In the past, I have naively thought the facts would bring an end to the fear mongering — by explaining to people that we receive just a few thousand asylum seekers each year, and that they pose no threat to our way of life or sustainability. I want to explain that 99.99% of people who entered Australia last year, did so by plane; that Australia takes just 0.03% of the world’s refugees and displaced people; and that there are 76 countries that take more refugees than we do, based on wealth.

These days, I talk about a much simpler truth: the moral responsibilities that come with living in a free and democratic country, and what it means to be an Australian. This means we have a moral duty to act and show compassion to vulnerable, innocent people who are fleeing for their lives.

Founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Kon Karapanagiotidis

It has been argued that the real reason the detention of asylum seekers remains solidly bi-partisan is not about the need for timely processing and administration concerns. It’s about how it looks. Talking tough, and looking tough, by processing asylum seekers behind an impenetrable fence — here and offshore.

So how does it look, for the government, for the private contractor Serco, for the Immigration Department, for a country’s human rights reputation, when a man jumps to his death on our watch?

That all depends on whether anyone cares. As Karapanagiotidis points out — and has, again and again over the years — stats don’t seem to budge public opinion. But what about desperate people doing desperate things? Will that kind of story ignite our “moral duty to act and show compassion”, or will it simply be dismissed as another headline?

Ultimately it’s up to the public to let the government of the day know, in no uncertain terms, this kind of thing is unacceptable. Whether they will is another matter entirely…

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey