In June, the Australian parliament debated refugee policy proposal put forward in a private member's bill by Independent member Rob Oakshott which if passed would have meant asylum seekers arriving by boat would be sent to Malaysia or to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru, which had played a key role in the notorious Howard government's Pacific Solution.
Yesterday, I posted a letter signed by 200 academics who opposed these solutions as well as the appalling Coalition policy of forcing boats back out to sea.
I was frustrated by the media and political debate around these issues and the annoyance with the Greens who refusal to vote for the Oakshott Bill. The argument was framed in a way which portrayed anyone who would not climb on board with the Oakshott proposal as not being interested in saving lives of people risking their lives by attempted to reach Australia by boat. Much of the media too could barely disguise their annoyance with the Greens for their 'obstructive' and 'rigid' refusal to vote for the bill.
For me, this eliminated half the story. People drowning at sea is tragic and shocking. But I can also remember that awful Christmas of 2003 when scores of desperate refugee hunger strikers, some of them were near to death, were protesting over their intolerable endless detention on an island prison. Could the Labor government, which on its election in 2007 put a stop to the Pacific Solution, really be prepared to reintroduce it? It was if the Australian community was being asked to commit a collective self-willed act of amnesia.
So I prepared a timeline of events surrounding the Pacific Solution for New Matilda. The first part was published today.
There is a long history to this debate which I can't do justice to here. In fact, that history certainly goes back to the 20th century White Australia Policy and fears of invasion from the North. But for my purposes here, I began with the introduction of mandatory detention in 1992.