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58 responses to “Where to with asylum seeker policy?”

  1. Jenny

    For years, I’ve hated that ‘boat people’ has become a political matter. It’s a pissy little issue involving very few people that should always have been handled at the bureaucratic level. Seem like Gillard is taking the advice of the Immigration Dept and I think that is smart. If she can just find a way to ram it through the Reps, it will again show her capacity to operate effectively in the Parliament. And I think it will leave Abbott in the difficult position of either supporting the PM in the Senate or obstructing the expert’s preferred solution for political reasons.

  2. Doug

    PM has suggested that there will be no change to the legislative program which means that the immigration legislation will not be considered before the return of the rambunctious Sophie

  3. David Irving (no relation)

    Yeah, I wondered about that myself, Doug. Maybe she actually wants the legislation to fail.

  4. Russell

    Agree with all of your post, Brian. Alison Broinowski, who knows a thing or two about Asia, says in The Conversation this morning:

    “We insult neighbouring countries such as Malaysia by choosing them as the most unappealing places of deportation, even while we breach the international obligations we urge them to uphold.”

    Succinctly put.

  5. mikey

    Setting up a queue in Asia removes the disincentive of getting in a boat – currently there would be people who wouldn’t risk their lives on a boat. If you offer them a local queue in Asia, wouldn’t it just increase the numbers? Although, to be fair, the numbers are infinitesimal and bogans only care about boats…

    Gillard has proven to be a shrewd performer in parliament, surely she has strategy in proposing this idiotic legislation. Losing a bill does seem likely though… (Obama just lost his jobs stimulus bill, I’ve always believed in a weird synchronisity between our parliaments. He wants people to blame GOP, just like Gillard wants bogans to blame Abbott.) I wonder where this is heading, I can only hope it leads to the end of the “boat people” issue through a sensible, cheap onshore processing solution involving minimal detention. It’s just so damn expensive to detain people offshore, TodayTonight is having a ball winding up angry pensioners. Maybe when this bill collapses it opens the door for the Greens to drive policy, or perhaps it gets deferred until the Labor conference can reformulate policy.

  6. John D

    Mikey: Setting up a “queue in Asia” is not going to stop people smuggling. The queue would simply be so long that people who had the money would be tempted to pay the money and take the risk instead of spending years and years waiting for their turn. It also begs the question about whether we would be pressured to give preference to the Asian Queue and thus reduce the numbers we currently take from places like Africa?
    Like Gillard and Bowen I actually believe that the Malaysian solution is the best on offer at the moment. It has a strong chance of stopping the boats, has already had a positive influence on the way refugees are treated in Malaysia, will mean that refugees that have been stuck in Malaysia for years will have a better chance of getting to Australia and . Stopping the boats means that fewer people will die from drowning (4% is an incredibly high figure) and that defacto preference is not being given to the affluent. (Australia, to its credit, currently accepts refugees who have no English, no schooling or any other specific skills of immediate value to the country.)

  7. warren james

    what ever the solution is….why are the boat people given more than australians that have been tax payers, but have fallen on hard times….why dont the government treat the boat people as they do to our homeless …at least they have contributed to australia at some time…..no wonder the boats keep coming…all you have to do is get here….

  8. Fran Barlow


    Stopping the boats means that fewer people will die from drowning (4% is an incredibly high figure)

    1. Stopping the boats is not a problem with which we ought to concern ourselves especially.

    2. Morbidity since 2007 is nothing like that — about 1.62% IIRC …

    3. One has to consider morbidity/lost quality life years from not getting onto boats. Ah … the costs of inaction. This may be a case where “direct action” actually makes sense. We ought to respect the judgement of people getting onto boats. They are ound to be better at working out where their interests lie than we are.

    4. We need to be actively proposing more generous and comprehensive resettlement programs on a global scale, and being out therre and in front would enormously improve the prospects of this occurring.

  9. John D

    Fran: I am strongly in favor of the refugee intake being lifted substantially and people being well treated when they get here. I just don’t think that affluence is a genuine qualification for special treatment. (That is really what you are arguing in favor of.)
    I am in no position to argue whether the 4% figure is right or wrong. However, we would get a bit excited if 5 people out of every plane load of 300 people were to die every trip. I would hate to have the job of notifying the relatives re what has happened.

  10. Fran Barlow

    What you are really saying JohnD is that you prefer people to die or suffer out of your sight, even if the number dying and suffering out ouf your sight turns out to be a lot larger than those dying on rubbish boats.

    While affluence is not a ground for special treatment (or ought not to be) neither is it a disqualification for humane treatment, even allowing, as I do not, that asylum seekers who get onto boats are measurably more affluent than those who don’t.

  11. Chris

    What you are really saying JohnD is that you prefer people to die or suffer out of your sight, even if the number dying and suffering out ouf your sight turns out to be a lot larger than those dying on rubbish boats.

    Unfortunately this is the main reason (well not JohnD specifically) that the government and opposition push to stop the boats. There’s no real care about how many deaths there are overall or the overall amount of suffering of refugees. They just want it out of sight of the voters and just as importantly out of their area of responsibility.

  12. Mindy

    Not sure that John D is saying anything of the sort. That’s a big leap to make from his comment.

  13. Fran Barlow

    I am sure Mindy. He ought to know the calculus. He is really having an each way bet. On the one hand he asserts “affluent” folks getting onto boats are getting an advantage, and then simultaneously affecting concern about boat-related morbidity.

    Cognitive dissonance is not available here. Trips on the high seas in unseaworthy craft are as much a calculated gamble as any other life decision. We must assume that those doing so know what they are doing and have made a rational decision that this is the lesser harm. JohnD wants them to suffer the greater harm by changing the calculus in favour of enduring squalour.

    Asserting that this is motivated out of well-founded concern for displaced persons is, quite frankly, offensive on more than one ground.

  14. John D

    Fran: You are excelling yourself even by your standards. The Malaysian solution as proposed was actually going to bring more refugees to Australia including the Burmese refugees that have been stuck in Malaysia for years because they are not affluent enough to get on a boat and to be vulnerable because they have no money.
    Do me a favour and read what I actually said @8. Your stand is only morally defensible if you really believe that the special deal you want for the affluent will have no effect on the chances of poor refugees getting to Aus.

  15. Tyro Rex

    And I think it will leave Abbott in the difficult position of either supporting the PM in the Senate or obstructing the expert’s preferred solution for political reasons.

    Wait, what? Like Abbott’s ever cared for an expert solution to anything (as opposed to a half-cocked slogan)?

  16. Chris

    Brian @ 16 – presumably the official answer only includes boats verified as sinking, not those which may have just gone missing.

    4% may seem like a huge risk to take a boat journey, but that presumes there is a 0% risk if they don’t attempt a boat journey. What’s the the 10 year life expectancy like for a refugee in Malaysia or Indonesia who is officially unable to earn money, has no access to medical care, little to no education if they are children and are open to harassment, beatings and canings from the police?

    John D @ 13 – there would be no affect on those not able to afford the boat journey if the government did not count those who arrived by boat in the refugee intake limit.

  17. jusme

    the boats returned to the current irrelevant trickle when rudd re-introduced onshore processing in 2007.
    massive media beatups with each sporadic arrival + distancing herself from rudd, i suspect, caused the current p.m to kneejerk away from decent labor policy. please listen to your backbench p.m!
    taking 4000 from a known pressure point was a good idea and should be continued, the coalition even supports increasing intake. mikey’s right, maybe we can outcompete the people smugglers to put them out of business.

  18. Howard Cunningham

    I love all this talk about boats not being a problem, because only a small number of people die. Moral relativism, anyone?

    I don’t really care if the numbers seeking refuge and asylum increase – as long as the system for processing them and assessing their claims is safe and humane. And the best way to do that is establish, with regional support, a centre for processing on mainland Asia, and flying the accepted refugees and asylum seekers here afterwards.

    The reason I don’t support the current proposal is we’re sending people back to Malaysia as some sort of deterrent, and we’re paying for the whole bally thing.

  19. Fran Barlow

    Howard …

    I’d certainly agree that setting up the capacity to accelerate processing in the major aggregation points, and then conveying those who pass muster by secure marine craft/aircraft is the way to go.

    That said …

    I don’t accept your point about “moral relativism” … or more accurately, I’m not clear on what you mean by it in this context.

    All of life entails risk. Free societies allow people to exercise a certain amount of discretion, notwithstanding they may be harmed or even killed. Those lone “round the world” sailing events by people under the age of 18 are case in point. We accept that aircarft crash killing not only the occupants of the craft but sometimes people on the ground. Few suggest banning aircraft or start hurling abuse at those operating aircraft as merchants of death exploiting the affluent etc …

    If someone believes they or their family are in less danger taking their chances with an ad hoc travel agent and some fishing boat, then we have no business telling them otherwise, this side of doing what you suggest above and offering them some better option. If we really are too bent out of existential shape by the concept of contamination by foreigners, we ought at least to avoid hypocritical posturing about concern over their judgement of their best interests.

    Such commentary is pure cant.

  20. Howard Cunningham

    We tell people what they can do all the time. This is a dangerous action we can help prevent. To draw a long bow, what Andrew Bolt wrote only made people feel bad. Plenty on here wanting to stop Bolt writing what he wrote.

    The people coming here for fear of their lives are not making clear decisions, and therefore we need to help them avoid bad decisions, like getting on a leaky boat. Not put the “full” sign on Australia, but just make a risky journey safer. The other people who are making “risky” decisions are not making them under heavy duress.

    Sometimes people who don’t vote the same as you come up with a good idea.

  21. Doug

    Best way to deal with the issue of unsafe boats is to change the law that mandates the seizing of boats, that encourages people to send boats they don’t mind losing and are likely to be unsafe, abolish the crime of “people smuggling” and hit them with charges for using unsafe boats instead.

    Result they will send people on safe boats – reducing the risk of deaths at sea.

    Just a thought for those people who are rightly concerned about people at sea in unsafe craft.

  22. Fran Barlow

    Actually Howard, we mostly tell people what the can’t do rather than what they can. We draw the line.

    It is a judgement call. Attempts by the state to tell people what is in their best interests are fraught at best. It’s best when we have good evidence, and give them good options for not doing sub-optimal things.

    The distal cause of “boats” is “trouble in the home country”. If we can’t fix that, we need to work our way back down the causal chain and if we do, we won’t make it all the way to stopping boats and shoving people into chokey in Malaysia before most of the problem disappears.

  23. Howard Cunningham

    That is really endorsing the trade of people.

    They become travel agents, without the paperwork.

    Seems like some people on here are keen for people to arrive on a beach instead of at an airport having already been processed.

  24. Chris

    Doug @ 25 – or we start our own ferry service on safe boats (or planes!) and charge the same as the people smugglers. Problem solved – only those people who could take the boat journey before would travel, and everyone’s safe! :-)

  25. Fran Barlow

    Howard said:

    That is really endorsing the trade of people.

    Nonsense. Those supplying irregular maritime service are trading travel, not people. No people are “supplied” to anyone. As you acknowledge, they are travel agents. Their clients are the travellers.

    Seems like some people on here are keen for people to arrive on a beach instead of at an airport having already been processed.

    Not at all, but one must be realistic. Whenever official systems fail to meet a pressing need, ad hoc arrangements fill the gap. Trade in illicit mood-altering substances or steroids are examples of this.

    The solution, assuming we object to the ad hoc arrangements, is to vary the offical arrangements to meet the need.

    The problem arises when this response is complicated by moral or existential panic. “Drugs are evil”, “we will be swamped by foreigners” etc … There’s no getting sensible policies when people go there.

    You speak of asylum seekers not making good decisions, but it is that part of Australia that is up in arms about “boats” that is not thinking straight. They ought to know better.

  26. paul walter

    There’s a bit that’s breathtaking in this thread.
    Am still conjuring with the idea that Labor is to the right even of Tony Crook, who at least sees that civilised folk, or even most barbarians, can’t put kids on planes and parachute them into the living nightmare of a SE Asian slum.
    I agree with Brian’s comment- it wouldn’t take an awful lot to sort it, especially if any costs were fairly shared- for god’s sake they spend trillion$ on speculation, defence, dodgy wars, etc.
    But the sheer dominance of the stingy neolib impulse is so strong in our era in politics and zeitgeist that a rational person should despair.
    Most here have watched the ugly, corrupt ideology/alibi of “austerity” brought into play quite ruthlessly in Britain, the US and many other places.
    Wall Streeters would starve their mothers, if they could get a quid out of it these days. Meanwhile, the edgy and greivously uninformed plebs have their dread worked over repetitiously, assiduously and monotonously by the likes of the shock jocks, tabloid amplifiers and ACA/TDT moralisers and politicians like Abbott.

  27. Fran Barlow

    oops Mods: close ital tag after “They”



  28. Chris

    Brian @ 32 – not only the boats, but also many of the crew because they know they’ll be arrested and held for a long time. Thats how we end up with kids (sometimes kidnapped) acting as part of the crew on these boats. So not only do you get dodgy boats, but crew with little to no experience.

  29. Howard Cunningham

    I was suggesting an “offical system” to be an alternative to what currently occurs. I was met with no enthusiasm, just a rather emotionless risk assessment.

    If we take them from the source, or before they have to travel over water, the results will be better because people will be safer.

    But no, we don’t have to provide an alternative to the boats, they’re a small problem anyway, yap, yap, yap.

    It is politically impossible to have large scale onshore processing, and that involves people getting here (by any means necessary) anyway. I proposed a safe alternative that would put the issue to bed and treat the entire immigration debate in an adult manner.

    For those on the left, this would look like the best offer you could ever get.

  30. Chris

    Howard @ 34 – well given the Abbott only seems to be able to say no to everything at the moment it looks like we will just have large scale onshore processing. Cost issues might even force the government to use community detention rather than locking people up for lengthy periods.

  31. dexitroboper

    Another woohoo

  32. jusme

    howard, i reckon bigger/better/faster centres at the source is a good idea. in fact there are lots of good ideas here.
    in the meantime, and even after the best ever solution is found, boats will still occasionally come from new places or wherever. 30 a year or 3,000… it’s really not much difference to us where we ‘process’ them, but affects them hugely.

  33. Chris

    dexitroboper – that really is an excellent outcome – higher refugee intake, on shore processing, bridging visas and community detention. And this happens in spite of what both the major parties want :-)

  34. John D

    It is desirable that Gillard stops rabbiting on about offshore processing and gets on with the job of moving to a humane onshore system that is at least more in line with the way we currently treat asylum seekers who arrive by air. However, the government needs to ensure that a sudden surge of asylum seekers into the community doesn’t create another set of problems.
    Migration consultant Caz Coleman has some sensible things to say on this topic. These include:

    Last year Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced an expansion of the community detention program. Since that time there have been 2,000 referrals from the closed detention environment to a community care environment,” she told PM.

    “However there are questions about how far and wide that program can be developed, without creating detrimental effects on the program itself, or for instance housing availability for vulnerable Australians.

    “We have a housing shortage in this country. We need to look at how we could do community care well; we need some good and serious thinking and more than likely some serious investment in community-based infrastructure.

  35. Gummo Trotsky

    John D @ 39:

    Well now the ALP has no choice but to come up with a system of onshore processing. There’s a rather bitter irony in the fact that the attempts by the two major parties to out-tough each other on asylum seekers has created a situation where humane policy is the only option left. A plague on both their houses.

  36. skip

    It’s worth remembering that the vast majority of asylum claims in Australia are processed not only onshore, but *in the community*. That is, they are allowed to travel freely and live where they like, and in many cases they are allowed to work. They don’t abscond or commit acts of terrorism; they just go about their business waiting for the claim to be processed.

    It’s mandatory detention that makes onshore processing difficult and expensive. Much cheaper to process boat arrivals just like everyone else, by letting them live in the community. Not only do you save the expense of running giant prisons in remote locations, but once the majority of claims are found to be genuine, as they inevitably are, the applicants won’t have the severe and costly ongoing psychological problems developed while they spent years (in some cases their entire childhoods) in horrific detention conditions.

  37. tigtog


    Hear hear!

  38. Savvy

    One question for anyone who wants to answer with their view.

    In your opinion what is the maximum number of people claiming asylum we should take each year?

  39. Savvy

    “It’s worth remembering that the vast majority of asylum claims in Australia are processed not only onshore, but *in the community*.”

    Is the difference that people arriving on planes have identity papers and those arriving on boats have none?

  40. skip

    My wish appears to be the government’s command, as it’s being reported now that at least some boat arrivals will be processed in the community, just like air arrivals (although the government “remains committed to mandatory detention” for some reason). Who knew that I wielded such power?

  41. Chris

    skip @ 46 – unfortunately Bowen has said that they will only be releasing asylum seekers into the community when the current centres fill up. Just goes to show that the detention is all about punishment, not security.

    If its ok to release them into the community when the centres are full, its ok to release them now. And a whole lot cheaper.

  42. Tim Macknay

    Chris, I think the quote in JohnD’s comment @39 indicates that there are some real practical problems with immediately processing all asylum seekers in the community – namely, the problem of finding them housing. So the decision to continue using the detention facilities until they are full may not be motivated by malice.

  43. John D

    Chris: It would certainly be safer to release then into the community quickly so they haven’t had their minds stuffed and the resentments stoked before they get into the community.
    The treatment of new arrivals should be premised on the assumption that most of them will end up staying into Aus and the sooner they are settled into their future lives the better.
    It beats me how Bowen can reject the Nauru solution partly on cost grounds while supporting the retention of budget black holes like Xmas Island.

  44. Chris

    Tim @ 49 – As Bowen mentioned its not the government’s responsibility to find them housing – they’ll be working with various charities to help organise that. I could understand them saying we’re not going to release all the asylum seekers immediately, but there’s no reason to wait until the centres are full and they need the extra space to release anyone at all. Just release them as they processed (security/health checks etc) and the charities are able to help them.

    Even if housing was the limiting factor they could set aside areas of centres – especially those near existing residential areas where the asylum seekers that have been processed are not locked up and allowed to come and go as they please.

    John D – yes Xmas is also a very expensive way of handling asylum seekers.

  45. silkworm

    Last night on Lateline, Tony Jones asked Chris Bowen whether onshore processing was really a “pull factor” for asylum seekers coming here on boats. Chris Bowen wouldn’t give a straight answer, because he knew it would expose the idea that offshore processing was a deterrent to people coming here on boats as a myth. Indeed it is a myth, as jusme @ 19 indicated with this relevant piece of information:

    the boats returned to the current irrelevant trickle when rudd re-introduced onshore processing in 2007.

    If Tony Jones had put that detail to Chris Bowen, it would have blown his argument right out of the water – so to speak – but I think Jones, like the rest of the rabid media, don’t care too much about helping resolve the issue, because he would rather see the controversy continue.

  46. Jess

    Hilarious post from Heathen Scripture:

    Even the world champion of hurdles is Australian. Surely poor countries should be best at jumping over stuff and running away? No, that’s how hard we’re working.

    But what do we get, for our hard labour, our Eureka stockade sacrifice, our endless quest for bootstraps by which to pull ourselves up? Do you know how hard it is to find bootstraps these days? No-one even knows what those things are.

    What do we get? We get the ultimate insult: immigrants coming in to take our stuff. Where do we put them? Can’t put them in the desert, or the pinkos have a parade. Can’t put them in the country, because Jack Thompson needs it for being laconic in commercials. Also did I mention our country towns are dying for lack of residents? Solve that, Europants.

    Instead we put them on free junkets to Pacific resorts. While Aussie nippers toil in the koala mines, queue-jumpers sip piña coladas. Then sometimes a bunch of them die on boats which is really bloody selfish because it makes us all feel a bit bad for a little while, except when we don’t

  47. James McDonough

    Paul, wondering that “the idea that Labor is to the right even of Tony Crook” isn’t really fair to conservatives. Tony Crook is more decent than the ALP, just as the ALP are more decent than Pol Pot, who is to the left of them. The right in this country (including the ALP) are not indecent and inhumane because they are fascists. Remember John Rabe in Nanking, for example. They are indecent and inhumane because their actions and policies make them so.

  48. John D

    Tony Crook is quoted as saying:

    ….although the Malaysia swap deal could dissuade asylum seekers from setting sail for Australia, he had concerns about the way prospective refugees, particularly unaccompanied children, might be treated there.

    And he said he would instead support Opposition amendments that would allow offshore processing in countries that have signed United Nations refugee conventions – like Nauru.

    “The United Nations factor was a strong one for me,” Mr Crook told reporters at Parliament House.

    “We’re talking about a serious humanitarian issue here and clearly the Opposition, in government, had a strong position on asylum seekers and on boat people smuggling.

    It certainly sounds a lot more principled that the coalition position.

  49. Fran Barlow

    It’s improbable that any of the “offshore solutions” could have made a difference for the simple reason that once the cap had been reached — about 800 in each — they would have been moot.

    In the case of Nauru and Manus, this was only a brief delay, since there was nowhere but Australia for them to go.

    Malaysia would have required children to be sent, and failing that, unaccompanied minors would have been sent. Had they been sent, they’d have filled the quota and then the parents could have come and demanded their children be returned.

  50. jumpy

    Abbot on Bolt this Sunday.
    You know your gunna watch it.