News / Asia

Immigration Debate Heats Up as Australians Prepare to Vote

Australian Prime Minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party Kevin Rudd (L) speaks as the leader of the conservative opposition Tony Abbott listens on during their debate at the National Press Club in Canberra, August 11, 2013.
Australian Prime Minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party Kevin Rudd (L) speaks as the leader of the conservative opposition Tony Abbott listens on during their debate at the National Press Club in Canberra, August 11, 2013.
Phil Mercer
Immigration is becoming one of the key themes in the Australian election campaign ahead of the vote on September 7.  Both major parties are promising a tougher stance to stem a steady flow of asylum seekers arriving by boat, despite criticism that the policies demonize the vulnerable.
 
Last month, demonstrators targeted the Prime Minister during noisy demonstrations in Sydney and Melbourne last month.  They believe Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s plan to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea is a national disgrace.
 
In recent months, several migrant boats have sunk en route to Australia from Indonesia.  An unknown number of people have drowned.
 
Rudd said sending asylum seekers who arrive by sea to neighboring Papua New Guinea, with no chance of resettlement in Australia, is about saving lives, not winning votes.  
 
“If you come by boat, you will never permanently live in Australia.  This has not been an easy decision for me or my colleagues.  The bottom line is that we have to protect lives by dealing robustly with people smugglers," said Rudd. "Australians have had enough of seeing asylum seekers dying in the waters to our north and northwest. They’ve had enough of people smugglers profiting from death.”  
 
Rudd’s uncompromising policy was followed by a pledge from conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott to use Australia’s military to stop asylum boats, which sail mostly from Indonesia. “The crisis on our borders has become a national emergency.  We’ve had almost 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat, a thousand or more deaths at sea.  The problem is getting worse.  This government can’t solve it.  We are announcing today that under a Coalition government we will swiftly implement Operation Sovereign Borders,” said Abbott.
 
Riz Wakil came to Australia by boat more than a decade ago.  The Hazara refugee from central Afghanistan now runs a successful printing firm in Sydney.  He’s horrified how mainstream politicians are portraying the asylum seeker issue.
 
“Both sides of the politics are convinced that if we demonize refugees, rather than focusing on education, on disability pension and all the other issues that matters to Australian people, if we are cruel enough to demonize the refugees and portray them as intruders, they are coming to invade Australia and they will destroy our society, somehow we will win the next election,” noted Wakil.
 
Since January more than 16,000 unauthorized migrants have arrived in Australia by boat.  For the whole of last year, the figure was 17,000.  The surge has created great political pressure on the government, which responded with its plan for Papua New Guinea, Australia’s nearest neighbor.
 
But Lucy Fiske from the University of Sydney believes the asylum seeker issue has become overblown, drowning out other economic and political policies that have a greater impact on Australians' lives.  “There is still a relatively small number of people coming if we look at it in global terms, or in the UK would receive at least five, maybe ten times as many asylum seekers as Australia, even at our highest years, and yet if you look at our news media and listen to our politicians at the moment you would think it was the only issue,” she said.
 
In Sydney’s blue-collar western suburbs, many voters support the government’s hardline plan to stop asylum seekers.
 
“I don’t think they have the right to live here and they shouldn’t come," a woman exclaimed. "I’m Australian.  I believe in the White policy.”
 
“They are, what do you call them, financial refugees. You know, if they can afford to spend that much money [to people smugglers], and look at all the people stuck in the camps that have to wait their turn,” one man said.
 
“I feel sorry for them because they are coming from Third World countries and people do not understand why they are leaving because of the war, because they can’t live there, either their house has been bombed, or something has gone wrong. That is why they come to Australia for a better life,” another woman stated.
 
Others seem quite angry about people coming in by boat.
 
The immigration debate in Australia is often toxic, especially ahead of an election on September 7.  To many voters, asylum seekers who come by boat are illegal migrants who are jumping in front of those who go through the legal immigration process. While others believe that this wealthy nation should be treating them far more humanely.

Since 1901, Australia has resettled more than 800,000 refugees.

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John from: Australia
August 21, 2013 7:13 PM
Australians probably wouldn't be so concerned if the asylum seekers seemed like they were from World Vision or something.- the mean is a well shod Islamic man with tens of thousands of dollars sent ahead to establish a beach head. Thousands fly to Indonesia, destroy their ID and then pay $10,000 to a people smuggler to get a boat to Christmas island (which is next to Indonesia). Pity the actual refugees mixed up in this, or those waiting in a camp somewhere.

by: Erik Kengaard
August 21, 2013 1:44 PM
I'd like to come to Australia for a better life. Where do I sign up?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs