Is Rudd Govt to blame for plight of asylum seekers?
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Is Rudd Govt to blame for plight of asylum seekers?

Is it fair to blame Australia’s Rudd Government for the plight of asylum seekers currently being detained in a boat off Indonesia, or even the drowning of 42 or more asylum seekers over the last year?

The evidence is damning. Barely two months after Rudd changed the laws in 2008, the first boatloads arrived to empty detention camps at Christmas Island.

The first trickle soon turned into a flood. As we reported here, the Immigration Department now reports that the new policies of the Rudd Government coincided with 799 people arriving during the year of 08/09 – a 30-fold increase in the number of boat people arriving in Australia on the previous year. Since then, the rate of arrivals has more than trebled, with more than 1,000 boat people arriving in Australia in only four months. The ones that didn’t make it have since been washing up on the shores of Indonesia and Malaysia, with barely anyone in Australia taking any notice.

But what about the SIEVX, I hear you ask? If Rudd is responsible for the current crisis, Howard must be responsible for the tragic event in 2001when 353 asylum seekers drowned about 70 kilometres off the coast of Java and 1,700 kilometres away from Australia.

The key thing here is that Howard toughened his policies to deter them before they arrived – policies that eventually had a demonstrable effect. Australian authorities were cleared in a government inquiry, but it would be interesting to see how the Rudd Government would fare in a similar inquiry today.

It is hard to come to any conclusion other than that if the Rudd Government had not changed the laws for boat people, those 42 or more people would still be alive today. However, it is still an article of faith in the Australian Labor Party that the Howard Government policies that stopped the flow of boat people to Australia were evil.

As Immigration Minister, Chris Evans said recently:

“We… abolished the Pacific Solution. I’m absolutely proud of that. It was a blight on Australia and a blight on our international reputation.”

Now under Rudd, with Christmas Island nearing capacity men, women and children – who were fortunate enough not to drown – are being locked up or are in limbo in Indonesia. Inevitably, now come the reports of alleged abuse.

But surely the Rudd Government had no way of knowing that these tragedies could occur? Actually, no – it was a tragedy waiting to happen. I can say that with authority – because I wrote to him personally last December and blogged about it here.

The further tragedy is not just what is happening to the asylum seekers, it is the blinkered approach of the Rudd Government which seems willing to let no number of people drowning get in the way of their pathological opposition to John Howard.