The Pacific Solution:

David Marr, Fairfax journalist and co-author of Dark Victory, writes: Re. “What happened as a result of TPVs and the Pacific Solution?” (yesterday, item 1). Bernard Keane left out the third and really crucial element in the Howard “suite” of measures: towing boats back to Indonesia. This was the aim with every boat that arrived  after the Tampa.

The navy loathes this work. It put lives at risk: the lives of  asylum seekers and Australian military personnel who had to deal with boat sabotage and rescues.

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At first, no boats were successfully returned. But by late 2001, the navy had managed to force six boats back to Indonesia with a total of about 650 asylum seekers on board. This was a very powerful message to the smuggling trade. It remains Abbott’s policy and hasn’t been disowned entirely by the government. But it’s impossible now: Indonesia won’t allow boats to be forced back any more.

A new Pacific Solution without towbacks and without the co-operation of New Zealand is just Christmas Island somewhere else.

Peter Hanna writes: Bernard Keane’s analysis of the impact of the Pacific Solution and TPVs could also have included one other important fact — that the Howard government was expanding the detention centre on Christmas Island during this period (budget paper 2 2005/06).

Expanding a detention centre is a frank admission that the Howard government was expecting more asylum seekers to arrive, regardless of the “solution”.

Matt Davis writes: Ken Lambert (Monday, comments) and Justin Templer (yesterday, comments) suggest that we withdraw from one of the most important of all United Nations Conventions — while, ironically, our government seeks a seat at the table of the UN Security Council. This conveniently ignores the fact of Australia’s remarkable prosperity when compared to almost all other nations, particularly those nations that currently host disproportionately large numbers of refugees.

Fact is, under the UN rules, people are entitled to come to Australia and ask for assistance. Surrounded by ocean, as we are, there are only two ways an asylum seeker could get here to do so. Those who posses appropriate documentation (i.e. passports) can easily do so by getting on a plane. Templer makes no suggestion that those who do this have “gamed” our system.

The other way is by boat and, as no official boat is provided, the market steps in to provide boating opportunities for those resourceful enough to take them. Those that make it here to ask our assistance (as is their right as human beings) are locked up by our government. This costs us a lot of money that could well be spent on more effective ways to mitigate refugee arrivals.

The only way to “stop the boats” would be for Australia to become a less desirable destination than the refugee camps of southern Asia. Despite the best efforts of successive governments, we haven’t even managed to do that.

Correction:

Tony Briffa writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). I would appreciate you correcting some of the information in your newsletter today regarding the code of conduct decision against me.  The mayor was elected in December 2010, and was voted unanimously. There was no “tight 4-3 vote”.

Also, the “female resident” was somewhat more than just a female resident. She was the public relations officer for Mobil’s Altona and Yarraville Refineries, and formerly the public relations officer for the applicant of a toxic soil facility in Altona. Ms Short failed to mention her conflict of interest when claiming to support the application at a public EPA meeting, which is what caused me to write to her. I would appreciate you clearing this up.

Please also provide a link to my apology.

NSW public service:

Osmond Chiu writes: Re. “NSW budget: time to cut and shed Mick Dundee image” (yesterday, item 9). Adam Creighton wrote “With a public service head count just shy of 390,000, NSW puts the Commonwealth government, with a mere 270,000 staff, to shame. Macquarie Street employs 10% of the NSW workforce.”

Adam seems to be a bit confused about what is the difference between the public service and the public sector.

The size of the NSW public service that he quotes, just shy of 390,000 (the actual figure is 386,185 from the most recent NSW public sector census) is wrong. He is quoting the NSW public sector figure, which includes every single police officer, firefighter, teacher, nurse, doctor or a train driver. I doubt most people would classify a police officer or train driver as a member of the NSW public service.

According to Department of Premier and Cabinet, the size of the NSW public service is 18.37% of the total NSW public sector workforce, approximately 70,000 based on the previous census. Using public sector workforce figures creates a false impression of how normal the size of the NSW public service actually is. But then again, are we really surprised about that happening?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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