XENOPHON: I WON’T TAKE FAKE MORAL HIGH GROUND

For proof of the toxic state of federal politics, look no further than the current debate around the most recent asylum seeker Bill.

On the one side, you had a government saying pass the Bill, or we will leave 1100 adults and 460 children in detention because of the “signal” it might send to people smugglers.

On the other side, you had the Greens and Labor saying it would be better to leave the children behind razor wire in order to prove a political point.

Both sides were willing to use the kids as collateral damage in a political game.

Both positions are shameful.

Recently, Corinne Grant wrote a piece for The Hoopla that was highly critical of my decision to vote for the Bill.

I respect Corinne, and believe she has every right to express her views.

However, I thought I would write this piece to explain why I did what I did and why I think Corinne is wrong.

First, a little background.

A year ago the Coalition said they would not process any asylum seekers if they didn’t have the option of Temporary Protection Visas, which would allow them to send asylum seekers back to their country of origin if it was deemed safe.

Labor and the Greens voted together to block Temporary Protection Visas. They called this a victory.

So how many asylum seekers were processed in the following year? Just over 1% of 30,000 people.

I guess, for some, it is easy to take the high moral ground when someone else is paying the price.

So when this latest Bill was introduced, Labor and the Greens must have known Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not process asylum seekers without the option of Temporary Protection Visas.

Rightly or wrongly (and I think wrongly) he had made his position clear.

With this in mind, Labor and the Greens still voted against the Bill, and sought no middle ground with the Government, knowing it would mean ongoing chaos for thousands of asylum seekers.

I believed that wasn’t good enough.

Now, if you the think the Bill that was passed was terrible (and I agree, aspects of it are), you should have seen it before the cross-bench Senators sought a number of amendments.

Through long and tense negotiations, we managed to get the humanitarian intake increased by an additional 7,500 people. It will make the offshore humanitarian intake the highest it has been in 30 years.

The government also finally agreed to give 25,000 people on bridging visas the right to work, as well as the right to travel overseas in the case of family sickness or death.

We negotiated important changes to the fast-track review process and a tougher definition of “manifestly unfounded” than the government first put up.

We also knew that voting for the Bill would see 460 children out of detention.

Perhaps others don’t see these as improvements to a bad Bill.

I disagree. I believe doing nothing, in order to claim some fake moral high ground, would have been a lot worse.

During the negotiations I also spent a lot of time talking to a Rear Admiral who previously had to send sailors onto the high seas to pick bodies out of the water.

I have always hated the slogan “Stop the Boats”. But surely we can all agree we should try and stop the drownings.

As controversial as the tow-back policy is, it has helped stop many drownings.

Some of my colleagues on the left have admitted this privately.

That said, I am the first to admit tow-backs would be less harsh if there was a proper regional solution.

I’ve argued this with the government at length.

Ultimately, I voted yes for this latest Bill, because having been immersed in the issue for years, I felt this was a small step forward.

It would be cruel not to take that step.

The other problem I have with Corinne’s argument is the false assumption that this is the end of the issue.

Tony Abbott could very well be leading a one-term government.

If he is, Labor and the Greens will be able to put their plan into effect after the next election. I will be happy to work with them if I am still in Parliament.

But for now, this was the best we could get out of this Government. I wish it went a lot further and said so in the Senate.

I knew I would get blowback for voting for this Bill.

I don’t care, because the one thing worse than voting for the Bill was letting thousands continue to suffer, and hundreds drown, so that I could claim some false moral superiority.

 

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