Current Affairs: Sheikh Hasina and Tony Abbott playing same asylum seeker tune

Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina cops a fair whack from Michael Burrill in his Current Affairs Wrap, although, as usual, Tone doesn’t escape, and, unsurprisingly, both relate to the treatment of asylum seekers.


This week, as the South-East Asian Migrant Clusterfuck (crisis has a false hint of ephemerality, an urgent situation all parties are eager to solve) continues, Bangladeshi PM, Sheikh Hasina, showed how much recent scenes have distressed her, labelling the migrants involved “mentally sick” and accusing them of “tainting Bangladesh’s image in the international arena”. It may seem as though Sheikh Hasina is criticising people for illuminating her own incompetence, but I think she’s just looking at the big picture. Bangladesh’s child-beating garment sweatshops require desperate people. If such people keep leaving and unwittingly ending up in even more desperate situations, Western clothing companies might decide to follow that flow for even cheaper and sweatier labour. I hear the Bangladesh Tourism Board are livid as well, frantically assuring newly arrived tourists that there will still be enough poor people to patronisingly gawk at, allowing their thoroughly middle-class grasp for authenticity to continue without any inconveniences – except for the charming kind you can smugly recount to people on your return home as “how you learned to go with flow and live in the moment”.

In another perfect example of the horror that has moved Sheikh Hasina so much, authorities in Malaysia found a number of abandoned people smuggler camps and 139 grave sites (some of which were mass graves) near the country’s border with Thailand. It is believed that the camps were used to savagely imprison (and evidently, in some cases, kill) migrants, in attempts to earn ransoms from their families. Those grasping for positives may take heart in the fact the deaths weren’t at sea (the worst kind of deaths, as we all know), but according to some migrants, people smugglers maintain similar camps on cargo ships out at, you guessed it, sea! Captives on the ships are subject to violence, sexual assault and death (all particularly bad for having occurred on a body of salt water). Such revelations surely only prove our righteousness in the battle against the scourge of people smuggling. Yet something about detaining vulnerable migrants in inhumane conditions, where sexual violence and general brutality are the norm, keeps triggering uncomfortable twinges of familiarity that I can’t explain.

Tone compared his personal war on terror with his personal war on boats (there is that strange feeling again) this week, saying, “We need to bring the same drive, focus and clarity of purpose to countering terrorism that resulted in stopping the boats under Operation Sovereign Borders”. In commission of this goal, T announced changes to citizenship laws that would lead to dual citizens having their Australian citizenship revoked for involvement in terrorism (or rather whoever B-anal Pete decides is involved in it), which largely amounts to selfishly outsourcing the problem of those radicalised in this country to others. Tone justified the changes by claiming, “What we are going to do is severely punish people who break our law but if you have so set yourself apart from our country by engaging in terrorism against our people, against our values, well plainly, you no longer deserve to be in the bosom of the Australian family”. Firstly, invoking the rule of law when talking about a proposal that does away with due process and proof beyond reasonable doubt is laughable (which even some members of T’s own Cabinet apparently pointed out). Secondly, the stark difference between the ruthlessness with which the government deals with troubled youths from an Islamic background, supposedly in order to protect all Australians, and the active and enthusiastic support they express (not just an admission that free speech means sometimes you have to hear things you don’t like) for some Australians to be bigots, should illustrate something. Tone moved to deny such notions, insisting, “I know that there are some people who say that they feel alienated by this, but no one should feel alienated by the Government’s efforts to ensure that our community is as safe as is humanly possible,” reaffirming his close relationship with the Islamic community, by completely ignoring their repeated claims of alienation.

In another incident of blatantly ignoring proof contrary to the Government’s view, Dole Constable Morrison has rubbished findings by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling that poor people were the most negatively affected by this year’s budget. “What it doesn’t take into account,” Morrison explained, “is the investments that this government is making in this budget to create jobs; the best form of welfare is a job”, which seems to display a basic misunderstanding of what welfare is…from the minister in charge of it. In a further example of his empathy with poor people’s plight, Short-Sighted Scotty warned that proposed legislation (which will attempt to set welfare waiting periods for under 25’s to four weeks rather than the initially suggested six months – though you’re still fucked if you suddenly find yourself with no money and nowhere to go) was not an “Ikea catalogue to go shopping for benefits”. All I can say is, firstly, Ikea is a bit expensive for those on less than 40 bucks a day, and secondly, catalogues are meant to be inviting and easy to understand. Anyone who has dealt with Centrelink will know that it’s often the opposite.

In a fine illustration of the enterprising Australian capitalists who Tone, Scott and mates think we should all look up to, “Mother of the Year”, Gina Rineheart, lost control of a family trust set up by her father for his grandchildren after a drawn out legal battle. That a woman who has been sued by her own kids and has insulted the Australian public is held in such high regard in certain political circles, and able to influence public debate, may be seen as sad indictment of what happens when a society values the pursuit of money over all. Maybe that’s being a bit harsh on old Gina. Maybe this was all about wanting her kids to work hard for their money (as indeed, she wants all of us to) instead of inheriting it? Just look at what inheriting her father’s fortune seems to have done to her.

Lastly this week, after Ireland’s successful referendum, all sides of Australian politics are now attempting to exploit the political capital gay marriage currently provides. With widespread public support and numerous bills floating around the parliament, it seems inevitable that same sex matrimony will be legal soon. While celebration by those directly affected will be more than understandable when the time comes, that this will have taken so long to happen in a supposedly secular society means the rest of us should react with relieved embarrassment, rather than the self congratulatory smirking I fully expect from politicians themselves complicit in distorting and delaying this issue for so long.


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