Refugees and war: Does the Abbott government have any idea of what lies ahead? 181



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More than any other single factor, 12,000 Middle Eastern refugees have a heartbreaking image to thank for new lives in Australia. The pictures of toddler Aylan Kurdi moved public opinion, and that opinion, reflected through many on his own side of politics, shifted Tony Abbott.

It’s a reminder how politically potent graphic images can be, and also how much easier it is for governments to deflect attention from what is less visible.

No unofficial pictures – apart from the occasional clandestine one – and little information come from the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres where asylum seekers languish.

These detainees are shunned by the Abbott government, minimally mentioned by the Shorten opposition and neglected by the media who, with some honourable and notable exceptions, no longer have them top of mind except when something major happens.

This government and its predecessors have well understood the impact of information and images to sway public opinion. That’s why asylum seekers have been, as far as officialdom can do it, stripped of human faces and hidden from view. It’s why there has been a crackdown on leaks, including with a new tough law that threatens medical and other workers who might speak out about conditions.

There is bipartisanship on accepting displaced people from the Syrian-Iraq conflict, and bipartisanship on the ex-communicated souls on Nauru and Manus.
Abbott sees a “world of difference” between the refugees to be accepted and “people who have done a deal with people smugglers to go way beyond the country of first asylum”.

When Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs called for the government to accept that Syrian boat arrivals held in Nauru and Manus should be treated equally to those coming from the Middle East, Labor spokesman Richard Marles said it was essential to maintain the policy that arrivees who went to Nauru and Manus would not come to Australia.

It is indeed important the smuggling trade does not re-start, and that requires deterrence. But we should also remember – even in the absence of haunting images – that it is disgraceful and immoral to keep people indefinitely in hell holes. Is the government envisaging they be there for a decade?

Abbott came slowly to embrace the refugee boost, but he has been raring to go on the other leg of this week’s announcement – the extension of Australian air strikes to Syria.

This is partly driven by politics – not that it seems likely to be that popular – but for Abbott there are two other strong motivators.

He sees the fight against Islamic State in moral terms – a battle against evil. And he has been frustrated by the lack of US progress and aspires, realistically or not, to exert more influence on the Americans.

But this week highlighted that the government has little idea of the road ahead.

When asked what peace would look like, Abbott said: “The outcome that we’re working towards, along with our coalition partners, is a Middle East comprised of governments which don’t commit genocide against their own people nor permit terrorism against ours … This is not an attempt to build a shining city on a hill, this is not an attempt to build a liberal pluralist market democracy overnight in the Middle East.”

He described the objectives as “achievable” and “in a sense modest”. Given the situation in Iraq and Syria, this suggests not only massive optimism but a fundamental failure to grasp the ethnic, religious and political complexities of the region.

Last month, with the air strike tick-off looming, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews was probed on what Australia wanted to see as the outcome in Syria beyond destroying Islamic State (IS, or Daesh).

“Well that’s a complex question beyond what we are considering at the present time,” Andrews said. “Our consideration is quite squarely on Iraq, on the defence of Iraq.”

The collective defence of Iraq is being used to justify legally incursions into Syria, as IS fighters go over a porous border.

Abbott says: “The decision that we have made is to target air strikes against Daesh in Syria. … We haven’t made any new decision in respect of Assad but, in common with the vast majority of countries, we think that the Assad regime should go.”

James Brown, from Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre, poses the question of whether the air-strike extension is a tactical or strategic move. If it is tactical it is not big deal, he says, but if strategic – about increasing Australia’s involvement in Syria – “where is the rest of the policy?”

The timeline for involvement in this conflict is into the never-never. Andrews on Thursday suggested two or three years, but also said “we’re probably there for a number of years”. Warren Truss, acting prime minister while Abbott was in Papua New Guinea, told parliament: “We are there to do a job, and we will be there until the job is finished”. Abbott fell back on the line that “they’ll be there as long as needed but no longer than necessary”.

