The eight inconvenient truths on boat people
Here are the eight inconvenient truths in the ongoing conversation on boat people over the last weeks and months in The Punch.
The first inconvenient truth relates to the claim that Australia can’t handle an influx of refugees, and we shouldn’t be forced to because we already take so many. In the face of the kind of suffering, and the numbers involved, in refugee camps around the world, and given the extent of our wealth, Australians could take many more – thousands more – refugees than we do. We would need far better integration programs, but we have the wealth that should allow us to provide these too. We could also afford a far more generous, even if better targeted, refugee aid program, especially with our South East Asian neighbours.
The defence of popular opposition to greater refugee intake in this regard is the morally unsustainable defence of a privileged country that refuses to take its own values, and what are arguably its international moral obligations, seriously.
The second inconvenient truth is that Australia cannot act autonomously in determining the share it takes of refugees. Unless our regional neighbours accept, through real aid dollars and larger intakes on our part, that we are doing all we can, they can force a greater share of the problem on us, simply by doing nothing on their borders.
The third inconvenient truth is that detention and force need to be part of our response to unauthorized entry to Australia. No matter how generous we might become, our intake should be structured and orderly, and at some point even a Government run by the Greens would need to use detention, and ultimately, force to honor the limits we justifiably set. Given the moral brinkmanship illegal entry, women and children will, inevitably, be subjected to such detention and force.
There is a utilitarian moral calculation involved in drawing a line, even at the expense of a certain group of refugee women and children: unless many more are to be tempted to give over their life savings and take risky trips by sea to Australia, at some stage one group will need to be made an example of. It just may be the current group trying to force entry decisions on Indonesia and Australia.
Closely linked to this last inconvenient truth is that people smuggling – illegal business ‘enterprises’ worth billions of dollars globally – must be the priority policy issue for Government. All the appropriate concern for those who are exploited by traffickers should not outweigh the fact that a fundamental struggle is underway internationally with organized, and disorganized, crime. Governments must win that struggle.
Ensuring traffickers cannot assure potential ‘customers’ of arrival at their preferred destination is a crucial part of any strategy. Hence the case for the Pacific and Indonesian ‘solutions’, and surely Labor MPs must now accept the possibility that the Pacific option, which provided income for an eager developing state partner, is comparable and possibly preferable to trying to force such a role on an unwilling Indonesia.
Another inconvenient truth is the reality that some refugees are more strategic than others. Given the numbers involved in camps and that all refugees have equal merit, there is nothing immoral in focusing on camps that are, due to proximity, generating pressure and reasonable prospects for unauthorized movements. We have the right to choose the locations and groups from which to draw our refugee intake. This may mean ending intakes from the Middle East and Africa.
Inconvenient truth six – refugees do not have a right to permanent residency and citizenship. I think we should be giving many, many more refugees access to our citizenship, but moral and international legal obligations require only that we provide asylum whilst the threat of persecution exists. The protection should afford reasonable access to support and services – including the right to our health and welfare systems even though they are not citizens. No refugee, however, has a right to stay in Australia at their discretion after the threat of persecution recedes.
At some point, improvements in the country of origin may mean that a person can no longer claim refugee status. Hopefully, that person will want to return home, but detention and force may be required to enforce repatriation.
Why are we focusing on boats and not airports? Inconvenient truth seven is that we can cope with many, many more boats, and the issue of unauthorized arrivals by air should not be ignored, but the boats evoke fears, real even if irrational, in the community, generate greater risk to refugees themselves, and involve potential hardening of an illegal trafficking ‘value’ chain. This is why they must be a priority
Final inconvenient truth – number eight. People can be committed both to a more generous refugee program and to tough enforcement of the intake system. Usually, those holding both positions also accept the conservative view that community fear, and potential scare mongering and backlash, must be factored into prudent political management of intakes. Those who hold both positions and adopt such realism are acutely aware of the ‘dirty hands’ dilemmas involved. They have come to have an understandable sympathy for Philip Ruddock.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…