Politics over human life

IF Australian politicians rated humanity above their desire to hold or win power, they would surely stop using the refugee issue as a football and work sincerely on a bipartisan solution.

The latest maritime tragedy, reportedly involving significant loss of life among Afghan refugees en route from Sri Lanka to Christmas Island, again highlights the urgent need for Labor and the Coalition to devise an agreed strategy.

It is notable that the two parties have been more than capable of bipartisanship on the question of Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan. Despite the obvious scope for political advantage in a situation where public opinion on Australia’s role in the occupation is sharply divided, both sides of politics remain in policy lockstep.

Some might dare to suggest that, if Afghanistan was not in a state of chaos because of the conflict within its borders, the volume of refugees from that nation would be vastly smaller.

Since Labor, under Kevin Rudd, abandoned John Howard’s offshore processing model in favour of more apparently humane policies, the flow of refugees appears to have increased. So far this year, for example, 57 boats have brought 4006 passengers and 82 crew to Australia.

In the scheme of things these numbers aren’t especially large, but popular rhetoric about ‘‘queue jumpers’’ and public fears about refugees in boats make the issue a fertile field for political mischief.

This is the real inhumanity, especially since it appears the two sides of politics now agree – at least in principle – on offshore processing.

The longer the two sides insist on scoring points and avoid genuine efforts to put a really effective policy in place, the more desperate residents of troubled countries will choose to risk dangerous journeys by sea.

If it is good enough to adopt a bipartisan approach to policy on military involvement in other nations then it ought to be good enough to adopt a similar bipartisan approach to the humanitarian consequences that flow from conflicts in which Australia becomes involved.

Reforming compo

FEW could seriously deny that the NSW workers compensation scheme needs an overhaul. The scheme is riddled with inefficiency and rorts and unless it is reformed its financial losses will become unsustainable.

But the state government needs to do a better job of devising, explaining and selling proposed reforms to the public.

Ultimately, what everybody should want is a scheme that provides fair compensation to people who are injured at work while at the same time encouraging their rehabilitation and recovery. An effective scheme should also minimise unnecessary or excessive leakage of funds to doctors and lawyers and prevent unreasonable rake-offs by insurers.

If the government thinks its latest reforms will achieve these goals without unfairly penalising bona fide claimants, it should take the trouble to explain the details to the electorate.

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