Equally uncertain is how the Australian commitment might evolve.

Andrews on Thursday flatly ruled out putting in ground combat troops.

Abbott was less definitive on Wednesday. Asked whether eventually “boots on the ground” would be required, he said that while there had been “some disappointments and frustrations in the campaign against Daesh so far, there has also been a degree of success”.

“As to what might happen in the long-term future, it’s just not appropriate to speculate today, but we are continuing to work with our partners and allies to ensure that the response is prudent, proportionate and effective.”

Abbott always wants to keep the debate in the moment. Quizzed last October about the fact he had not ruled out operating in Syria, he said “could I counsel people against wanting to project too far forward here? Let’s focus on what’s been done today rather than speculate on what might be done in months or years to come.”

Now we have a Syria step. Assuming Abbott is still around, what Australia does “in months or years to come” will depend on what the US does. If America at some point deployed ground combat troops, you can bet that would mean an Australian contingent. If the US happened not to make a request, Abbott could be expected to discreetly seek one.

Some might wonder why Australia has a greater military involvement in this conflict than the UK, France, Germany or other countries more immediately affected. It is not just concern about our people becoming foreign fighters, or the threat of terrorism at home. It’s that, for Abbott, this is a crusade.



By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Guest Contributor

  1. Tough talk and sabre rattling makes many people think of a government as strong. The LNP markets itself carefully with market research as to what messages ‘sell’. History shows that war benefits politically, the right of politics particularly a sitting government. Talking about economics, the environment, jobs and those issues vital to a country’s future too difficult and controversial. For an opposition to oppose military action, security measures the like can brand them as weak to many people. From many of the comments I read on political issues it is apparent that for many people the truth is the perspective of one media outlet, or the political position of one party or the other the facts and truth usually lie somewhere in the middle. We are coming up to an election, LNP policy and announcements will be more rigorously looked at by the back room marketing people.

    2 REPLY
  2. When I commented on a similar post to this a few days ago another person sent me a rude private message because I have sympathetic feelings towards these refugees. She said that they were horrible people who killed children and wiped out other religions. She went on further to say that they were not like her proud family who are from German descent and imigrated here in the 1950’s. When I reminded her of the atrocities the Germans inflicted on the Jews and prisioners of war and rapes of children and women she abused me again.

    So people, before having your say about this, take a good look at your own ancestry.

    24 REPLY
    • I have had rude messages sent to me too on other topics and I can sympathize with you,what makes anyone here feel they have the right to invade our personal space with their opinion and bigotry?

    • Ladies question. I thought only your friends could send you private messages? This sounds like harassment to me.

    • NO Debbie Bryant anyone can send, I had one friend who came in here, she got a message that the person was going to track her down and get her address, this is all over an opinion my friend gave that this person did not like. My friend does not come here now.

    • Debbie Bryant
      No Debbie, there is a part of your Facebook that lets people message you. What’s really funny is that I didn’t know it existed until very recently so I only recently read two nasty messages from years ago and have no idea who the people are or what the subject was. Now I know where to look I am glad because a couple of nice people from Starts at 60 posts, have sent friendly messages. I’ll send one to you now.

    • Thanks Leone. It is a sad state of affairs when you cannot state your opinion without someone abusing you.

    • What concerns me is if you ‘google’ your name all the comments you have made on this page will come up so anyone can see them not just members….try it

    • Didn’t work for me Teresa, google took me straight back to my fb page
      I need to check my ‘others’ folder, no doubt there are some abusive messages there

    • Perhaps it depends on how many hits there are for your name Sue Todd. It certainly comes up for my name and also did for Libbi Elliot

    • Thanks for this thread ladies, I checked my ‘others’ folder and there was a message from my daughters ex, a lovely man I had lost contact with.

