In my earlier post I expected, like many, that Rudd would emphasise the international initiatives he would take to stem the flow of asylum seekers by boat. Instead the centre piece was the PNG solution (see transcript of the joint press conference).
Most, but not all, commenters on the previous thread disagreed with the policy, many quite vehemently. To me the removal of asylum seekers to PNG and then settled there if found genuine is clearly intended to act as a deterrent. In other words vulnerable people seeking our assistance are being used instrumentally to send a message and to change the behaviour of others. Ethically that is to be condemned, utterly.
Given that it is going to take time to put into place and the current flow is said to be about 4000 a month one can’t be sure that it will work. Health checks will take about two weeks. By that time we may have several thousands on our hands. Minister Burke says that no-one will be transferred until acceptable facilities are ready. The perception that the Government means business may not cut in until transfers are actually made.
Politically I tend to agree with Lefty E that the move was unnecessary. Indeed there is a risk that during the election period it will look ineffective.
So what are the policy alternatives?
Dr Tad has his say. It’s an interesting analysis but as a solution he proposes open borders. I’m sorry, that may be theoretically arguable, but politically it is impossible. Just isn’t going to happen and is not going to be seriously contemplated by any major political party in the foreseeable future.
I’m not sure of its provenance but the figure for deaths by sea of asylum seekers since 2007 has been recently put at 1000. Lenore Taylor says says 805 since 2009. Those figures don’t include boats that have simply disappeared. Dr Tad’s comment is:
This process reached its low point with excruciating hand-wringing over how much barbarity towards boat people was needed to “save lives”, as if this couldn’t be solved by simply providing a decent ferry service.
Good point about barbarity, but again the idea of a ferry service is completely unrealistic.
According to Steve Rintoul in The Australian Jesuit law professor Father Frank Brennan suggested sending asylum seekers back to Indonesia to take their place at the back of a queue. That means everyone whether by plane or boat, with or without a visa. Australia would provide the financial backing for security and processing arrangements in Indonesia, in co-operation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration.
Brennan set out his ideas at a national summit convened by the Hawke Institute in South Australia.
He told the summit – to a hostile response – that under the letter and spirit of the Refugees Convention, “we are entitled to return safely to Indonesia persons who, when departing Indonesia for Australia, were no longer in direct flight but rather were engaged in secondary movement seeking a more favourable refugee status outcome or a more benign migration outcome”.
For the plan to work, there would need to be regional and bilateral agreements with Indonesia and Malaysia to arrange “equitable burden sharing”.
Father Brennan said he believed Senator Carr was wrong in his comments that most asylum-seekers now were “economic migrants” rather than genuine refugees, but there was a need for a more “finely textured” policy than Gillard government policies based on offshore detention and residency in Australia without work rights, or the “appalling” prospect of turning boats around at sea.
That’s the bones of it. Brennan’s paper was titled titled “Pragmatic answers to the asylum-seeker question.” He has since written an article for the ABC which gives more detail. In it he stresses that returning people to Indonesia is only legal where there is a secondary movement:
Like all other countries, we are rightly obliged not peremptorily to expel those persons arriving on our shores, legally or illegally, in direct flight from persecution. We are entitled to return safely to Indonesia persons who, when departing Indonesia for Australia, were no longer in direct flight but rather were engaged in secondary movement seeking a more favourable refugee status outcome or a more benign migration outcome. We could credibly draw this distinction if we co-operated more closely with Indonesia providing basic protection and fair processing for asylum seekers there. Until we do that, there is no way of decently stopping the boats. (Emphasis added)
If a boat came directly from Sri Lanka I gather it would be for us to deal with. I’m presuming that Brennan would not condone excising the continent or other territories under the Immigration Act.
Brennan is seeking an orderly process and a way of stopping the boats which also brings some equity of treatment to those fleeing persecution. He also suggests that the prospect of an arrival rate of 40,000 pa is a concern and “puts at risk the whole offshore humanitarian program and distorts the migration and family reunion program.”
He stresses that the safeguards sought should be as detailed by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers chaired by Angus Houston.
Personally I think Brennan’s suggestions are worthy of consideration and don’t as far as I can see involve offshoring in PNG and Nauru.
I’m a bit tired of contortions to make largish numbers look small and vice versa according to ideological line. We are told that asylum seeker arrivals are only 0.03% those fleeing persecution worldwide – or something – a small percentage of a very large number. The most accessible statistics I’ve found are from the Refugee Council of Australia. Table 6 shows that asylum applications to Australia numbered 29,610 in 2012, ranked 29th in terms of applications per 1000 population. That figure was 1.33 per 1000. Sweden was ranked 8th with 4.68 per 1000, Switzerland 11th at 4.22 and Norway 12th at 3.75. If we had applications at Sweden’s rate of applications we’d have 104,190.
In a post in 2010 Alternative ways of dealing with asylum seekers I looked in more detail at the Swedish model. Considering their location and looking at their numbers it looks certain their humanity meant more arrivals. At the end of the post I made some links indicating they were hardening their approach. I wonder what their reaction has been/will be to the recent riots in Stockholm.
That’s as far as I got in looking at alternatives. Father Brennan is known to be a friend and confidante of Rudd’s. I suspect Rudd was heading in the direction of Brennan’s ideas, but an arrangement to send irregular maritime arrivals, as the Houston report calls them, back to Indonesia or Malaysia was not announceable. So he looked to the only client state biddable. Timor Leste has said no and Nauru is too small and too far away.
I wonder what Fr Brennan thinks about it.
I’m not sure of the Green’s policy but from their response I gather they want the forward processing but not the sending back. Brennan obviously thinks that would not stop the boats.
Update: Frank Brennan’s comments on Rudd’s PNG solution are at Eureka Street.
Also I’ve listed here most of my previous work on asylum seekers:
- October 2001 Understanding our racism – an attempt
- August 2004 Care of strangers
- October 2011 Where to with asylum seeker policy?
The numbers have been fact-checked at The Conversation.
There were 17,202 boat arrivals in 2012. There were 12,936 in the first half of 2013. April was the highest month with 3351.
Prior to 2012 the highest was 5516 in 2001. There were 15 in 2004.
So the oft-quoted “4000 a month” and “40,000 a year” haven’t happened yet.