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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

PJ's asylum seekers « Previous | |Next »
April 24, 2009

The latest bit of news to emerge on the current version of boat people hoo haa comes courtesy of the ABC. Interviews with a group of asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia support the idea that Rudd's policies do encourage more arrivals.

Andrew Bartlett elaborates on the point - some of these people spend 10 years waiting around, after their refugee status is confirmed, waiting to be sent somewhere they can start living again. If ever they did. We spend a fortune keeping them out that could be more productively spent. Meanwhile, these people are sitting around doing nothing, producing nothing.

One of the related issues raised on Q and A last night, in response to the popular and imaginitive notion of queue jumping, was the inadequacy of processing wherever there are, in fact, queues to be jumped. Some of these people in Indonesia, confirmed refugees, are willing to continue the extreme lengths they've already gone to, to get to Australia.

All I knew of P.J. O'Rourke before last night's Q and A could be written on a small postage stamp. Now I know that he used to be a hippie, thinks the banks should have been allowed to collapse, has had a bowel cancer episode, doesn't want his kids reading his books, and is impervious to Julie Bishop's adulation. On TV anyway. Oh, and he'd probably enjoy David Marr's company over anyone else who appeared on the panel last night.

And he's at odds with his conservative counterparts on immigration.

According to O'Rourke we should be taking all the boat people we can possibly get. Anyone who's prepared to do the sorts of desperate things these people are prepared to do to get here have clearly demonstrated the kind of grit and determination we like to attribute to salt of the earth Aussie hero types. By getting to within cooee of our coastline these people have proven themselves to be battlers of the serious kind. Maybe not Aussie ones, but that can be easily fixed. Piece of paper. Coupla days.

In parallel with our quiet achiever stereotype, they don't understand themselves to be doing anything more than what it takes to get on with their lives. All they want to do is live quiet lives with wives, kids, maybe pets, any old job, pretty much like your average suburbanite, but unlike most of us, they'll take extraordinary measures to achieve the ordinary. According to O'Rourke we could do with more such people, not less.

It's a good point and one which left the politicking of both sides looking rather silly.

What is your average Australian prepared to do to get a bog standard job and a small fibro rental in the less salubrious part of town? Walk across the Nullarbor? Leaky boat across Bass Strait or the Tasman? Or any body of water bigger than a backyard pool? Wait months, let alone years, for some personal space, light years away from a first home owner's grant?

It's a whole other way of understanding entitlement.

We're about to indulge our heroic fantasies with the annual ANZAC ritual. While we're thinking about war and how stupid and ghastly it is and how lucky we are that our diggers sacrificed their lives to preserve our way of life, we could give this some thought. We could do worse than think about what it means to the Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani and Sri Lankan people setting sail for our fair shores. We could think about the bravery and pluckiness of Australians, and how much we value bravery and pluckiness, and how we compare on a global bravery and pluckiness scale.

Or not.

| Posted by Lyn at 5:10 PM | | Comments (24)


Over the next couple of years I would think that most Australian would prefer that the jobs,state housing,welfare and free medical went to good citizens of Australia.

I haven't seen any polling figures on whether we should let all the boats in that want to come in but my guess is that 95% would say no at the moment.

Good citizens of Australia?

Like those descended from the people who arrived in leaky boats in 1788 and subsequently, I assume you mean.

In the first 7 months of last year, 15,000 North Africans arrived in Italy in leaky boats. And WE think we have a problem?

Australia currently absorbs well over 100,000 immigrants a year plus a large number of temporary 457 visa arrivals. On top of that, in 2007-8, 278,000 visas were granted to overseas students to study here.

A proportion of them will qualify for citizenship after they have graduated and universities would be basically insolvent if the flow stopped.

Does Les think we should shut all this down?

In comparison, the number of boat people arriving is insignificant.

I have commented in the past that the system we have for deciding who gets into Australia is a marvelous one.

They apply. We access their suitability and make a decision. That is the best way I think. Turning up in a boat is entering a country illegally thus making them criminals and excluding them from consideration in my book.

Yes as you say we absorb good numbers already. Thats very nice of us.

Attitudes towards asylum seekers have changed a lot since 2001. It was never anywhere near 95% against.

The AES would be the best survey on the issue, but the results of the 2007 one won't be out yet.

There were some related questions on the last Newspoll

Attitudes look to be around 50/50 with large numbers undecided. It's not a big political issue for either side any more, if it ever was as big as it seemed. That suggests people don't really care all that much.

It is not illegal for a person to turn up in a boat asking for asylum. It is illegal to live here without citizenship or a visa.

Boat people are not living here without authorisation. They are in the hands of the authorities while decisions are made over whether or not to authorise them. 95% is close to the numbers who are found to be genuine refugees and given permission to stay.

The real illegals use much better transport to get here.

The mental gymnastics that the refugee-phobes engage in to justify their racism (and that's all it is) are amazing. One of the biggies is that they are only 'economic refugees'. Presumably they think these people invest all their money in passage on a leaky boat so they can spend 10 years in a refugee camp ... all in the hope they will make their fortune. Maybe the eay to stop them coming is to drop bundles of Lotto tickets over Afghanistan so they can gamble without all the hassles.

Les your statements about illegality and criminality are what lawyers call 'wrong'. Australia is obliged under our own laws to consider claims for asyulum from asylum seekers and to grant it if they qualify. Most of the victims of Howard's contemptible 'Pacific island solution' - you remember, the people whose kind we don't want here and who Johnny swore would never set foot in Australia - are now living in our fair land having been found to be exactly what they claimed they were.

Well then how many boat people should we let in?

And what is the action that you would do when you consider enough is enough?

Because you must realise that if you start just waving the boats in they will cease to be a trickle and become a constant flow.

As I say. Put a figure on it.

The point of Andrew Bartlett's post is that if things were done more sensibly back in Indonesia, there wouldn't be boat people at all. The boat people would be 'proper' refugees of the queue waiting variety.

Then we could decide whether we want to take more and whether we want to use more resources chasing visa overstayers.

Les says with respect to the boat people that "Turning up in a boat is entering a country illegally". They do not enter Australia. They end up on Christmas Island which is considered to be outside Australia for immigration purposes. It is a point at which claims for asylum are assessed in an orderly fashion.

What Australia needs to do is turn all of these boats away and give them application forms for them to fill in in their own countries.

Then establish a system that allows a greater intake of children that have been displaced or orphaned.
Australia needs more children to support our aging population. These children could be fostered into existing families.
Seems to me a better way. I would suggest starting with 20,000 over a period of 2-3 years to see how it works.

Les wilfully or otherwise you persist in confusing refugees with applicants for immigration.

A refugees is a person who 'owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.'

In other words sending them back to their own countries to fill in a form, as you complacently suggest, would mean sending them back to the fear or often the reality of persecution, frequently involving imprisonment, injury or death. This is not speculation but a factual account of what happens when refugees are sent back to their countries of origin.

I cannot personally imagine the extent of the suffering that would induce people to abandon everything they have and buy a highly risky passage to another country where they have no useful prospects or contacts. It bespeaks a level of desperation that fortunately few Australians are ever likely to experience. Responding to people who have been driven to do such a thing with a Centrelink 'solution' just shows an extraordinary inability to comprehend the situation in which millions of people find themselves, not least because of Australia's own meddling in their countries.

It is all well and good for people to scoot around the internet having random opinions on current issues but those people should actually consider the whole picture.

Can we give humanitarian help without just putting up a green light in the middle of the ocean.

Do we go once again down the road of these detention centers and at what level do we say thats enough.

If we do let say 20,000 50,000 100,000 1,000,000 or more people into the country where will they live. Where will they work. What is the cost. Can Australia afford it at present.

I present an alternative plan.

Australia can adopt if you may children from around the world that have been orphaned by all circumstances. We have a well established home stay network of families that offer family environment for visiting students of all ages. We should grow on this idea. Currently the families offering this care are payed about $200 per week but I would expect to make the system viable from the governments point of view $100 or so would be better. The children will get the benefits of a safe family environment, good food and a great education here. If when the reach 18 they wish to return to their country of origin they may or they could opt to become Australian citizens.
Seems like a good plan to me which is a lot better than all of you's have come up with in the last 24 hours but if anyone wants to expand on this concept that I have put forward I would very much welcome some creative ideas.

Les while you work on your 'alternative plan', people in the real world have to deal with refugees who come here in desperate trouble, to whom we have both legal and moral obligations.

I am thinking about the real world not just typing a comment for the sake of it.

Perhaps you need to have a look at a map and look at populations above Australia and just have a bit of a think at what sort of crisis could be orchestrated by a softening on this issue. Yes its all very admirable to say ok let let a few boats in.
But as yet you have not answered my questions on the numbers that YOU would let in or when YOU think that is enough what actions YOU think would be necessary to stop them coming.

Les does have a point. Policy solutions like the Pacific Solution, Christmas Island or let's improve things in Indonesia are removed from local practical concerns.

Numbers I'll leave alone. Most people are notoriously bad at estimating these things and I'm one of those most people.

I can't go for the orphans-only idea. It would shut a lot of the more hysterical critics up - kids are cuter, less threatening, easier to feel sorry for etc, but a few reasons not to, starting with the economic:

Kids are a resource drain that don't start paying back the investment for years. Especially traumatised and non English speaking ones with little, if any, education.

They are needed in their home countries to replace the adult populations (like the ones getting slaughtered in Sri Lanka)

You'd have to go through the rigmarole of making sure they really are orphans for various reasons.

You'd be setting up the possibility for cakeholes to exploit - child labour, government payments, and would you let a Catholic priest look after them?

What would you do with the ugly ones nobody wants.

How could we provide the specialised care traumatised kids need on a large scale?

The kind of support families give one another takes care of a lot of those problems, so families would be better.

I agree that there are plenty of people who'd be willing to take refugees in, and the support network is a good idea. Where they *could* be housed is a different question from where they *would* be housed.

During the Victorian bushfires there was no shortage of accommodation offered. People offered to take in whole families, pets, livestock, the lot. But would they do that on the same scale for refugees? Probably not.

