Standing behind a podium reading “STOP THE BOATS”, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in March launched the Conservative government’s latest piece of anti-refugee legislation. Speaking of his concern for the world’s most vulnerable people—and the country’s allegedly broken border control system, which allows criminal gangs free entry—he said that the only fix is the Illegal Migration Bill, which has now passed the House of Commons.
The bill will force agencies to “detain and swiftly remove” anyone seeking asylum without a visa, making no exemptions for unaccompanied children or victims of slavery or human trafficking. Once it passes the House of Lords, almost any asylum seeker entering Britain by boat will be deemed “illegal” and banned from ever being granted citizenship in the UK.
The home secretary will be obliged to order the detention of asylum seekers and have them deported either to their home country—likely Afghanistan, Iran or Syria—or to Rwanda for processing. (In January, the UK High Court approved Sunak’s plan to deport asylum seekers to the African country.) This comes straight from the play book of Australian Labor former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who famously said, “If you come by boat, you’ll never permanently live in Australia”.
The bill has been bitterly contested. Repeated anti-racist protests across the UK have fought to block it. In March, football commentator Gary Lineker was suspended by the BBC for comparing Tory refugee policy to Germany in the 1930s. He was reinstated after the BBC had to cancel weekend sports coverage because other presenters and commentators refused to work.
The British Labour Party’s response has been to attack the bill for not being draconian enough. “The first thing I’d say is we have to stop small boats”, Labour leader Keir Starmer said on a tour of a factory in March. “Security of our borders is paramount. But this bill ... won’t solve the problem.” Instead, he proposed a “cross-border police unit” to turn back boats more effectively before they reach the UK.
The attack on refugees comes in the context of the most significant upsurge of working-class struggle in Britain since Margaret Thatcher’s rule in the 1980s. For months, the Conservatives have been trying to use racism and scapegoating of refugees to weaken the strikes and to distract from the country’s cost of living crisis.
In his March presser, Sunak made a clear attempt to divert anger away from the rich and the government on to people fleeing persecution and war, saying that the public “are now having to spend nearly six million pounds a day to put up illegal migrants in hotels”. Sunak is one of the wealthiest people in the UK. He recently upgraded his local electricity grid to heat his private swimming pool.
Since Brexit, the Conservatives have made repeated attempts to model British asylum seeker policy on Australia’s. In April, the government confirmed that it would house roughly 500 male asylum seekers on a barge off the coast of Dorset, a county in south-west England. This came shortly after the announcement of a plan to use old army bases and ferries, rather than hotels, for refugee accommodation.
More than 45,000 asylum seekers attempted to cross the English Channel last year. Four from one boat were confirmed to have drowned in a rescue operation during a sitting day of parliament. As the search went on for bodies, Home Secretary Suella Braverman made the case for an Australia-style refugee policy, using our country’s record to support her argument for the Rwanda plan.
“Australia ... has made huge progress in dealing with a very similar challenge; it is a deterrent element of removal that was integral to reducing the number of illegal arrivals”, Tory minister Craig Mackinlay said in the same sitting. “That is why I am a big supporter of the Rwanda scheme, which is an important element of our plan to fix the problem.”
Australian governments have taught the UK how to terrorise refugees so viciously that others are too afraid to seek asylum from war and violence. The Labor and Liberal parties have provided the language, the laws and the confidence for the UK Conservatives to emulate the fortress system of “border control”, establish floating prisons and use impoverished third countries as dumping grounds for workers fleeing violence.
While most of us are being hit hard by the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation, Australia’s “big four” banks—Commonwealth, Westpac, ANZ and NAB—have had a record-breaking start to the financial year, posting a combined half-year profit of $17.1 billion. That’s a 19 percent increase from the equivalent period in 2021, and $1.3 billion more than the previous record of $15.8 billion in 2015.
Academic workers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have achieved a stunning victory with a serious campaign of industrial action, centred on an open-ended strike. Their approach is a model for unionists in Australia.
“You’re just a performing fucking monkey”. A racist barb, and one of many pointed moments in Jacky, a Melbourne Theatre Company production currently playing at the Arts Centre. Jacky is about the politics of performing monkeys. It is about racism and exploitation, hypocrisy and resistance.
The South Australian government has followed New South Wales and Victoria to undermine democratic rights. A bi-partisan bill has been rushed through parliament’s lower house, which proposes fines up to $50,000 or three months in jail if protesters “intentionally or recklessly obstruct the public place”.
NTEU Fightback, a rank-and-file union group of the National Tertiary Education Union at the University of Sydney, is calling on staff to vote No in the upcoming ballot on the proposed enterprise agreement. The campaign was launched at a forum on 25 May, attended by over 50 people. A members’ meeting on 13 June will consider the agreement. This week will probably be the first time that members are provided with a full list of proposed changes to our working conditions.
A recent NBC News poll found that 70 percent of US voters don’t want Joe Biden to recontest the presidency next year. Sixty percent feel likewise about Donald Trump. Yet the two men are currently odds-on to face each other in a 2024 re-run of the 2020 presidential election.