Australia must move beyond dog whistle politics

The Edmund Rice Centre (ERC) today called for a definitive end to the sort of debate that treats asylum seekers as political footballs - wilfully tossed around with the sole aim of gaining a team advantage in the game of politics.

“This stand-off in Indonesia demeans Australia in the eyes of the world, and diminishes us as a people. It is ugly politics that under a discourse of 'deterrence' uses vulnerable people to send a message to others who simply are not listening,” said ERC Director, Phil Glendenning.

“The current political debate is wrong because it demonises the vulnerable, it employs the ugly tactics of petty partisan race-politics. This is dog-whistle stuff which summons up the darkest fears that reside within Australians' hearts historically.” he said.

“The whole issue throws up a crisis of moral leadership in Australia”, Mr Glendenning said.

“The Rudd Government has reached a very low ebb as it now considers the forcible removal of Sri Lankan Tamils off an Australian Government boat in Indonesia. Australians are better than this and they deserve better than this from their Government.” he said.

“Compassion for vulnerable people is not weakness, it is our greatest civilizing strength. These 78 people need to be brought to Australia for processing. In this country the expertise is available to do health and security checks quickly and efficiently, and those who have valid claims can be taken into the system” Mr Glendenning continued.

“These asylum seekers are on an Australian boat. Common sense needs to prevail here and this would indicate the need to do whatever is necessary to ensure that these people come to no further harm now.

“What has been missing in this debate has been moral leadership and courage from our political leaders. This Prime-Minister with record popular support is better positioned than most to actually lead the nation away from race politics.”

Over the past nine years the Edmund Rice Centre has conducted research into what happens to Australia's rejected asylum seekers. Two major reports have been published Deported to Danger and Deported to Danger II – leading to the making of a television documentary, A Well Founded Fear, which screened nationally last year.

“We have documented the dangers and even the deaths suffered by the people whose claims were not properly processed or upon whom other so-called “deterrence measures” were brought to bare. “We, more than most, have seen what happens to the vulnerable people whose claims are not properly assessed and who get sent back,” he concluded.

For interview/comment contact Phil Glendenning 0419 013 758

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