    • There were only 3 fb profiles, on the up side I’m apparently doing well as a partner at ‘Wonder’, whatever that is, lol

    • it is not coming up on mine Teresa Rettke but thanks for letting us know, I don’t really care because I just come in here and tell the truth, if other cannot handle that..that is their problem

    • Debbie if you go to your message folder you’ll see ‘others’ listed there. Click on that. I’ve had some rally nasty ones there for months that I didn’t know about, lol

    • I just googled myself. It came up that I had made comments on facebook but would not let me go there. It said words to the effect that you had to be a member to see the posts. On the upside there are a lot of Debbie Bryants out there doing very well for themselves. I agree with Libbi Elliot I am not ashamed of my posts. I just say what I think. I think if I received a threatening private message from a stranger I would inform the police. I am sure that it is illegal to threaten someone over the internet.

    • We’re all old enough to not shoot from the hip. We don’t post things we’d be ashamed of

    • Ruth, nothing you can do to stop this kind of ignorance, as for the private message, she is a bloody coward and I will take her on in a debate any time she like.

    • I didn’t know that anyone could send a private message unless by messenger, maybe someone can enlighten me.

    • Your profile seems to be very private Lee, but I can still message you. It might of course go to your others folder, lol

    • Lee Horrocks if you use Facebook from an app on your iPad or similar device the Other folder won’t appear. You need to open Facebook through your internet browser. Then in your messages at the top of the screen you will see Other in grey. If you click on this it will show any messages. I didn’t know this until I saw it on a site I follow through Facebook called iPad lessons.

    • Sue Todd, not hiding anything, Lol. My reason for privacy is that sometimes i go on sites where politics are discussed they can be very insulting, I recently saw a post telling a man that his opinion didn’t matter as he would soon be dead.

    • I’ve had to block a couple of people because of hateful comments to me on the page. I let them know that I am blocking them because they make me either feel uncomfortable or literally scared. There are some nasty people on FB

  3. There s a documentary our called Fahrenheit, If you get a chance to see it, I would watch it. Bush convinced the USA to invade Iraq by using fear. The idea is that people will support a Government if they are afraid. And that is what is happening here in Australia. Syria is a war that we will not win. According to the experts I have listened to, the Terrorists are winning. Millions of people are displaced and homeless and 2 ancient biblical countries have been bombed. We bear some responsibility in that

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    • The Middle East is a war that no one will win Syria is but a small part. Been that way for several thousand years I would say. As for the fear factor, it’s obvious that is the intention of this Government.

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    • Don’t need governments to make us fearful, just take a look at the ever changing & wonderful (sarcasm in case it’s not recognised) ways isis is torturing and murdering anyone who isn’t as mentally twisted and deranged as their psychopathic selves. That’s enough to make any sane thinking person concerned. I thought we had evolved as a species, to not believe in ‘if religion says it ok to do it, it must be ok’ mentality. I thought we had became educated enough to realise what was ok a1000 years ago is far from ok today. Obviously not. Remember religious intolerance is not racism, and what we are experiencing today is nothing but murder on a grand scale in the guise of religion. Be scared. Remember what happened in Europe when good people didn’t act.

  4. are we prepared for what lies lay ahead of the influx of ‘refugees’ that are claiming to be from Syria….war makes money…governments dont lie, they just dont tell the whole story, ever….way too much information and not enough truth….YES, WE CAN HANDLE THE TRUTH…but what is true to one group is not to another…sums up to a pack of lies!

  5. I feel profoundly sorry for those members of our Armed Forces who joined up expecting to protect our country, not to fight so called other peoples’ “wars”.

    1 REPLY
    • Yes, they must be the first to understand they are pointless wars.

      Wars which simply set up other wars…and on it goes, with the $$$ going into the pockets of American billionaire families.

