More sobering news for refugee activists

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Essential Report came out yesterday with some sobering results for refugee and asylum seeker activists.

I’ve written before about the dilemma facing refugee activists – especially in the lead up to the election.

The take home message from the Essential Report is that many more people disapprove of humanitarian action being shown towards people in immigration detention than approve.

Federal Labor is often accused of not taking the hard decisions on refugees and of not doing the right thing. The argument goes that Labor is spineless, focus-group driven and poll-led.

The decision to move children and families out of detention centres is one that no rational, empathetic person should oppose – certainly no supporter of refugees and asylum seekers. Yet, this announcement was not greeted with universal acclaim and support by progressive groups. I certainly didn’t hear of any friends getting emails from Get Up applauding the move, and there is nothing on the Greens Party blog. There is a media release from the Greens Party MP site that in one breath welcomes the move and condemns another aspect of the immigration policy – in fact, the only mention of the Govt’s moving of children and families from detention is in the first paragraph; the rest is an attack on the Govt over the building of additional centres.

This echoes David Plouffe’s frustrations with the “liberal blogs” in their attitude towards the Obama Administration – nothing was ever good enough, and the good work was never acknowledged – or if it was, criticisms flowed simultaneously.

Both Labor supporters and Liberal supporters have a majority of “disapprove” of the release of children from detention. There can be no doubt that Labor had done the right thing here to its political detriment. This poll, and the polls like it, demonstrate that Labor has and does make good decisions that are also hard decisions.

I just want to acknowledge that, and I hope more progressive people do.

The other side of this equation is how progressive refugee activists and advocates can try to confront this.

I heard Peter Lewis from EMC talk about this issue – and his views struck me as “Lakovian” (i.e. inspired by George Lakoff). Refugee activists need to reframe the debate away from “asylum seekers” as “pushing in” or “breaking the rules”, and instead focus on “how much these people must want to be Australian” and how “doing everything you can to help your family is an Australian value”. I’m sure Lewis et al have much more thought through and polished lines.

My point (and I think Lewis’) is that facts don’t come into it – it’s an emotive and values-laden issue.

What do you think?