With the Turnbull Government now settled, Rob Idol argues that the scrapping of the Border Force Act should be their first port of call.
After the furious action of the past few weeks, domestic affairs seem to have settled down a little. Suddenly, the economy feels as if it’s in better hands, and hope has reappeared in the social welfare arena. This isn’t to say that the new regime has done anything yet per se, but the possibility of reasonable discussion and debate appears far more likely from all sides of the political fence now. So accordingly, we need to turn our attention to outside our borders. Well, to our borders themselves, actually.
While the new regime is working out how to deliver some actionable policy, it also must take stock and honestly review the damage, and more importantly, what needs to be repaired. One such area that has proven to be a double-edged sword (primarily in that it’s extra pointy) is the Border Force Act; the dismantling of which should be very high on the new Prime Minister’s agenda.
We understand, Malcolm; you can’t do much about Climate Change Policy or Same Sex Marriage quite yet. Without a clear mandate from the public, you have to rent your soul to factional interests. So why not attack one of the more disgraceful remnants of the Abbott era and achieve something that could be a win in everyone’s book?
Over the weekend, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was invited to a lunch hosted by United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to discuss climate change with 20 other world leaders. Our presence at the lunch is significant; under Abbott, we weren’t invited. We had so damaged our international standing on environmental and social issues that our invitation was “in the mail.” A number of senior diplomats have now indicated their enthusiasm to work with the new regime. We’ve managed to pull back from the brink of being international pariahs, to cling to our spot at the big boys’ table.
Whilst not backing down on the “Direction Action” policy platform quite yet, the Turnbull team have at the very least started showing a positive approach to renewables, something the previous team spat in the face of (unsurprisingly what resulted in our name being left off the aforementioned invite list).
This band-aid slapped on our international reputation is a flimsy one. This week, United Nation’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, delayed his planned trip to Australia, showing that the wound could reopen if we aren’t careful. The reason behind his postponement, loud and clear: the 2015 Border Force Act.
In a released statement, Mr Crepeau said:
“The act prevents me from fully and freely carrying out my duties during the visit, as required by the UN guidelines for independent experts carrying out their country visits.”
Specifically, this is in reference to a section of the act which penalises employees of detention centres for releasing protected information, ostensibly being any reports of abuse on detainees; Mr Crepeau feels that this will prevent and discourage people from disclosing information relevant to his investigation. It’s hard to disagree with his assessment of the situation.
This is the same act that almost resulted in one of the most ridiculous and xenophobic initiatives in recent Australian history when Border Force Officers planned on spot checking visas on Melbourne CBD streets.
These two elements alone should be enough to convince anyone that it needs to go. Scrap it, rewrite it, do something. If Mr Turnbull wants to show some credibility and prove that he a better smelling version of his predecessor; if he wants to personify his 21st Century Government; then this is an excellent starting place.
Our detention centres have been an unmitigated disaster. Sure, we’ve supposedly stopped the boats, but we’ve subjected those with the presumption of innocence to imprisonment in facilities where the allegations of abuse are so rife that we simply cannot ignore them any longer. The international community has been screaming at us for some time. Opening our ears and starting to listen will go a long way in showing that our “new leaf” is more than smoke and mirrors.
Strategically, Turnbull cannot ignore the huge upside to achieving some bipartisan reform as well. Not only does it reinforce his subtext of collaboration (a vital message to send to the crossbenchers whose support he desperately needs), but it also gets a much-needed run on the board, and a popular one at that. Both the Greens and Labor would have to support anything that begins to solve the detention centre problem, as well as anything that resulted in the Border Force Act being scrapped. A huge collaborative win for Malcolm, and a huge win for the country as we send a loud and clear message to the international community; we are not all not named Tony.
Border protection is a complicated, layered and very grey area, and even if we want to be the best humanitarians we can be, there are security and logistical concerns that will always prevent us from doing what’s needed. But, we are not even close to having it right. While it may be complicated, there has to be a better solution than our current approach, which has been so polluted by those who choose to so heavily politicise the issue, that all traces of humanity have been savagely beaten out of it.
We have a new government and have been promised a fresh start, which is exactly what we need with respect to Border Protection. Maybe then we can finally close the door on what has been one of the most shaming chapters in our young history; a chapter where the lives of innocents were used as political fodder, with little regard for their humanity. Combine this with progress in environmental policy and we might just elevate this nation to the high standard we expect of it.