  6. A Liberal Government took us to an illegal war in Iraq, there were no chemical weapons and Saddam was not harboring terrorists, now the terrorists have grown several more heads and are stronger than before. An ALP Government pulled our troops out of a bad situation. Now another Liberal Government wants to take us to another war in Syria. It is an unwinable war, that will just give rise to even more terrorist groups

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    • Surely you are aware that Labor has offered bipartisan support on this? And surely you are aware that it was instigated by the U.S. Democratic government?

    • we should never have gone there,same as vietnam,middle east is full of inbred maniacs who are still in the stoneage and where the hell are their never ending supply of weapons and bullets coming from that is the question to be answered,surely the internet and mobile services could be cut to the area then how would they spread their rubbish my guess Russia and USA maybe China are supplying,go over there yourself Tony Abbott then we could be rid of you

  7. A lot of Australian’s let media shape their views without finding out the complete story. Then we react to the story (& yes, I too was deeply affected by the 3 yr old) & we end up “making demands” we do not fully understand – all the time thinking we are doing the “right” thing. I think we should help out our global family – but only to accept into our “house” people who will respect our values & culture. I doubt the vast majority of people, demanding huge numbers of refugees, fully realize the social & financial impact it will have. Next time they are waiting in a hospital, stuck in traffic or think that more services should be available to them will connect the dots

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    • Yes, someone on line said photo didn’t look right, then we have this massive outcry ,only to find out it was all a pack of lies.

    • Dawn, the photo was real (sadly a 3 yr old boy, plus others, did drown). The untruth was : the family were not fleeing Syria – they had been living in Turkey for years; the father needed new teeth, so they decided to go where he could get some. His family died – not through persecution, but the dad’s actions

    • He was on his way to Canada via Australia, I heard he was persecuted & couldn’t go back to Syria. BUT has gone back to Syria to bury family. People smugglers don’t win

  8. If Abbot did not take Syrian refugees he would be labeled as not being human. Now he has accepted 12,000 refugees … he ready for this. So glad I don’t have his job. How do you make millions happy all of the time.

    10 REPLY
    • Yes Shirley agree , I am concerned at the amount of crime in NSW, where most end up. BUT , PM said no, but as you say he was forced to, by public opinion . I feel sorry so many would love to have Australia changed to a Muslim enclave as is happening in many countries .Of course most will live in Labor seats in Western Sydney which means votes, thats all that matters to them

    • You don’t know what will happen Dawn Bruce and the fact that they are bringing in Christians should be telling you, that it is the Liberal Party who canvasing for votes, they may place them in country towns

    • Doesn’t matter who is in power, we are a global economy now and have to play our part. The Libs are split on many things but most agree that the world expects Australia to assist both financially and by taking in refugees. It all started with America and Israel and their stance against Palestine, which resulted in the 9/11 terrorist attack; then it’s gone from bad to worse. We certainly don’t know what the future holds for Australia or the world, but I doubt it will be good. I respect all your viewpoints and can understand what you are saying. Bottom line is: none of us know what we are now in for. I have very mixed feelings but blame the USA for starting all this terror business.

    • I agree Christa Caldecott THE USA not only started all of this they trained many of the terrorists

    • Don’t be silly Shirley, of course it wouldn’t be Israel’s fault if the world came to an end. However, they do have a lot to answer for. I read a book recently written by an Israeli and was horrified that even he bad mouthed his own country. I am not blind to what the English have done, (yes I am from UK) nor should you be blind to what Israel has done. They have even bombed their own countrymen and blamed the Palestinians. Having said this, I wonder how many other countries have done the same?

    • If we could just open our hearts and welcome them with open arms and the assistance they need to set themselves up, they will be a great asset to Australia. But if the closed minds and rednecks continue their hatred and fear-mongering, they will end up like many other new Australians, isolated and radicalised. It’s up to us to make our own history but we’ll get what we deserve.

    • Well David we do have to do what the Americans want us to do regardless of people denying this. As I previously said “the Americans go in where angels fear to tread” (so to speak) and then Australia and UK have to come to the party too. They have us over a barrel and they know it.

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