After days of media speculation, it is has been revealed that the asylum seeker boat towed to the Australian mainland was given special clearance by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.
Mr Morrison refused to comment on the vessel, or the reasons why the vessel was not diverted to Christmas Island in line with government policy.
“It is the policy of the Australian Government not to comment on operational matters,” he said.
When asked to explain this policy in light of the unusual circumstances surrounding the vessel, Mr Morrison said it was “the policy of the Australian Government not to comment on government policy”.
A staff member at Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre confirmed that the centre had received 116 asylum seekers – 44 men, 38 women and 34 children – and that all the asylum seekers were white, English-speaking Christians.
Mr Morrison rejected claims the decision to allow the asylum seekers to reach the mainland was based on race.
A departmental spokesperson later confirmed that these asylum seekers were not sent to Manus Island for processing because it was “not appropriate in this situation”.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the public outrage to process the refugees onshore as “completely hysterical”, adding that he did not understand why the ABC and Fairfax were now supporting offshore detention.
This hypothetical situation poses an interesting question.
If the thousands of people who commonly seek asylum in Australia through the mythical ‘front door’ had no alternative but to come by boat, would the Australian Government apply the same rules to them?
Would we allow ‘white Christians’ to be locked up in detention indefinitely on a remote island, and never ever ever be admitted to Australia?
The answer most certainly is ‘no’.
Australians would never allow a British mother to be detained in squalid conditions on a remote island. There would be outrage if an American was murdered in our care and nobody was brought to justice. Our country would be condemned if it denied media access to a Canadian who was being held in an overseas Australian prison camp.
We allow these atrocities because the people we hold in our detention centres are not British, American or Canadian. Because they are not white. Because they are Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Afghani, Iraqi, Pakistani and Bangladeshi.
Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves ‘these people’ deserve less than what we would expect for our white, English-speaking friends.
The government argues that its tough response is required to stop drownings at sea. If that were true, Royal Australian Navy boats would be towing boats towards Australia – not dumping them back in Indonesian waters and hoping for the best.
The Australian Navy will come to the rescue of any European yachtsmen who is stranded off Australian waters. Surely rescuing hapless sailors only encourages risk-taking behaviour!
Tough love, it seems, doesn’t apply to white faces.
It’s time that Australians called out this policy for what it is – racism. There’s one set of rules that apply to those who look like us and another for those who don’t.
So let’s just be honest – we don’t want ‘these people‘ coming here.
And let’s stop kidding ourselves.
Our bi-partisan asylum seeker policies are not about ‘saving lives from being lost at sea’. Rather, they are about ensuring people go and risk their lives elsewhere.
Anywhere but here.