Monday, June 6, 2011

Australia: Has there ever been a policy fiasco this bad?

Greg Sheridan

Cane with dignity and respect cartoon. Picture: Bill Leak Source: The Australian
IS the Malaysian solution now unravelling in the same way as the East Timor solution, bearing witness to the astonishing amateurism of Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen in international diplomacy?

Among a bewildering plenitude of chaos and confusion in the asylum-seeker/illegal immigrant imbroglio the Gillard government has created, one acute operational dilemma is obvious. How can it send unaccompanied minors, boys and girls, to an uncertain fate in Malaysia, with all the risks to them that this involves?

Yet if the government grants an exception for unaccompanied minors, it will create a massive incentive for people-smugglers. If a family sends a son or daughter on a boat, perhaps with secret supervision of an uncle or cousin on the boat, the kid will probably get permanent residency in Australia.

This will entail in due course, in fact probably in short order, the right to sponsor the rest of the family to come to Australia. In terms of the business model of the people-smugglers, this is the gold jackpot. Come on down, send the boats and send the kids.

This is an astounding mess the government has created. As soon as it announced the Malaysian solution, politicians and journalists asked about children. The government responded with customary contemptuous bluster, and refused to answer the question.

But it was always a critical question and it cannot be fudged. It now turns out that the government, in a positive rapture of incompetence and amateurism, had not even decided its own attitude to the question.

It certainly had not sorted out the matter with the Malaysians. It finally deigned to answer the question on the children only when confronted with a leaked draft agreement by the ABC's Lateline. Then the hapless Bowen said yes, kids would be sent to Malaysia. Cue the predictable outrage from the Greens, the illegal immigrant lobby and even sections of the Labor Party. And the Tony Abbott-led opposition, with Scott Morrison landing heavy blows at every turn, was able to contrast the superior human rights guarantees in its Pacific Solution and in the Nauru detention centre the Howard government ran.

So lickety split, Bowen started on his familiar confused retreat. Only some kids would be sent to Malaysia after all. There was nothing automatic about it. Kids in danger would be individually assessed and perhaps not sent.

Meanwhile the boats still come, the people-smugglers having worked out that this government is all bluff and no delivery. Since the government announced the deal with Malaysia a month ago, about 200 boatpeople have arrived. A quarter of the Malaysian solution has already gone, and the Malaysian solution does not yet actually exist because no agreement has been finalised.

Why did the government publicly announce the Malaysian solution before the details were negotiated and the framework worked out?

Surely not because it had to announce at the same time that the East Timor solution was finally dead? Surely not because there had just been a series of riots, fires and assaults in the detention centres, and it needed to look as though it was doing something? Surely after the slow-motion debacle of the East Timor solution collapse, this government could not possibly have been stupid enough to put spin, and an attempt to win one day's good media coverage, ahead of important diplomatic matters of real substance?

The contradictions in the government's position abound. Gillard fiercely assured the parliament the Malaysians would not have power of veto over which 800 individuals were sent to Malaysia.

Problem was, this contradicted the Malaysian government's view. And a moment's thought bears out the reasonableness of the Malaysian position. No government welcomes people to its soil without any power of choice, without even knowing who they are, leaving the choice to another government.

The Gillard government's inability to finalise the deal with Malaysia suggests it may be falling apart, and will certainly discourage other nations from engaging in such deals with it. At first there was some interest from the Thais and even the Indonesians. After all, it was a five-for-one swap to Australia's detriment, and Canberra was willing to splash out any amount of money to buy a result.

But the Thais and Indonesians saw how Malaysia's good name has been dragged through the mud in Australia on this business, and suddenly they lost interest.

The Malaysians should brace themselves for months, perhaps years, of relentless negative publicity and attack in Australia and internationally if this deal goes ahead. Because suddenly every aspect of Malaysian policy on illegal immigrants will be seen by the media as Australia's business.

I'm sure that's not what Kuala Lumpur had in mind when this deal was first broached with them, but it's what they'll be putting up with if the deal goes ahead.

At the same time the Malaysian opposition is starting to get serious about criticising its government on the deal.

But wait, there's more. The Gillard government did not even tell the UN High Commissioner for Refugees of its plan to send unaccompanied minors to Malaysia, and now the UNHCR says it can't support the deal.

Has there ever been a policy fiasco as comprehensive as this? Will they teach it at the Harvard Business School as the definitive case study of mismanagement?

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, sensibly, left for Europe and the Middle East at the weekend. This humiliating fiasco belongs to Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen.


With immigration reform, the consumer matters

By Armstrong Williams

The recent Supreme Court ruling in Chamber of Commerce vs. Whiting highlights a fundamental and before now underappreciated factor in the immigration debate: Immigrants come here illegally because they know that U.S. companies will hire them.

While most of the immigration laws have focused on the illegal immigrants themselves, very few of them have focused on the consumers of their labor: companies, and, by extension, the consumers they serve.

Americans have become addicted to immigrant labor to fill jobs that Americans won’t do (at the wages and under the working conditions immigrants are subjected to), while complaining about the side effects — overburdened social services, crime and cultural dilution in the border states. But it’s not hard to spot the illegal immigrants in any given neighborhood. In fact, it’s quite simple. They are the only people tending your lawn, baby-sitting your children and running your restaurants on the cheap.

But up until now the focus has been on curbing the supply. The approaches have ranged from the pure silly — like trying to erect a wall along the Mexican border — to the downright diabolical — private citizens forming vigilante groups and terrorizing hapless brown people who may or may not be illegal immigrants. The recent Arizona law, which revokes the business licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants is the first real measure focused on the demand side.

Illegal immigrant labor is a performance enhancing drug with wide side effects. By hiring illegals, companies get an edge over other firms that don’t. They buy cheap labor from individuals who have no civil rights whatsoever: They cannot complain if they are cheated on their paycheck, protest unhealthy working conditions, or reject wages less than the minimum federal wage. If they do complain, they can be immediately detained and sent back to their countries of origin with none of the due process that would be accorded to an American citizen. And so this keeps them in their place — a place of legal limbo — and gives U.S. firms access to what is essentially slave labor.

Before now, we’ve had a tacit agreement between big business and big government to leave the immigration issue unresolved. After all, illegal labor has acted as a subsidy to businesses and consumers of the cheap labor. But that arrangement seems to be cracking, and that’s a good thing. The American people want their borders defended and their rights protected by the government that they, the citizens, have elected. This is especially true in a recession when Americans are facing unprecedented unemployment, debt and a decline in living standards.

The recent Supreme Court ruling was right for America - legally, factually and morally. But the Supreme Court’s vocal minority, along with a strange bedfellows’ coalition of big business and civil rights organizations would have you believe that a reasonable business regulation is an encroachment on the civil rights of legal immigrants.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The regulations are narrowly tailored in accordance with federal definitions of “illegal” status, and they accord appropriate due process for the offending corporations. No one can be rejected for a job because they “look” illegal. But businesses have the additional responsibility of verifying an applicant’s immigration status. All of the normal civil rights protections for workers have been undisturbed by the ruling.

Illegal immigration, while it has some short term benefits, ultimately dilutes the rights and privileges of Americans who pay their taxes and play by the rules. It’s not fair for employers to get the benefit of illegal labor at a cheap price, while the society as a whole has to bear the price of social services for people who do not vote or pay taxes in this country.

In the past, such unfairness caused such a rift in the union that it sparked a bloody war. The elites attempted to secede from the United States in order to keep slavery in place. Let’s hope we can avert such an abomination this time around.


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