Stop playing politics with refugees, says former prime minister Malcom Fraser
The Australian Associated Press, June 21, 2010
Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has called on our political leaders to stop playing politics with refugees in the interests of building a decent and more compassionate Australia.
Marking the launch of National Refugee Week, Mr Fraser said the 'demeaning debate' over refugees must be replaced by a bipartisan immigration policy as an 'absolute necessity'.
Mr Fraser – Liberal prime minister from 1975 to 1983 – told the launch in Melbourne today that post war Australia was largely built on refugees.
He said immigration had always been a bipartisan issue until the emergence of Pauline Hanson and the Tampa crisis under John Howard's border protection policies.
'I believe playing politics with the lives of vulnerable people, seeking votes out of their misfortune, is about the worst thing any politician can do in any country in any part of the world,' Mr Fraser said.
He said the Oceanic Viking standoff in Indonesia last year was 'close to becoming Rudd's Tampa' and the Labor Government had shown it was prepared to 'compete' with the policies of the Howard era.
Mr Fraser said a fraction of refugees were so-called boat people and most were legitimate asylum seekers, yet they were treated differently to those arriving by air – many of whom were not genuine refugees.
'Policy, rhetoric, language, condemnation penalises those who are most needing among those who seek our help,' he said.
Mr Fraser called for a bipartisan approach to refugees and regional collaboration with other asylum-seeker-accepting nations.
'Bipartisanship not behind narrow, introspective, inhumane policies; bipartisanship behind the basic principles of the refugee convention … we need to end the demeaning debate.'