We say we have a housing shortage, but there's empty accommodation all over the place in this country. We're told people are leaving unviable towns, but are they actually unviable?

The trouble with that is the sorts of support services these people need. English classes, trauma counselling, government red tape access.

I am sure though that we all agree that their must be greater input into deterrents to having people setting out in these leaky death traps with unreal expectations of a better life.

The ball is certainly in the Rudd governments court now.

Les this has become a sterile discussion because you are simply talking past responses to the points you raise.

You persist in treating it as if it's a discussion about immigration. It's not. It's a discussion about the way Australia meets long-standing legal obligations to offer safe haven to refugees. The number of refugees in the world is not governed by maps or population densities to our north, but by the number of people who meet the definition I cited above, which you have studiously ignored.

Like most of the developed world, we have accepted the obligation to help these people EVEN THOUGH IT CAUSES US INCONVENIENCE AND MONEY. In other words it's missing the point to complain that admitting refugees will cause problems. That's a given. We're expected to be commassionate enough to cope with a few minor problems because we are quite literally saving the lives of fellow human beings. The trivial inconveniences we experience are nothing compared to the massive problems suffered by poor countries who are struggling to cope with MILLIONS of refugees whose arrival was beyond the control of the countries concerned. Are you suggesting that Jordan, for example, should force one million plus Iraqi refugees back across the border at the point of a gun?

Now if you can't face handling a few minor problems in the name of shared humanity, fair enough, that's your right. But be honest enough to campaign for Australia to repudiate the 1951 international convention relating to the status of refugees and admit that in preference to having your comfort disturbed you would prefer to send refugees back to face persecution and perhaps death.

Lyn I think Madonna and other Hollywood celebrities are adopting all the cute orphans so the only ones available will be the ugly ones nobody wants. Perhaps Les can produce a video for them: "Why we sent mommy n daddy back to be tortured n killed while giving you this wonderful new life in our awesome nation".

If Australia invades Afghanistan with the US and condones the shooting up of the civilian Afghan population, then it does have a moral obligation to look after those fleeing from the Taliban and a war torn country.

Or do you say that there is no such obligation?

The points I have made are already being discussed in the media now that another boat has arrived and more seem planned by the reports I have heard. You will have plenty of opportunity to infer that everybody that doesn't agree with your opinion is racist. Good luck with that mindset.

I do not agree with sending more troops into Afghanistan. So should I feel morally obliged from the results of the government making the decision to do so? Thats a hard one Gary. I didn't agree with much that went on in Iraq after the first couple of weeks so should I feel morally obliged for everything the Australian government did after that point?

I would have to say that I don't in that instance. It seems a little too close to standing at Gallipoli at dawn saluting the Australian flag to me.

yes the moral obligation issue is a hard one ---especially when you switch from the personal---should I feel morally obliged from the results of the government making the decision to do so?---to Australia as a nation-state being morally obliged to accept refugees from the conflict it is responsible for.

Many people would argue that nation-states do not have moral obligations, as distinct from legal obligations arising from signing various treaties. It's just about power and the national interest.

Racism is certainly the problem for some people, but for others it's the 'we will decide who comes here and the manner in which they come' thing, which is hypocritical.

Why so much worry about boats and none about planes?

Is there some quantity of grovelling, some level of destitution, some specified number of lost limbs these people would accept as the mark of a worthy refugee?

I find the hysteria surrounding boats mystifying. But as long as it sells newspapers I guess we're stuck with it.

Lyn says "I find the hysteria surrounding boats mystifying." It's the visuals. It tapes into the emotion of unconscious fear and dread about alien, Asian hordes invading an isolated white Christian nation.

It's Australia's political unconscious.

Yes it relates to the visuals I think too and highlights a lack of control maybe. The planes come in. Everybody walks in lines though check points. Shows papers and is watched. Its all very legitimate and orderly.

Perhaps the boats could be dampened down a bit by a good reality TV show. Perhaps the people will be humanized by it. Perhaps I can sell it to Channel 10. I better get cracking!

The visuals thing is really interesting. After the children overboard fiasco we got pretty much no visual at all. I figured it must be harder to sympathise with people you can't see, and easier to demonise the imaginary.

Remember how cranky the Howard people were when the Papua New Guineans were splashed over tv with their big smiles and cute kids?

Now we're seeing actual people with horrible injuries after the boat blast, and Malcolm Turnbull wanting to visit them in hospital. I don't imagine he wants to be filmed lecturing some poor, barely alive person about how bad boat people are.

Assuming the stuff about potential boat people being well informed of Australian developments is true, they'll soon be turning up looking suitably bedraggled, poor and put upon. With lots of cute kids rehearsing navity plays.

Maybe all they need is some good marketing advice.

It's a funny old issue, I'll say. Welcome them with open arms I say. But we need to drastically increase the amount of money we spend integrating each refugee we accept.

There is no point accepting all these people from exotic lands, and leaving them to their own devices.

Now that we have matured from the idiocy of multiculturalism, we need to send the reffos to Aussie boot camp!