Australia’s refugee policy

I have not been a fan of the harsher aspects of our current policy, particularly that which dumps people on islands out of sight for what appears to be indefinite detention. In that respect this is an interesting article: How I did a 180 on Nauru.

I remember watching John Howard’s fierce “We will decide who comes to our country and the manner in which they come” speech and being proud.

I voted Liberal; we had a strong leader who wasn’t going to let queue-jumpers come in to our country and who wasn’t afraid to tell the world.

I didn’t know why they were coming and frankly didn’t care…

A couple of weeks ago I got another late night message from Nauru. Two more asylum seekers had overdosed and no-one apparently cared.

They are not doing it to attract attention, because they know they’re not going to get it. We simply don’t care.

They’re queue-jumpers; by their actions on this issue, John Howard told us. Kevin Rudd told us. Julia Gillard told us. Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten told us.

But none of them have looked these refugees in the eyes and seen their horror. None of them have put those lives ahead of their own political gain and I am ashamed of all of them.

I have no doubt that in years to come we’ll admit our policy was cruel, be ashamed of our actions and put it down to ‘that’s how it was in those days’.

But it wasn’t, it isn’t. It’s just that most of us didn’t bother to care to know the difference.

And now we have our PM and our Immigration Minister in NY trumpeting our achievement, and doing a deal the full meaning of which we are yet to learn: UN refugee summit: Australia to maintain annual intake, including Central Americans. Mind you, it is true that our country does have quite a good track record on taking in refugees that we choose, as opposed to those who for one reason or another invite themselves, but it is also fair to say that the problem we have faced has been quite small in world terms.

Here are a couple of relevant items: Fact check: Does Australia spend more on offshore processing than the UN spends on refugee programs in South East Asia?, UN refugees summit: What you need to know about Australia’s immigration policies, and former Liberal Party Leader John Hewson: Turnbull should drive a regional refugee solution.

It won’t be much of a contribution if all Turnbull does is pat ourselves on the back about how effective we’ve been in securing our borders.

This will in effect suggest, as former PM Tony Abbott did in Europe, that “the world should adopt our model”, without being prepared to acknowledge the inherent weaknesses of our national response.

This also doesn’t recognise that any sustainable global or regional solution must be based on co-operation and compromise.

Offshore processing on Manus and Nauru was only ever a short-term, stopgap response. Sure, it sends the desired negative message to people smugglers, significantly weakening their business model. But it was never going to be a sustainable solution given the cost, the increasingly evident inhumanity and the lack of an effective resettlement strategy.

Recent media reports suggest the costs of these centres have accelerated dramatically, into the billions of dollars in recent years. There have been many disturbing reports of physical and mental abuse of detainees. And the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court has effectively demanded the closure of Manus, with nearly 850 asylum seekers to be “relocated” (but to where?), in the very near term.

Although the Nauru centre has a history and experience stretching back into the Howard era, Manus was always an additional, ill-conceived “quick fix”…

Finally, do read a very thoughtful detailed post by Lorenzo: Why hasn’t the politics of immigration in Australia gone feral?

As one contemplates the rise in anti-immigration parties in Europe, and the fraught politics of immigration in the US, it is very striking how little political angst Australia’s very high level of immigration has caused. True, the nationalist One Nation Party recently scored 4 Senators in the 2016 Federal Election, but that was on 4.3% of the national vote…

The key feature is to stop the politics of migration triggering authoritarian responses within the citizenry. The very diversity of Australia’s migration policy is helpful in this, as it is less likely to develop problematic migrant “enclaves”. Given the wide range of sources of migrants, so every migrant group is a relatively small minority, there is a much broader interest in “fitting in”.

Conversely, importing large “lumps” of particular migrants can be both more confronting to the existing residents and creates more possibility of developing oppositional cultures. Thus security forces in Canada, Australia and the US, where Muslims are still small minorities, are successful at breaking up local jihadi plots, because they get cooperation from within the Muslim communities. Security forces in Europe have less success, because the significantly larger Muslim communities provide more “cover” for jihadi networks…

Canada, which also has a large migration policy without its migration politics going feral, has a very similar approach to Australia. The Trudeau Government’s approach to Syrian refugees–women and intact families only–is very much the policy of a country which thinks through migration policy, which takes it seriously.

But a lot of folk don’t care what works, they only care that they seem Virtuous. Worse, the politics of migration going feral suits them fine–it gives them so many more citizens to feel morally superior to and a greater sense of moral urgency for their favoured moral concerns.

If any concern about the extent and content of migration intake is subject to point-and-shriek, then migration policy is likely to tend towards the stupid (as relevant factors will not be seriously considered) and migration politics to the feral: another “triumph” of Virtue over fact and function.

Certainly worth taking what Lorenzo says into account. Interesting graphic too: