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it's Indonesia's problem you know « Previous | |Next »
November 16, 2003

I hadn't read The Australian yesterday when I was looking for material for the weekend cartoons. So I missed this one by Bill Leak, until William mentioned it in his comments on yesterday's post. I concur with his judgement. It's good.
Bill Leak

Even though Howard is a satrap of the imperial presidency in Washington he is really an Anglo-Australia; a 50 year throwback to the Menzies era when Australia was still a part of the British Empire.

The Kurds from Turkey who seek a better life for themselves remain the uninvited. We do not want them----asylum seekers---- here. So fortress Australia repels the asylum seekers to Indonesia. None shall cross the line. The border is and remains closed. Detention within its borders is punitive and harsh----it is a form of punishment to deter future asylum seekers. Australia does not want a situation in which asylum seekers reach Indonesia with some hope of resettlement in Australia. The Howard Government argues that the boats have stopped coming, the borders are secure, and Australia can choose those refugees to whom it wishes to offer places under its generous offshore refugee selection program.

The current Fortress Australia policy presupposes that it is up to Indonesia to prevent people smuggling. This implies better policing of Indonesia's borders. It also implies that Indonesia's policy towards asylum seekers is identical to Australia's. However, Indonesia argues that Canberra is using Indonesia as a dumping ground (a trash can), and that in sending the boat people from Australian waters back to Indonesia Australia is breaching international conventions.

Canberra knows that it is extremely difficult for the Indonesian state to defend its vast and fragmented sea borders and that it has a massive internal refugee problem. Moreover, the Indonesian military (TNI) is not able to control current ethnic and religious tensions and conflicts; an under-resourced Air Force and Navy are unable to prevent increasing piracy in key sea-lanes like the Straits of Malacca; the legal and bureaucratic system was degraded under President Soeharto in order to minimize their capacity to interfer in the corrupt activities of his fascist New Order cronies. Canberra knows that Indonesia has a limited capacity to deal with asylum seeker.

Dealing with foreign asylum seekers is a low priority for Jakarta. It has yet to create an effective immigration system that would slow the flow of asylum seekers to Australia.The bulk of those illegally entering Australia from Indonesia enter Indonesia "legally" with visas given by bribed Indonesian officals whilst others lack the skills or equipment to spot fake passports. Nor does it have the institutional capacity to change this.

The underlying rationale of the Fortress Australia policy is that the persecuted poor or displaced are to be quarantined from the developed world, and contained as close as possible to the places they want to leave behind. Go back home is the message. There is no such thing as the free movement of people, only capital.

So Australia is unlikely to achieve much by attempting to blame Indonesia and shift the responsibility to a poorer nation state. That quick and dirty strategy will fail to produce long term results because Indonesia does not have the capacity to deal with a large movement of displaced homeless.

And lastly, the construction of Fortress Australia in a globalised world is at a time when Canberra is relinquishing control to the global market, and control over foreign capital. The violent insistence on sovereignty against the threat to the nation by the uninvited stranger reworks an old discourse based on prejudice, (dishonest), ambiguity (terrorists), and fears (the greatest assault to our borders in history). Behind this first line of defence sits a second line, the appeal to social cohesiveness and harmony of Australian society. Thsi seconfg line has a tacit link to third line of defence, the old unconscious racist premises of the white nation.

For Labor's policy re the Kurd's, see Tim Dunlop over at Road to Surfdom
The spat between Australia and Indonesia over the Kurdish asylum seekers continues. And the Howard Government continued to fan fears of a new influx of asylum-seekers whilst accusing Dr Carmen Lawrence, the new ALP President, of trying to dismantle the whole of Australia's border protection policy.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:10 AM | | Comments (2)


We know that the refugees travel to Australia from Indonesia by boats, often ones that would not qualify as seaworthy. However, I am guessing, that they must fly to KL and Jakarta? Surely, putting aside the questions of our acceptance of refugees, this point ought to be taken up with the Indonesian and Malaysian governments, perhaps on the basis that we would be prepared to do more with refugees prior to beginning their flights? It might be to their advantage too? Hence, a good working relationship with these governments would be useful to us?

The problem is that what is a high political priority in Australia--- stopping the boat people---is not a high priority for Indonesia.

Indonesia is more concerned with internal refugees and internal stability.