Piers Akerman has been testing his vast capacity for self-parody. His piece in Monday’s Telegraph on asylum seekers reads as if written on a bet or a dare. The frenzy whipped up over asylum seekers after the Tampa’s arrival was a tragedy for this country. Akerman seems determined to repeat it as farce.
Akerman brands the government’s ‘asylum seeker policy’ a failure by any ‘objective criteria’. I suppose the mention of ‘objective criteria’ at the start of an article hectoring readers with visions of a ‘flood’ of ‘boat people’ is one of life’s little ironies. There is nothing ‘objective’ about Akerman’s assertion that the ‘[r]efugee trade puts security at stake’.
He claims that asylum seekers are entering mainland detention centres ‘with minimal security checks’ and then changes the subject, citing no evidence for this jaundiced proposition. He then brings up the SIEV 36 disaster and claims that those implicated by the Northern Territory coroner should have their visas cancelled on character grounds. Apparently, coronial inquests can now substitute for criminal trials in courts of law, which can now be dispensed with and all the judges, jurors and lawyers can go home.
Akerman then comes up with this statement of the blindingly obvious: ‘Christmas Island is little more than a temporary sanctuary on the route to the Australian continent.’ As opposed to what, exactly? A gulag? A black hole into which asylum-seekers must be flung, never to return – a fitting punishment for their temerity in invoking Australia’s protection obligations? Akerman’s snide reference to ‘sanctuary’ for asylum seekers, coupled with his indignance that their time on Christmas Island might be ‘temporary’, speaks volumes about his miserable starting point on this issue.
Of course, there was more: ‘The front page of The Brisbane Sunday Mail yesterday showed a picture of happy Afghan women and children shopping at a suburban mall.’ Akerman invites us – presumably after recovering our composure and collecting ourselves from the floor – to share his displeasure at this ‘image of newly-arrived asylum seekers with overflowing shopping trolleys’. What conclusion is he implying? Obviously not that Australia is a civilised society in which people with status determinations pending can go about their lives in relative peace. No, he seems to be suggesting that asylum seekers should not be let out in public, or not be fed, or not be fed well, to send ‘a strong message to those hoping to come here’. Or, perhaps, that if they are allowed to have groceries then they must not be photographed with them, in case any potential boat arrivals happen to be reading The Brisbane Sunday Mail.
Malice and supposition are no substitutes for reasoned analysis. If Akerman set out to demonstrate why he is not a credible commentator on public life in this country, then Mission Accomplished.