I'm thinking of going into the people smuggling business. After all, times are tough, and we've all got to earn a crust. I used to think the ad game was an easy way to make a quick buck. However, this boat people caper just gets more and more tempting by the day.
The easiest way to sell something to somebody is when somebody else does it for you. Thanks to Julia and Chris’s 1-for-5 Refugee Bonanza – now available in all good South East Asian nations – business will soon be booming.
All I’ve got to do is set up a rickety stall in some far-flung Middle East market town, and knock out a few brochures. That’s pretty much it for overheads – other than, of course, purchasing a vaguely sea-worthy vessel for the journey. Here’s how my all-important sales pitch goes: “Want a new life? In an awesome country? Well, have I got a deal for you: Australia! Full of sun, surf and scantily clad girls (except your sister, who can wear her burqa to go swimming if you want her to.) And the best bit? You can pretty much waltz straight on in.”
To which the wary customer, nervously fingering his hard-earned greenbacks tucked into the lining of his goat-skin satchel, will raise a suspicious eyebrow. “Australia? I’ve heard horror stories about that place. I don’t want to sit in some detention centre in the desert for years on end. Not happening, dude.”
“Those days are long gone,” I’ll say, with a reassuring smile. “We got rid of that horrible little man with the bushy eyebrows. Besides which, there’s a new government incentive scheme. A new guarantee! I’ll show you. Straight from the Prime Minister’s mouth, no less!”
“The Prime Minister is a woman?” the startled refugee will exclaim, as Julia pops up on my iPad. I wink. “I told you this place was a soft touch.”
And then I’ll let Julia deliver the sucker punch and close the deal, with the clip of her announcing her “tough” new policy: “If someone seeks to come to Australia, then they are at risk of being sent to Malaysia and going to the back of a very long queue.”
My potential client will look at me in disbelief. And then burst out laughing. “It’s that easy?” he’ll say, pulling out his roll of bank notes. And I will nod. “It’s that easy.”
As anyone who has ever done business in South East Asia knows, telling someone they are going "to the back of a very long queue" is about as menacing as telling them "a limo will pick you up at 7 and take you straight to your front row seats." The rules are very different once you leave the air-conditioned comfort of Kingsford Smith and touch down in the sticky, humid world of our nearest neighbours.
I remember my first job in KL. We’d just left the airport when we were pulled over by an irate policeman. “What’s he want?” I said, puzzled. My driver sighed irritably as he fumbled in the glovebox for a wad of crumpled notes. “Just the usual. Baksheesh.”
Ostensibly a form of charity-giving, ‘baksheesh’ is anything from small tips to large, outright bribes, without which South East Asian business and politics would grind to a halt. According to a recently published survey of expat businessmen, nearly 50% believe Malaysian corruption is a "significant" problem.
Here’s how Julia’s “Malaysian Solution” looks to the people who will be implementing it. No, I don’t mean the government bureaucrats (although they must still be shaking their heads in bewilderment at our naivety) but to those who run the refugee camps.
“The Australians pay me money to take 10 boat people. Cool. And in return I get to offer 50 people in my camp the opportunity to make a charitable donation to me so that they can go to Australia. Cool. And then as soon as the 10 people from Australia arrive I will give them the opportunity to make a charitable donation to me so that they can be part of the next 50 who will go straight to Australia. Cool.”
That’s assuming, of course, that the Australian boat people sent to Thailand or Malaysia actually go into detention. It’s just as likely they’ll hop off the plane and hightail it straight down to the nearest port, where, luckily, I’ll have another boat waiting. I’ll offer a 20% discount, naturally, because repeat customers are the lifeblood of any new business. I may even offer frequent sailing points.
No wonder the Thais and Malaysians jumped at the offer. It’s a win-win-win situation. Soon, there won't be a government in the region that hasn’t grabbed our blank cheque book with eager hands. And wisely or unwisely, Australia’s refugee intake will go through the roof as every tinpot Asian country seizes this golden opportunity to offload onto us their most troublesome and problematic illegal immigrants, including – you watch! – some of the very same ones we send to them.
Julia Gillard is desperate to do the decent thing on this issue. In fact, you can tell by the whispery, earnest way she speaks and her slightly flushed pink cheeks that for once she genuinely believes in what she’s selling. Unfortunately, after a career spent in the confines of Canberra, shuffling agenda items and bureaucratic decrees from one folder to another, Julia is, quite simply, far too nice and trusting. Corruption and South East Asia go hand in hand. To the very top. If you don’t believe me, just google ‘Anwar Ibrahim’ and ‘sodomy.’
Neither Malaysia nor Thailand are signatories to the UN Convention on Human Rights. Both their track records on treatment of illegal immigrants are woeful, with Thailand pushing unwanted Muslims back out to sea. Doing his best to prove he’s even more gullible than Julia, Chris Bowen came out with this gem:
“We've talked these issues through (and) Malaysia's given that very firm commitment about dignity and humanity for asylum seekers.” Really? Human Rights Watch thinks differently:
“Malaysia cannot present itself as a responsible member of the international community while continuing to refuse to ratify core UN treaties, including… the Convention Against Torture. The government (needs to) upgrade the appalling conditions in immigration detention centers.”
So are we trying to discourage asylum seekers by threatening them with the vile conditions awaiting them in Malaysian and Thai refugee camps? No, although that might actually work. Instead, we are lying to ourselves that Asian refugee camps are perfectly acceptable places to traffic people to at the tax payer’s expense, whilst officially handing control of our borders to foreign countries rife with corruption. And then kidding ourselves that this ill-considered policy will act as a deterrent.
My new career is looking very rosy indeed.