| by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

( July 21, 2013, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) We heard through our news yesterday that our Prime Minister the Hon Kevin Rudd, has made the decision to ban all boat arrivals from settlement in Australia.

This does mean to me that Boat Arrivals have become an election issue yet again. It may win votes from majority – including from me if I was ‘Australian Only’. To me that is the parallel of ‘Sinhala Only’ by the Sri Lankan Government. These are all ways of winning votes. They would also give us some relief immediately. But they also confirm that our Administration is not strong enough to manage the problem on our own. I have invested more in Administration than in Politics. This has led to me thinking at global standards and hence losing consciousness of ‘Australian only’.

By sending the boats to Manus island in Papua New Guinea, we are confirming that to us Papua New Guinea is not an equal member of the United Nations but rather a small country that is there to do our menial tasks. Given that our intake of refugees is based on UN Policies – to my mind, this move is in breach of that principle of Equal Opportunity.

It is true that the greater attraction is Australia’s affluence compared to Papua New Guinea’s. But then is it fair to burden a small country with a problem that we ourselves are not able to manage? The more moral and transparent way would have been to create a zone within Australian territory and settle all successful boat arrivals within that zone and have special conditions applicable to them until they successfully complete a qualifying period. Going by Sri Lankan experience - most of the boat arrivals are economically not as well off as those who come by air. This does not mean that they are less worthy of consideration than the more affluent applicants. But one who has not invested enough in Equal Opportunity principles and values – would have difficulty appreciating that these boat arrivals are as valuable as those arriving by air – sometimes more valuable in terms of jobs at the lower end of economic scale.

There is a saying in Tamil that we must not forget the path through which we came. Immigration to Australia started with the First Fleet. It carried not the elites from Great Britain but convicts and their supervisors. That is our ancestry and the fact that we have come this far from that beginning is our great achievement. It is that wisdom that we Australians share with the rest of the world. Each nation has its own strengths and weaknesses. Our strength as Australians is that we have developed into a nation that is considered by others to be of world class. These refugee applicants are confirming that. They may be classed as economic migrants. But if not for economic reasons – we are not likely to have had the war in Sri Lanka. Hence economic migrants have every right as any other category. They just need to have suffered economic hardship due to the war and not for any other reason. As a Sri Lankan I know that there are applicants – including some who came by boat – who do not qualify under this category nor have suffered direct attacks due to the ethnic conflict. They are on mainland. To me their win meant that our Administration of refugee applicants is weak. But to victimize the boat arrivals only is to add insult to injury. Every genuine refugee who is sent to Manus Island feeling the injustice by comparing with a less deserving applicant who is already settled in Australia, would naturally place a curse on Australia. If we are using time basis – all other criteria need to be frozen. Hence if we say no more refugees – that would be fine. But to use the mode of arrival confirms lack of depth.

Australia’s ambitions to win UN positions are naturally weakened by this move. That is the Opportunity Cost that Mr. Rudd failed to see. Had Mr. Rudd sought the Guidance of our Australian ancestors (as I did when the Police used the name of Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901 when they unlawfully arrested me) he would have valued the boat arrivals on their own merit. But then Mr. Rudd would not have said ‘Sorry’ to First Australians either. We seem to not know who our ancestors are. We don’t need to if we use merit only as per current actions. But then how many Australian officers are capable of blocking their minds to their past and used Equal Opportunity principles as a priority? Would it have mattered to them whether an applicant came by boat or by air? If yes, then they need to develop that ability to use merit basis only as per the stated criteria which would not include one’s affordability and class of travel.

With the latest policy Mr. Rudd has deprived our Immigration Administrators that opportunity to develop their skills to focus only on the selection criteria. We have also weakened our fair and natural opportunity to positions in Global Governance. More Politics and less Administration seems to be the policy of Mr. Rudd reborn.