PNG, Refugees, the Australian Government and the Exploitation of the Ignorant

I understand this is a very hard-line decision. I understand the different groups in Australia and around the world will see this decision in different ways.

Kevin Rudd quoted in 'Asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat to be resettled in Papua New Guinea', from ABC News

Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

George W. Bush in his Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001

Slamming the door shut on refugees is a disgrace. When Tony Abbott praises Labor's hardline plan, you know we're in a bad place.

Adam Bandt on twitter, July 19, 2013

Terrorism is appalling. Refusal to allow entry to refugees is similarly appalling. Extremism, deliberate obfuscation or intellectual dishonesty by our elected officials is abhorrent and needs to be called out at every point.

Make no mistake: The deal the Australian government made with Papua New Guinea last Friday is a terrible act for people seeking refuge and who are only able to come to our country by boat.

Last year the number of people arriving by boat and seeking refugee status exceeded the number arriving by other means (mostly by air) for the first time this century.

The number of refugee applicants arriving by boat increased by over 650% from 2008-2010, most probably because of the growth of smuggling people into Australia as a business model.

It's easy to jump to an extreme position on an emotional topic. George W. Bush did it in 2001 when discussing the hunt for the perpetrators of the acts of terrorism against his country. With his statement he gave other nations, many of them long-term allies, an ultimatum.

Ultimata are the bastion of terrorists amongst other extremists. By providing an ultimatum, Bush was putting himself on their level and lost any ethical upper ground he may have held.

They were emotive words but they did not allow for the nuance of the situation and only served to intensify feelings of xenophobia, not only to arabic nations, but also to countries like France, which had supported the US in previous battles in the middle east. They were words that hurt rather than helped. More importantly, they failed to acknowledge that international governments had a difficult decision to make: They were almost bullied into sacrificing the lives of their citizens. Bullying is a form of terrorism.

Adam Bandt, current deputy leader of the Greens and the federal member for the seat of Melbourne, used similarly emotive words on Friday on Twitter. It was in relation to the Prime Minister's deal with Papua New Guinea to transport all future 'Irregular Maritime Arrivals' (we know them as 'Boat People') there instead of processing them within Australia. The clincher is that those arrivals will never be settled in Australia.

This is very different to "slamming the door shut on refugees". It's obviously an attempt to remove a market from the terrible practice that endangers the lives of people who feel they have no other option or those who feel the costs are worth it. It still allows for non-IMA refugees to arrive in and be settled in Australia.

Bandt, along with many others over the weekend, engaged in intellectual dishonesty, exploiting the ignorance of people who are emotionally stirred by our government's actions, by excluding the thousands who arrive in Australia seeking protection by air.

It's not the same as bullying but it is highly exploitative and shameful behaviour.

This is a very complicated situation with many variables. I believe Kevin Rudd and his government have done the wrong thing by those in need of asylum. By trying to do a good thing in removing the market for people smugglers, they are removing a means for those in need of asylum from reaching a place where we know they can be taken care of: our shores.

We are potentially sending people in need of help to a place where we advise our own citizens to "exercise a high degree of caution". It's a place where "it is dangerous to walk the streets, particularly after dark." It is also a place where "cholera is now considered as endemic" and "health care facilities… are poor by Australian standards".

Of course, the intention is to deter the practice of people smuggling but the result might be that people requiring help leave one dangerous place for another. PNG might not be as bad as Afghanistan or Sri Lanka for the asylum seekers, but we don't know how a community already prone to inter-ethnic tensions will treat new arrivals.

Our media, however, does not allow for the nuance of such a complicated scenario. Twitter is a way to get people to rally but rallies are no place for subtle debate. TV and radio news rely on soundbites to tell us if someone is for or against an issue without suggesting that there might be a third option of understanding the difficulty of a situation and seeing if we can maybe find a better way through work and analysis.

This country is being destroyed by bullies and extremists who won't acknowledge that there are a number of ways to solve a problem. They are the ones who demand that they be stood with or against.

Bandt sided with the extremists with his Twitter comment. Rudd took extreme action but acknowledged the complexity of the issue; a step towards a moderate position on a powder-keg topic.

Extremism has never resolved an issue and it never will. It is only ever used for short-term gain and exploitation and we do ourselves a disservice to fall for its emotive charms.