THE opposition’s unhesitating call for a freeze on bridging visas for asylum seekers, sparked by a single case of alleged sexual assault, is not merely opportunistic, it is symptomatic of an election contest being defined in terms of western Sydney.
It is lowest common denominator politics.
With the Prime Minister about to spend next week immersed in the supposedly deeper concerns of outer-suburban voters, the opposition’s deft conflation of public anxiety about crime and safety and overcrowding on the one hand, and border security on the other, is unmistakable.
The assault case and the impending but unrelated prime-ministerial campaign visit provides a convenient moment to suggest that Labor’s soft border security policies are adding to overcrowding and to declining public safety.
To that extent, the emergence of the issue at this time is a political gift for Tony Abbott and his hard-line immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison. But like any gift, someone’s had to pay up somewhere.
In this case, it will be the thousands of asylum seekers who have broken no law and who are determined to be legitimate refugees. Nine out of every 10 applicants processed have been found to have a sound case for resettlement.
There is some logic to Morrison’s call for more information about the placement of people on bridging visas given, as he says, they have had only preliminary security assessments at this stage.
He points out, for example, that if their addresses are not known by authorities, they are not able to be provided with adequate support services, leaving them vulnerable.
But of course the dominant
message for people in the target audience – those fearing that our borders are being overrun and so forth – is be afraid and be angry.
The actual matter before the courts involves a serious sexual assault charge against a 20-year-old Sri Lankan, who is on a bridging visa. The incident took place in Macquarie University’s student accommodation and, while there are some 55 bridging visa holders temporarily domiciled there, the defendant in this case was not one of them.
Yet on the basis of this case alone, the opposition has called for a freeze on releasing people who arrive by boat into the community and for a series of measures including behavioural protocols to apply if the community release program is restarted.
People in the community should be told when they are placed, and police and others informed, he says. Why exactly?
Is there evidence that the arrangements to date have detracted from public safety? Would security checks have stopped the alleged sexual assault incident from happening? Of course not.
Labor’s response has been muted, which tells you all you need to know about the potential for ongoing demonisation in an election defined by appeals to the lower aspects of the electoral character.
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