The Lethal Politics of Brinkmanship: On Banning Asylum Seekers and Refugees from Entering Australia

Brinkmanship: the political practice of pursuing an already dangerous policy to the very limits of safety in order to up the ante against your political opponent.

What other term but ‘brinkmanship’ can best describe the latest announcement by the Federal Government to ban asylum seekers and refugees in the offshore immigration detention centres of Manus and Nauru from ever entering Australia? The ban would block them from obtaining any visa that would enable them to enter the country, including tourist and business visas.

This latest move by the Federal Government must be seen as an exercise in lethal brinkmanship that cuts along a number of axes:

  1. it challenges the seeming opposition, Labor, to continue to maintain the bi-partisan choreography of state violence against asylum seekers and refugees that has seen it in lockstep with virtually every move made by the Federal Government;
  2. it strategically assimilates what are scripted as the more extreme policies of One Nation into the normative fold of the Federal Government’s apparatus of biopolitical governmentality; as One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, remarked: it was ‘good to see that it looks like the Government is now taking its cue from One Nation. Just like last time [in the Howard Government years]’ (ABC News http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-30/manus-nauru-refugees-asylum-seekers-to-be-banned-turnbull-says/7978228 ). In effect, it clearly exposes through this incorporative move the institutionalised racism of the Australian state that can so easily accommodate, through its Federal Government, what are otherwise branded as ‘strident’ or ‘extreme’ One Nation policies. ‘Centre’ and ‘margin,’ through this move, no longer hold; rather there is only a continuity and exchange of structural racism between these nominally different political parties;
  3. it provokes One Nation, precisely because of the Government’s incorporation and normalisation of its policy positions, to generate even more violent policies in order to continue to differentiate itself and not be completely subsumed as a mere adjunct of the Liberal party;
  4. it continues to enable the Government to abrogate its responsibility, under the terms of the UN Refugee Convention, for the transfer, settlement and care of the refugees on Manus and Nauru on the Australian mainland;
  5. finally, and most disturbing of all, this policy, even without being enacted, already unleashes its own destructive and potentially lethal effects, thereby working to intensify the violent effects of current policies of ‘letting die’ of refugees on Australia’s Pacific gulags – as Mat Tinkler, Director of Policy and Public Advocacy, underscored: ‘We have grave concerns that this kind of announcement will push people over the edge’ (ABC News http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-30/manus-nauru-refugees-asylum-seekers-to-be-banned-turnbull-says/7978228 ).

RAPBS condemns this proposed policy and unreservedly calls for the immediate transfer of all the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru to the Australian mainland.