"We have seen our nation's enviable humanitarian record in refugee settlement, built up over many decades, squandered for short-term political opportunism and perceived populism, over just the last couple of years.
"The politics has been played out, in its most terrifying and base form, as a race to the bottom, with our political leaders exploiting the issue to score cheap political points on each other, rather than working constructively to achieve an effective solution."
"My guess is that most Australians would do exactly as the boat people do. It is not easy to see why Australians are willing to criticize or punish boat people for doing exactly what we would do in the same circumstances."
Refugee Statistics - The Facts
The map below shows worldwide movements in refugees. The orange circles are receiving countries and the purple circles are originating countries. A larger version may be viewed here.
The small orange dot at the bottom right of the bubbles is Australia. What are we all getting so worked up about??
Deaths at Sea - The Facts
Since 2000 there have been at least 1600 lives lost at sea from those seeking asylum in Australia. The true figure may be much higher but we will never know. What is clear however is that even the threat of loss of life does not deter people from attempting the hazardous voyage. How then could we possibly think that "offshore processing" is a greater deterrent. There is some muddleheaded thinking behind that proposition.
The Howard border protection regime
Under the relaxed and comfortable (but wait didn't this morph into "Alert but not alarmed"?) regime of the Howard Government, our borders were protected by a three pronged approach:
- border protection and turning boats back;
- offshore processing in places like Nauru (then not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees) and Manus Island (a tropical paradise where I served some of my time in the Navy); and
- Temporary Protection Visas
How many boats were turned back is an unknown quantity - or what happened once they were turned back - but hey - not our problem then! It is fact that Nauru processing resulted in most cases being approved as refugees with settlement in Australia and New Zealand. Howard introduced "TPVs" in 1999 with the government claiming it was a necessary response to the misuse of the asylum process by unauthorised arrivals.
Following the election of the Rudd Government, TPVs were abolished in August 2008.
With arrivals again growing, the Gillard Government sought an arrangement with Malaysia in which the next 800 asylum seeker arrivals would be shipped off to Malaysia for processing. In exchange, Australia would take 4000 approved refuges as immigrants. The intention of this policy was to stop the beats as no one would wish to be in the first 800 arrivals.
The deal was never tested due to lack of Opposition and greens support and because of the success in the High Court by David Manne succeeding in a permanent injunction.
The High Court decision has had wide ramifications. First it stopped the Malaysian deal from proceeding because of concerns over human rights standards under S198a of the Construction.. Second It appears from the judgement that no asylum seeker can be shipped offshore before their claims have been determined. Third an unaccompanied minor cannot be deported unless the minister gives written consent. In effect these rulings would prevent the reopening of Nauru under current law.
The Government and Opposition - to their shame - both support "offshore processing" - similar to live beef exports to Indonesia. If offshore processing were to be reintroduced it would be necessary to make legislative change to lower the threshold in relation to human rights.
The Opposition says it would reopen Nauru immediately in office. Impossible. The place is derelict. Second the HC ruling would prevent it.
So, unless both sides agree on the threshold lowering of human rights values, neither will prevail - and a good thing too.