Back to the asylum seeker issue via #QandA

I was pleased to see something overall a bit better than slogans at twenty paces on QandA last night as the government had an able advocate in Bill Shorten and the opposition someone capable of consecutive thought in Arthur Sinodinis. Add in Dr Michelle Foster, an Associate Professor and Director of the International Refugee Law Research Programme in the Institute for International Law and the Humanities at Melbourne Law School, and Tim Fischer who was really quite endearing (and not, it would appear, a climate change sceptic either) and you had a good mix. Sadly, the weak link in quality of input was the one you might have expected me most to like, Louise Adler.

Questions asked:

Kate Applegarth asked: Prime Minister Rudd’s new policy, that asylum seekers arriving by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia, surpasses John Howard’s ‘Pacific Solution’ in terms of a hard line approach and effectively places him further to the right than Tony Abbott on this issue. Is Kevin Rudd’s new policy his “Children Overboard” moment, and will it win him the election?
William Berthelot asked: In Papua New Guinea, 50% of women have experienced forced sex, and two thirds of women have experienced domestic violence. Homosexuality and transsexuality are both illegal. Mr Shorten, how can you support a party leader that wants to completely reject the right to seek asylum as granted by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and send those seeking a better life to a country with widespread human rights issues of its own?
Nancye Laginestra asked: In view of the fact that no boat arrivals will now be processed in Australia, or allowed to settle here ever, what will happen to unaccompanied minors, and also family members who already have their families in Australia?
Caitlin Roodenrys asked: The recent riots on Nauru have been reported to have begun due to halts in the processing of people’s claims for asylum in Australia. Why does the government think that sending refugees who want to settle in Australia, to Papua New Guinea, will have any better an outcome? Surely we can expect worse and worse rioting to come.
Geeth Geeganage asked: I am the Greater Western Sydney Young Labor President, and have for a while now been grappling with how best to deal with asylum seekers that come by boat. I am of the belief that Rudd’s policy reform regarding asylum seekers is a harsh yet necessary step. However this view is not held by the majority of my friends and counterparts from the left side of Youth politics, leaving me somewhat alienated in my section of the political sphere. So I ask, am I a monster for believing that the PNG solution a good solution to a very complex problem?

I will leave you to check the replies via the transcript or by viewing the episode.

You will have observed my reaction a few days back. I am still mulling over the broader issues.  Here are some facts that have been part of that mulling.


That useful graphic is from last Sunday’s Sun-Herald.

Also very useful in fact checking both major parties is  the latest ASRC statistics PDF covering asylum seeker and detention statistics. Here is a relevant extract:


Well worth downloading and studying.


Afghan asylum seeker in Indonesia on being told she cannot get to Australia under new policy

I need also to restate my own view on a central part of the dilemma/argument. I do not for one moment believe that Australia should or can take in all the world’s refugees and asylum seekers, so therefore I do not believe in an uncontrolled or unlimited humanitarian immigration intake. Where you go next in good policy making really is not easy, and it has to be said that for reasons far more complex than the usual Coalition mouthpieces concede or, shame on him, Bob Carr tried to con us with, the issue in recent times is that 1) many people have drowned and 2) the boat and air arrivals really are impacting now on our ability to fill our 20,000 humanitarian places from areas of greatest need.

Meanwhile: Labor support slips in Newspoll as Rudd surge recedes but also Hardline asylum seeker policy lifts Rudd in latest poll.


Compare Mungo MacCallum.

…there may even be a bright side. The influx of successful asylum seekers had meant that almost all of Australia’s 20,000 allocated places for immigrant refugees have been filled by boat people – the situation of those confined to the camps with neither the resources nor the recklessness to employ a people smuggler has drifted further into despair.

Now there is a chance that those places will open up again, and Rudd has signalled that if things work out, he will increase them by another 7,000. There has never been a queue, as such, but there have always been many thousands hoping against hope that their numbers will eventually come up. If the PNG solution comes off, their chances will improve significantly.

But it is not the solution many would have wanted. It is easy to sympathise with the Greens’ Christine Milne, who dubbed it a day of shame. But it would be more accurate to talk of 12 years of shame, starting at the time of the Tampa, when the majority of Australians applauded John Howard as he thundered: “Those people will never set foot on Australian soil – never!” In fact, a lot of them later did, but the mood was set – a mood Rudd is now reinforcing.

Unlike the countries of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where most asylum seekers arrive on foot, Australia is girt by sea. And we have an atavistic dread of unauthorised maritime arrivals – the boats, however harmless, are always seen as some kind of invasion, a threat to our way of lives.

When it comes to asylum seekers, this appears an absurd exaggeration, but perhaps, just perhaps, it is not entirely irrational. After all, it has happened before. Just ask the Indigenous Australians.