review of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, countries which are politically sensitive to Australia in terms of boat arrivals and the resultant refugee policy in the run up to the election?

Ten days ago the UNHCR regional director was making positive public noises about improvements in the security situation in both countries and indicated that a proposed review would have findings which the Australian government would not be displeased with. With the adverse reaction to the government’s hairy nosed proposal to freeze for three months the processing of refugee applicants from Sri Lanka and for six months those from Afghanistan because of security improvements, the UNHCR Regional Director hedged his bets, saying on 9 April that the review was not yet complete. He said he had never indicated that he thought the situation in those countries was improving, which is not so, but even he must now see that UNHCR would be flying in the face of available evidence and other considered reviews.

Nonetheless The Minister for Immigration Chris Evans acted upon the UNHCR murmurings and sent back Tamil and Afghan asylum seekers on Christmas Island to the Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. It all had the smell of a deal between UNHCR and the Australian government to save their bacon in an election year.


It would not be the first time. In 1993 the regional director of UNHCR did a deal with the Department of Immigration that Chinese women fleeing China for fear of persecution for having transgressed the one child policy would not be regarded by UNHCR as persons eligible for protection. This despite women being subjected to enforced abortions, loss of jobs and homes, imprisonment and relocation away from family. The Australian government were concerned with a flood of applicants which on any cool headed assessment was never going to happen. The quid pro quo of the deal was that Australia would agree to help the UNHCR by taking Afghan refugees from camps in Pakistan.

The fact that the AFP has been sent to Christmas Island to quell possible riots demonstrates the unfairness of the decision. Asylum seekers are acutely aware of the justice of their claims. When will it be that the taxpayer funded AFP acts to uphold human rights?

It is a cowardly and bullying act. Why take such a path when events on the ground will inevitably prove the Australian government wrong, sooner rather than later? In embarking on this course of action the government has turned its back on the UN Convention on Refugees which is also incorporated in Australian law. In attempting to achieve a favourable political outcome for himself, Rudd has been prepared to break the law; even as a politician you cannot go much lower than that.

Rudd has put himself offside with every fair minded Australian. He has given us an insight into the motivation behind his decision making; fear of personal failure, of losing office, is a strong driving force; morality and compassion are low priorities when pitted against Rudd’s ambition. We have been given an insight into the process behind his GFC splurge and the resultant failure of oversight and accountability that has become the Hallmark of that panicked response.

Rudd and Abbott are fighting over the carcass of Australian democracy and fair play. Rudd should not attend the dedication of the cemetery at Fromelles as the sound of the Diggers turning in their graves will drown out the service. He should also stop wasting tax payer money on trying to get a seat on the UN Security Council, he has no hope; a rich country behaving like a spoilt child.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

First published by The Drum on April 13, 2010

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

55 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Bruce Haigh

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Bruce Haigh
Article Tools
Comment 55 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy