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Federal

Nov 1, 2012

The 'excision' that isn't, and why it's good policy

The government's bill for the so-called "excision" of Australia is sound policy if we're serious about stopping boat arrivals. Criticism of the move is sharply misguided.

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Report of the expert panel on asylum seekers, August 2012:

“The panel considers that all possible measures should be implemented to avoid creating an incentive for IMAs taking even greater risks with their lives by seeking to reach the Australian mainland … the panel recommends the government bring forward legislative amendments to the Migration Act 1958 so that arrival on the Australian mainland by irregular maritime means does not provide individuals with a different lawful status than those who enter at an excised offshore place, such as Christmas Island … such an amendment will be important to ensure that introduction of processing outside Australia does not encourage asylum seekers to avoid these arrangements by attempting to enter at the Australian mainland. Such attempts would increase the existing dangers inherent in irregular maritime travel.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, August 13:

“The government today has determined to endorse in principle, all of the recommendations of Angus Houston’s report.”

The Daily Telegraph, October 31:

“Backflip on asylum zone as Labor adopts John Howard exclusion policy.”

ABC, October 31:

“Minister defends Govt backflip on mainland migration excision”

So, did anyone bother actually reading the Houston report, and particularly paragraphs 3.72 and 3.73? The Labor Left did. “That’s when the fight was, and that’s when the fight was lost,” Doug Cameron said yesterday.

There appear to be four grounds for criticising the government’s excision of the mainland, none of which are valid reasons for opposing it. The first, and most easily disposed of, is that Labor has changed its position from 2006 when the Howard government considered similar legislation. Indeed it has. It’s funny what having actual power and responsibility can do. But Labor has entirely changed its position on asylum seekers, not merely on this issue, for reasons it has routinely outlined.

Second is the criticism that the bill absurdly excises Australia from its own borders. “The idea that you would take the borders of your country out of your migration zone purely to target people who are trying to come here seeking protection is just an extraordinary thing for any country to do,” Amnesty International’s Graham Thom was reported as saying.

The bill does nothing of the sort. It redefines maritime arrivals from those who arrived at excised offshore places to include both those who do so and those who have entered by sea at all, unless they are subject to an exemption. The redefinition is of arrivals, not of Australia’s borders.

Third is the claim that it somehow abrogates our responsibilities under the UN Refugee Convention. In fact the UNHCR itself, in a media release yesterday criticising the government’s bill, specifically rejected this:

“UNHCR’s longstanding view is that under international law any excision of territory for a specific purpose has no bearing on the obligation of a country to abide by its international treaty obligations which apply to all of its territory. This includes the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a party.”

The fourth is that this is somehow inhumane. The Houston report bluntly addresses this. The entire point is to reduce the risk of asylum seekers spending longer at sea, and maximising the chances of dying, by trying to reach the mainland in an effort to avoid being sent to Nauru or PNG.

Imagine an alternative scenario, in which Labor decided that having so fervently condemned the Howard government for trying to adopt a similar approach, it wouldn’t be a good look now to do it, despite the Houston report recommending it. Put consistency before policy, avoid the charge of hypocrisy and backflip, save face.

If, after such a decision had been made, a boat of asylum seekers trying to reach the mainland in an effort to avoid being sent elsewhere had sunk with attendant loss of life, the government would have correctly been open to the charge of putting politics, and saving face, ahead of the lives of asylum seekers. The charge of “blood on its hands” would have been wholly merited, having been advised to adopt a course of action and decided, purely so it wouldn’t look bad, to ignore it.

Still, it’s not like people routinely complain about governments putting political expediency ahead of doing the right thing.

The logic of the Houston report is to stop maritime arrivals, because people die trying to reach Australia by boat. The bill to redefine arrivals is a core part of it. Those who oppose it either fail to grasp the logic of the Houston report, which aims at rebalancing incentives away from maritime arrivals to safer, regular arrivals (thus the massive increase in our refugee intake, to 20,000 people a year, which appears to have gone unremarked except for the opposition’s whingeing about how it will be paid for). Or they prefer a policy that no government would ever accept, of establishing an open door to Australia via an offshore processing centre in Indonesia that automatically accepts all comers.

The Greens, in particular, have strongly criticised the bill, although they scored rare praise from Scott Morrison on Tuesday when he noted that, unlike Labor, they have maintained a consistent stand.

Of course, had the Greens not opposed the government’s legislation to enable the Malaysian policy (which had been struck down by the High Court), there’d be no Houston panel and no Nauru and PNG.

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109 thoughts on “The ‘excision’ that isn’t, and why it’s good policy

  1. francho

    the only sensible comment i’ve read on the subject so far. I tried earlier to add the below comment (referring to Craig Thompson’s position) to the fairfax pulse website but it was rejected – they obviously don’t like paticular policy positions over there, very strange and won’t be trying again. Maybe i will have better luck here.

    Thomson now has a moral compass? I don’t think so. Returning to the pacific solution, malaysia, no advantage, etc, etc, were the lurching right steps. Excising the mainland will make little difference to refugees who mainly try to reach outer territories, but it will stop some trying to make it all the way here on boats that are not seaworthy. Without the change tony abbott would make a meal of Labor when the next boat made it to the mainland. There is a lot of posturing about this legislation but the Labor party changed its position on asylum seekers a while back and perhaps everyone should just read the expert panel report – that’s what the govt is doing and has said it is doing. Agree with it or not, this didn’t come out of nowhere as commentators are suggesting. The media’s focus on this and the commentary provided shows how little the media really understands asylum policy and distorts the debate.

  2. Simon Roberts

    Someone else who has no clue on how to “stop the boats”.The Only way that people will stop coming is if boats are turned back. But this cannot be done as Indonesia will not allow it. All of this tinkering is just that.

  3. Musrum

    > Of course, had the Greens not opposed the government’s legislation to enable the Malaysian policy

    Wasn’t it a private member’s bill from Windsor?

  4. Jimmy

    This issue is one in which I struggle tofind the right policy, I was strongly opposed to offshore processing but having seen the number of deaths at sea of people trying to reach our shores I find it hard to support onshore processing if that is the result.
    The Houston report while recommending policies I have preciously found questionable does result in Australia dramatically increasing it’s refugee intake and that alone merits it’s implementation in full to at least see if it is successful.
    However I fear the Opposition will support all the sticks, none of the carrot’s and not the Malaysia deal and with the Greens holding out for only on shore processing we could be left with something undesirable and ineffective.

    I look forward to Shepherd Marilyn’s abuse.

  5. James Dean

    I don’t know if anyone’s really summed it up before, but the goal I see for border protection policy should be to stop people getting on boats. Not to prevent them from getting here, but to prevent them from exposing themselves to the risks of the journey. The problem is that there’s nothing that will stop them from using a boat if there’s any advantage in doing so, whatever the risks are. If they see it as their only choice, and they do, no risk and no punishment is enough.

    The only thing we can do is remove the reward at the end.

    I haven’t completely absorbed all of this policy yet, but what I understand sounds right. No right morally, necessarily, but perhaps the only choice.

  6. Jimmy

    Simon Roberts – “The Only way that people will stop coming is if boats are turned back.” The only way people will stop coming is if conditions in their own country improve dramtically.
    Turning back the boats is a short sighted idea that does nothing to address the underlying issues and only offends our regional partners who see it (rightly) as us shirking our responsibilities and forcing them to do all the work.

  7. Jimmy

    Simon Roberts – “The Only way that people will stop coming is if boats are turned back.” The only way people will stop coming is if conditions in their own country improve dramtically.
    Turning back the boats is a short sighted idea that does nothing to address the underl ying issues and only offends our regional partners who see it (rightly) as us shirking our responsibilities and forcing them to do all the work.

  8. Robert Merkel

    Yes, the policy isn’t a surprise.

    It’s still a cynical and mendacious further extension of our attempts to evade the responsibilities we signed up for in the UN Refugee Convention.

    If we want to get out of the Refugee Convention, fine. Let the government and opposition do so. But the current situation where we continue to proclaim that we are living up to our international responsibilities, while systematically not doing so in practice, is hypocrisy of the highest order.

  9. Sean

    So what happens when the boats still don’t stop?

  10. Jimmy

    RObert Merkel – “It’s still a cynical and mendacious further extension of our attempts to evade the responsibilities we signed up for in the UN Refugee Convention.” Did you read the article?
    “Third is the claim that it somehow abrogates our responsibilities under the UN Refugee Convention. In fact the UNHCR itself, in a media release yesterday criticising the government’s bill, specifically rejected this:

    “UNHCR’s longstanding view is that under international law any excision of territory for a specific purpose has no bearing on the obligation of a country to abide by its international treaty obligations which apply to all of its territory. This includes the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a party.”

    Sean – “So what happens when the boats still don’t stop?” They implement the rest of the Houston report recommendations, if they still don’t stop then they will have to try something else but at least they will have tried.

  11. pearton@bigpond.com.au

    Your last comment that basically this is all the Greens’ fault is ridiculous. I am a member of the Greens and as such I vote for Green policy. If our elected representatives vote against Green policy, what would be the point of members voting to establish that policy?

  12. Michael James

    Funny, as I recall Crikey was adamant that this policy, when proposed by Howard’s government, was inhumane and a national disgrace proving our racist leanings.

    Now Labour proposes it and somehow it’s morphed into a high minded policy decision.

    Oh Crikey, your hypocrisy is breathtaking.

  13. Jimmy

    Pearton – Until there comes a time when the greens govern in their own right the Greens have to make the most of whatever power they get to negotiate an outcome that most matches greens policy.
    If they choose to only vote for Greens policy they run the risk of spurning something they could live with only to end p with something they vehemently oppose.
    In this case the Greens chose to oppose the Malaysian Solution and the result was that Nauru and PNG get re-opened. Neither are the Greens preferred option but which would the Greens prefer?

  14. Andrew ( )

    Well, finally we may be able to have a disscusion of the topic without the histeria. That is until the likes of Marilyn perks in. Her tactic appears to be to paint anyone who doesn’t believe in open borders as a racist, thereby intimidating people to have an open and intelligent discussion and trying to shut down the topic.
    I believe that most people are supportive of refugees but want it to be done in a fair way. The Australian way. All refugees, of which there are many more that Australia could ever take, get a fair chance, not just those that can afford to pay a people smuggler.
    There is nothing wrong with that attitude.
    The expert panel that recommended these changes to immigration policy have information that the public are not readily aware of and we need to trust their judgement.
    With the last major problem issue for the government being addressed, I wonder what Tony’s going to do? He’s finished.

  15. Fiona Katauskas

    Hi Bernard,

    While I understand your arguments I completely disagree with the premise of them and the premise of Labor’s (and its Houston Report’s) approach- that “Stopping the Boats” is the only desirable and viable option.

    Firstly, a policy based on stopping the boats assumes that deterrence is the key and that pull factors are the only thing driving people to get on boats. This is absurd- the boats will stop only when wars and oppression stop or Australia becomes as bad as where these people came from. Even if the boats do stop coming to Australia, they will go elsewhere, where they may not be our problem but people will still die at sea (although if they’re headed elsewhere we don’t have to pretend to care).

    Secondly, the high moral groundism of “we’re stopping people dying at sea” is yet another misrepresentation of the situation. While it is terrible for anyone to drown on a boat coming to Australia, the number of asylum seeker lives lost at sea is not 80% of boat arrivals, not even 50% but 4%. Four percent. Condemning 100% of people to a “no advantage” indefinite period in detention on a Pacific island (in which I suspect a significant percentage will die, commit suicide or have their lives otherwise destroyed by the psychological torture of indefinite detention) does not make sense and highlights the hypocrisy of the crocodile tears from both the Opposition and Government. If breast-beating concern for asylum seekers stops at the small number who might die at sea, this “concern” isn’t worth a pinch of shit.

    The Houston Report is not an objective approach to the beaten up issue of asylum seekers but a report with a strict remit- to work out ways to prevent boats coming to Australia. This was what it was commissioned for.

    It’s time we looked at the whole issue afresh. The vast, vast majority of Australians will never meet an asylum seeker and, were it not for the politicisation of the issue and continued mispresention and dehumanisation of asylum seekers in the media, would know or care nothing about them. Instead we are constantly being prompted to be outraged by them, to see them as “queue jumpers” seeing unfair advantage.

    Australia does not take a large number of asylum seekers nor attract a disproportionate number of people arriving by boat. It is an issue of politics more than anything else.

    It’s also time to have a good hard look at how we appear overseas- insecure, ignorant and yes, racist.

    Excising the mainland and stopping the boats might be the answer, but the question is entirely wrong.

  16. pearton@bigpond.com.au

    Yes, Greens do run that risk of spurning something they could live with etc. but to blame the current policy on the 10 Greens in parliament, when there are 226 parliamentarians just doesn’t figure. And I repeat that the Greens parliamentarians by definition must represent those that vote for them.
    If political parties stuck to their policies, stated well in advance of elections, in the old-fashioned way, such as in the ‘It’s Time’ days, people may be a little less disillusioned about politics in general.

  17. Jimmy

    Pearton – SO no changing to suit the times then – you can only change what you want to do every 3 years?

    And as a Greens voter given the option of only on shore processing isn’t on the table which option do you prefer – the current one being driven by the Houston report or the Malaysian Solution? Because whether you like it or not the Greens had the choice.

  18. Andrew ( )

    Since my post is in moderation I will add another point.
    Although the policy is claimed to be aimed at stopping people drowning at sea, how many people believe that is the main reason?
    May I suggest it has more to do with the cost blowout of processing unscheduled arrivals, especially when lawyers get involved.
    The government has done the right thing to increase the intake to 20,000 and other unscheduled arrivals need to be processed among them.

  19. Simon Roberts

    Jimmy, I’m not advocating for turning back. it cannot be done now or ever again. I’m underlining that it will not work. And as to the conditions in the originating countries getting better. Magic wand?
    I was dealing in shorthand. The long answer is that people will get on boats if there is no other way to get out of Indonesia. They will keep coming, and they cannot be turned back. So we process them in Indonesia, we process thousands and we get them here safely. If people have hope of an alternative they will not get on boats.
    Meanwhile these pathetic deterrence policies are ineffective and fiscally irresponsible, do harm to the asylum seekers by violating their human rights by subjecting them to diabolic conditions, while trashing our reputation, and are obviously creating divisions in our own society that may cause long-term harm for short-term political gain.
    Those who claimed that the Greens were killing people by their opposition to the new regime better have a look at themselves, because this regime is not working and people are still dying.

  20. Clytie

    All this determination to stop people dying en route to Australia would make more sense to me (and to the prospective die-ees) if people weren’t already dying in refugee camps and as documented or undocumented refugees in Malaysia and Indonesia (and routinely harassed and tortured while alive).

    People wouldn’t be willing to risk their lives on a rickety boat if things weren’t pretty desperate for them where they are.

    Yes, it’s good that the refugee intake has been increased, and it will save those people’s lives. However, it won’t save the ones who will die before the intake comes around to them.

    What are we doing to improve conditions for refugees in regional countries (apart from using Nauru and PNG to lock up those who sought our help)? Even if you think of this issue purely in terms of money, it would cost us a great deal less to subsidize decent refugee processing and support in regional countries, than it does to imprison refugees and deal with the weeping sore of them having no other real choice.

  21. Jimmy

    Simon Roberts- “So we process them in Indonesia, we process thousands and we get them here safely. If people have hope of an alternative they will not get on boats.” That is why the Houston report recommended the dramatic increase in our refugee intake, they aren’t just increasing the deterrent, they are also increasing the alternative. I agree the deterrent alone won’t work but combined with the increase in the intake it just might.

    Clytie – “What are we doing to improve conditions for refugees in regional countries (apart from using Nauru and PNG to lock up those who sought our help)?” I am pretty sure as part of the Malaysia solution we funded the construction of an asylum centre – but am happy to be corrected on that.

  22. pearton@bigpond.com.au

    Jimmy- we can’t do better than that? I believe we can, and I had hopes that an ‘expert’ committee might come up with something less simplistic and more humane that these two options.

  23. Andrew ( )

    Well, finally we may be able to have a discussion of the topic without the histeria. That is until the likes of Marilyn perks in. Her tactic seems to be to paint anyone who doesn’t believe in open borders as a rac-ist, thereby intimidating people to have an open and intelligent discussion and trying to shut down the topic.
    I believe most people are supportive of refugees but want it to be done in a fair way. The Australian way. All refugees, of which there are many more than Australia could ever take, get a fair chance, not just those that can afford a people smuggler.
    There is nothing wrong with that attidude.
    The expert panel that recommended these changes to the migration policy have information available to them that the general public are not readily aware of and we need to trust their judgement.
    With the last major problem for the government being addressed I wonder what Tony is going to do? Maybe he’s finished.

  24. Jimmy

    Fiona – “the number of asylum seeker lives lost at sea is not 80% of boat arrivals, not even 50% but 4%” Yes when you express it as a percentage it is nothing but how many lives are we talking?
    And what is you “significant percentage will die, commit suicide or have their lives otherwise destroyed by the psychological torture of indefinite detention” and do you have figures too support it?

  25. Jimmy

    Pearton – “we can’t do better than that? I believe we can, and I had hopes that an ‘expert’ committee might come up with something less simplistic and more humane that these two options.” That “expert panel included someone who thought we could as well and this is what he came up with. It is an incredibly complex area and unless you have something more concrete that your “beli ef” that there is something better you are stuck with the two options – so as a greens voter which one would you be happier with?

  26. Recalcitrant.Rick

    I am of a number of minds on this issue but none of them agree on going back to the Libs position. Therefore I have another (cruel and inhumane) proposition, but like the Malaysia idea, it might just work. Invite? every refugee currently in the south east asian region to put their name (and families) into a lottery (regardless of their arrival priority) and have a well publicised draw…. Monthly??? you may be one of the lucky 1800 or so, emphasise the risk (both to life and liberty) in taking a boat and and it may just act as a deterent to paying a people smuggler $10,000 when you may just get in sooner, safer, and for free?

  27. Holden Back

    It is not for eunuchs to boast of their chastity.

  28. gapot

    The Indonesian military and police are making too much money out of this business to stop. Indonesia expects their public servants to make up their wages by any means they can think of. Thats why tourists in Bali are routinely fleeced by costoms at the airport and the police who make on the spot fines for road infringements.

  29. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    So Bernard has finally become yet another Canberra press zombie.

    For an alternative view, see the editorial in today’s Age http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/editorial/a-backward-step-beyond-the-pacific-solution-20121031-28kh4.html

    Though the Age editorial strongly support the Greens, the editorial fails to mention them. And Michelle Gratton’s article in today’s Age also fails to mention that the Greens oppose this change.

    In her article in yesterday’s Age on the same subject Michelle also didn’t mention the Greens, and they were not mentioned in a commentary by someone else in yesterday’s paper either.

    There is now only one party who oppose this change to our migration zone, only one party who supports the editorial of The Age, yet the Age has totally ignored them.

    This blatant bias would be hard to believe if it were not there in black and white.

    And Bernard’s change of heart? Like with Peter Garrett, I’m sure there is still a little bit of the old Bernard somewhere inside that could write the perfect rebuttal to the article above.

  30. Andrew ( )

    Sorry for posting again before but I thought moderation was. going to take longer to clear.
    How about the simple fact that there are more refugees that want to come to Australia than we could take without incuring large resettlement costs.
    How do you stop those that want a fast way into Australia?
    Maybe some are not even elegible to claim asylum and would have to apply for a migration visa. Can be a lengthy wait unless you have skills urgently needed.
    These problems are not easily resolved and I have my doubts that the measures implimented will be sucessful.
    I tend to think a cheaper solution to discourage boat arrivals would be to
    deny all unscheduled arrivals to have permanent residency status. Hope I’m not sounding cruel. I’ll repeat that I am supportive of genuine refugees.

  31. Andrew ( )

    @Recalcitrant.Rick
    Perhaps those that miss out on winning will book a boat and pay their money?!

  32. Fiona Katauskas

    Hi Jimmy,

    I do not dispute that it’s terrible people die at sea.

    Of course I cannot come up with exact statistics of who may die but the effects of indefinite detention are well documented. There have already been four (that I know of) suicide attempts on Nauru even though it has only been operational for a short period of time.

    I wish to point out the hypocrisy of those claiming to care so deeply about asylum seekers dying at sea but not caring at all about our responsibility in sending them to rot slowly out of sight- whether that be in Nauru or Malaysia or any of the ridiculously-called “Solutions”.

    I also think it’s both astonishing and deeply disturbing that a three word slogan has become an article of faith for both major parties and that the misrepresentation & dehumanisation of asylum seekers is bipartisan.

  33. Jimmy

    Fiona – “I wish to point out the hypocrisy of those claiming to care so deeply about asylum seekers dying at sea but not caring at all about our responsibility in sending them to rot slowly out of sight” But you don’t worry about the Hypocrisy of risking the 4% who die at sea to save the 4 people who “attempted” suicide?

    It is easy to decry the solution but hard to provide one of your own.

  34. errolm@gmail.com

    Yes this policy does stem from the Houston report but the whole asylum seeker policy is founded on the premise that those that come by boat are a security danger to Australia whereas those that come by air are not (note air arrivals are not excised). In the 1980s we had a bipartisan policy of accepting people coming by boat from Vietnam – why cant this be the policy now? Cant we help these people escape persecution rather than as we do treat them inhumanely by keeping them in detention indefinitely. Why cant these people after a period of time for health checks (2-4 weeks?) be allowed into the Australian community and we spend a very small fraction of the $10-13M per person under Houston off-shore solution, to support them in our community. Either approval to stay here or repatriation to another country where they would be safe from persecution could follow. After all the numbers are very low to annual intake of 140000-200000 from migration. The whole issue needs a rethink from the very bottom up not a 6 week limited terms-of-reference enquiry. Australia can do better but it will take some intestinal fortitude politicians to see it through.

  35. Saugoof

    This whole argument, as well as all the Labor/Liberal grandstanding, falls over one crucial hurdle. That refugees are even aware of our policies. Some may be but I would expect the majority are not.

    I’m a well-off middle class person. I’m a news and political junkie and as such I not only have far more access to news and current events than someone fleeing, say, Afghanistan or Irak, has, but I pride myself on being well informed in domestic and foreign affairs. And yet, before I moved to Australia I found it incredibly difficult to access any information on what I would expect here. Despite all the efforts I made and the full 12 months that I spent on preparation, in retrospect I can say that I knew practically nothing.

    The simplest things that people who live here take as understood was complete news for me. For example, that something like a birth certificate, something that in many countries people aren’t even aware exists, is important when dealing with government departments or the whole concept of statutory declarations, etc.

    Basically what I’m trying to say is that most refugees who come on boats would not even be aware that we’ve excised the mainland from maritime arrivals. These policies are designed for domestic voters, not refugees.

    Christmas Island and a bunch of other outlying islands have been excised years ago and they still get plenty of boat arrivals.

  36. James Dean

    Okay, how about this:

    Applying for refugee status after having traveled to Australia or any Australian territory automatically and without appeal voids the possibility of settlement in Australia forever.

    As I type this I see Andrew’s comment above, saying a similar thing. Now, everyone, let’s hear it.

    The region contains many times more refugees, with absolutely valid claims for resettlement, than we can possibly absorb. This is why people risk their life on a boat. They see absolutely no prospect of being resettled unless they take those extreme measures. We can change that only by making resettlement seem possible without getting on a boat – and then also making it impossible if they do.

  37. michael r james

    Good points. Just a minor quibble:
    ” had the Greens not opposed the government’s legislation to enable the Malaysian policy (which had been struck down by the High Court), there’d be no Houston panel and no Nauru and PNG.”

    The High Court decision was not specifically aimed at Malaysia but at Howard’s original legislation enabling Nauru. As such it ruled out Nauru and Manus. The Coalition agreed to change the legislation but hypocritically, on fake humanitarian but actually purely political grounds, only agreed on condition Malaysia remain excluded. It is true that was the point when the Greens had an opportunity to choose a better option and chose not to.

    I support the Malaysian plan. With two abstentions (including Mal Washer who was very emotional about asylum situation) on the wheat board legislation yesterday, I still feel the government didn’t try hard enough, even if the Greens could block it in the Senate (but then the Coalition would have found itself under pressure as well as the Greens).

  38. zut alors

    @ Fiona, comment 15 – hear hear.

    The global population is increasing alarmingly; it’s unrealistic and naive to expect we can preserve the same portion of land for centuries without showing generosity to desperate people.

  39. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    So Bernard has finally become yet another Canberra press zombie.

    For an alternative view, see the editorial in today’s Age (the link might one day appear in post 29 if my earlier post passes moderation).

    Though the Age editorial strongly support the Greens, the editorial fails to mention them. And Michelle Gratton’s article in today’s Age also fails to mention that the Greens oppose this change.

    In her article in yesterday’s Age on the same subject Michelle also didn’t mention the Greens, and they were not mentioned in a commentary by someone else in yesterday’s paper either.

    There is now only one party who oppose this change to our migration zone, only one party who supports the editorial of The Age, yet the Age has totally ignored them.

    This blatant bias would be hard to believe if it were not there in black and white.

    And Bernard’s change of heart? Like with Peter Garrett, I’m sure there is still a little bit of the old Bernard somewhere inside that could write the perfect rebuttal to the article above.

  40. Fiona Katauskas

    Hi Jimmy,

    My argument is that there isn’t a “Solution”- that to claim there is one flies in the face of what many, many more countries than us face (and in far greater numbers)- the reality that asylum seekers exist and will continue to exist as long as there are wars and repression.

    My “solution” (albeit an entirely unrealistic one, given the media & political beat-ups of this whole thing) would be to admit there is no “solution” and to deal with the various issues in a long-term way without a constant eye on the opinion polls and what Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt say.
    There would have to be have a bipartisan approach to depoliticising this, to take it out of the public arena and not to use it as a political tool with which to beat eachother up.

    I’m no migration expert (obviously) but think these things need to be considered:
    * An understanding of who asylum seekers are and what makes them flee their countries (including looking at the fact that Australia thought Iraq and Afghanistan were in such a bad way that they needed military intervention yet we are supposed to distrust and disbelieve those who leave there as refugees for the same reason)
    * A look at what other comparable western countries do with their asylum seekers. Mandatory detention is unusual as well as extremely costly. Any “solution” is horrendously costly.
    * Try to constructively address issues in the region without acting like a big white bully for whom other countries should bend over backwards to deal with their problems. In demanding we “stop the boats’ coming to our shores we are shifting the problem to countries far less able to deal with them. It’s not just about us.
    * Try to introduce better processing in the region to prevent people getting on boats in the first place.
    *Ditch the fiction that there is a “queue” and a “right way to do it”

    By they way, I’m not in favour of pure open borders and think that that the you’re-either-for-the-toughest solution-or-you-must-be-open-borders dichotomy is dumb and wrong.

    I could go on for ages but have to do some work, dammit. I’m not denying it’s exceedingly difficult but I think “stopping the boats” is the answer to the wrong question and I hate the ugliness I’ve seen in the community about this. It is wrong.

    cheers

    Fiona

  41. shepherdmarilyn

    Those racist old fools are not experts, we have zero right to stop one person getting on any vessel and once here we have zero right to send them away.

    Bernard is now just another spiv for the liars in Canberra.

  42. Zeke

    Want to stop refugees dying at sea? How about we stop burning their boats? Why would the refugee transporters send seaworthy boats when they know that the boats will be destroyed on arrival in Australia? How about we stop persecuting the crews of the refugee transporter boats? I’m sure only the WORST crews would be sent if they knew they’d be thrown in prison for years.

    Refugees are dying and we are just exacerbating the problem.

    Come on, let’s be serious about saving the lives of refugees, not just cry crocodile tears and send them to South Pacific gulags where they’ll be driven slowly insane.

    I’m ashamed to be Australian. I’m also now thinking of dumping my Crikey subscription. Bernard, we get this rubbish from the mainstream press. Try a bit harder.

  43. CML

    I’m with those who say it is easy to criticise but much more difficult to come up with a “solution” that will be accepted by the majority of Australian citizens.
    Perhaps all of us would like to think that we can take millions of refugees – whoever lands on our shores. But the reality is we cannot. There are increasing societal pressures, the sheer cost of doing so, and the security concerns to be addressed. Fiona K talks of the few who attempt suicide – what about the few??? who come here, and are accepted as refugees, only to be later discovered as criminals (people smugglers living it up in Canberra as supposed “refugees”, for example). How many more of them are NOT discovered?
    As with everything else, the whole dilemna must include questions of cost. We are a small population trying to cope with tens of thousands of asylum seekers. Where is the money coming from? Those who do not consider this question, will be the same ones who complain loudest when welfare is reduced to single mothers, for example. (Green supporters take note!!) It is just plain unrealistic to think we can do everything, in an economic sense, without raising taxes, or putting a “refugee levy” on income tax.
    That should go down well!!
    The exclusion of those coming by air – the furore is a red herring – arrive in this country with passports and visas. Therefore, they can be identified and deported if found to be travelling with false papers. Not so, the boat people.
    Good article, Bernard, but as everyone should now be aware, there are no easy answers.

  44. Ian

    The do-gooders among you all had best realise that the only thing a majority, repeat majority,of Australians want is pretty simple.

    “Stop jumping over the backfence, entering my house through the back door and stop sitting on my lounge demanding to be watered, fed and housed.”…if you need help…knock on the front door like everyone else.

    What you bleeding hearts, teeth nashers, garment renters and asunder splitters need to realise is that you can cut as crook as you like, for as long as you want, you’re nothing but noise and none will be bothered listening.

  45. Wendy Bacon

    Thanks Fiona for your great post. You said much of what I was gong to say.

    Bernard, you deliver a lecture on good policy but you don’t even canvass why the critics of the Malaysian solution were wrong. It was not just the Greens but a whole range of others.

    This is just an extract from an open letter posted after a refugee conference at the UNSW which discussed the issue earlier in the year.

    We strongly urge the UNHCR to condemn a swap deal that would see 800 asylum seekers sent from a country that has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, Australia, to a non-signatory country, Malaysia.

    This agreement not only breaches Australia’s international law obligations to protect those seeking asylum but directly undermines UNHCR’s core mandate in a number of significant respects. Firstly, the fundamental rights of those fleeing persecution and seeking protection from a Convention country, including those set out in EXCOM Conclusion 28, will be denied, setting a dangerous global precedent. Secondly, those being removed will be denied the prospect of any real durable solution and instead face the very real prospect of ongoing human rights abuses. Thirdly, by overtly politicising resettlement this agreement further undermines a principled approach to resettlement, based on compelling need, rather than a resettlement state’s vested political interests. Finally, given Australia has stated it will not resettle any of the 800 removed, it will undoubtedly separate families, undermining UNHCR’s attempts to ensure “derivative status’ applies to vulnerable women and children.

    This agreement also has the potential to legitimise the current treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia, a practice that falls seriously below international human rights standards as set out in Articles 2 to 34 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Again, we strongly urge UNHCR to condemn this agreement.

    Here are the organisations which signed it:
    Act!for!Peace/!National!Council!of!Churches!Australia!
    Amnesty!International!Australia
    ANCORW!Cooperative!Ltd
    Asian!Women!Human!Rights!Council
    Asylum!Seekers!Christmas!Island!(ASCI)
    Centre!for!Refugee!Research
    Coalition!for!Asylum!Seekers!Refugees!and!Detainees!Inc!(CARAD)
    Project!SafeCom!Inc.
    Missionary!Sisters!of!Service
    St!Vincent!de!Paul!Society!National!Council!of!Australia.
    Catholic!Religious!Australia!Sisters!of!Charity!of!Australia
    Researchers!for!Asylum!Seekers!(RAS),!University!of!Melbourne
    Multicultural!Youth!Affairs!Network (MYAN)
    The!Survivors!of!Torture!and!Trauma Assistance!and!Rehabilitation!Service!(SA)
    Catholic!Parish, Bondi!Beach
    SierraCom!consultants
    Townsville!Multicultural!Support!Group!Inc
    Rural!Australians!for!Refugees!Q!Daylesford!and!District!
    La!Trobe!Refugee!Research!Centre,!La!Trobe!University
    Cabramatta!Community!Centre
    Bridge!for!Asylum!Seekers!Foundation
    Footscray!Community!Legal!Centre
    GlobalHealth@UNSW
    Uniting!Church!in!Australia
    Refugee!Council!of!Australia!
    Brigidine!Asylum!Seekers!Project
    Asylum!Seeker!Resource!Centre
    Centacare!Toowoomba
    Architects!for!Peace
    Sydney!Multicultural!Community!Services

    There were many reasons to oppose the Malaysian solution.

    I can’t see what you think sending a few hundred people back to Malaysia in violation of international law would have achieved.

    Even if you were right that some missed some fine print in the Houston report, this does not make it good policy. Some of the commentary, including the fantastic cartoon in Crikey yesterday was in any case symbolic. The whole notion of excision conjures up images of cutting out Australia’s heart which is what we are doing. Of course, this is not the technical meaning. The question is what are the implications of the policy for asylum seekers.

    The low numbers refugees which came in by plane in the first half of the year from Indonesia was a failure of policy ( I heard the ludicrous figure of 52) and I have not heard whether this number has dramatically increased since the Houston panel reported. This would be the best way to stop boats. Maybe a focus for us journalists?

    An approach to policy which involves doing damage to at this early stage hundreds of individuals on behalf of an uncertain and so far not unachieved goal, is very bad policy.

  46. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    The link to today’s editorial in The Age is now passed by our moderators – see post 29.

  47. Jimmy

    Fiona – Do you think that the things that you list aren’t happening? DO you think that no one is looking ot what is being done elsewhere or trying to understand what makes them flee?
    And by adopting the Houston report they are increasing the intake which would address your “Try to introduce better processing in the region to prevent people getting on boats in the first place.” and looking to adopt the Malaysia solution would address your “Try to constructively address issues in the region without acting like a big white bully for whom other countries should bend over backwards to deal with their problems. In demanding we “stop the boats’ coming to our shores we are shifting the problem to countries far less able to deal with them. It’s not just about us.”

    So this is far from just being tough, being tough is just one plank.

  48. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Ian, you put part of your comments in quotation marks. Are these your words? Do you think Australia is your back yard, your lounge room and you are here to masquerade as a spokesman for the “majority, repeat majority”? As far as I know, I’ve never heard of you and you don’t don’t speak for me.
    If you want to represent us (and I’m not asking you to) at least acknowledge that we expect our elected government to pay more than lip service to our membership of the United Nations and our unqualified promise to provide asylum to any and all people genuinely escaping oppression. That means they don’t have to ask permission to come here, only to seek asylum when they do arrive. We’ve already made that promise thank you so get off your high horse, stop making useless noises and try listening for once.

  49. Norman Hanscombe

    If you understand the emotive blinkers which prevent “True Believers” comprehending the contradictions inherent in their various religious beliefs — of both theistic and non-theistic varieties — which send them to the barricades defending whatever makes them feel noble, you can become more tolerant of their intellectual shortcomings.
    The open borders brigade usually don’t think about the fact that even if Australia adopted such a suicidal approach, it couldn’t resolve the very real refugee problems facing the world.
    The same well-intentioned do-gooders don’t stop to assess the fact that (quite apart from negative effects on Australian living standards) the impact these new arrivals seeking superior living standards will have on the planet’s dwindling resources.
    When Human Rights and Refugee Conventions were developed after W.W. II, they were thinking about a world that was VERY different from today.
    Their optimistic views were wonderful. Their dream was far superior to modern realities. It was a dream I shared; but wishing for something doesn’t mean it can be a reality.
    That’s what the well-intentioned Tooth Fairy Brigade may never understand — until it’s too late.

  50. Ian

    @48

    typical, meaningless do-gooder waffle.

  51. CML

    @ Wendy Bacon – And just how many Australian citizens do all these pompous organisations actually represent? Or are you suggesting that only the “experts” have the right to a say on this question?
    No matter which way you cut it, I’ll wager that these are the opinions of a few thousand of our 23 million people. Everyone has the right to vote on this refugee question. How about a plebiscite at the next election? Personally, I’m all for “unsigning” the Refugee Convention, and increasing our humanitarian intake to 30, 40 or even 50,000 annually, and concentrating on our own ASIA/PACIFIC region.
    Also, how many countries who are represented at the UN have actually signed and ratified the Refugee Convention? Does that make the majority who haven’t done so “bad” world citizens? Just asking.

  52. shepherdmarilyn

    The thing is the resettlement program has no legal basis for anything and with less than 1% of the world’s refugees ever being accepted to other countries what is the point of pretending that taking a few thousand will make any difference to anything?

    Last year 7038 people who flew here made refugee claims, 2272 were accepted without murmur or abuse and they will continue to be treated under the refugee convention.

    7379 came by sea because we won’t let them fly here and 4766 were accepted.

    So who are the frauds?

  53. Bernard Keane

    Michael James you’re welcome to knock yourself out looking for an article of mine in which I criticised the Howard govt’s proposal to pass a similar law. Please spend all evening, and in fact the rest of the week, looking hard for it, then get back to me.

  54. Fiona Katauskas

    Hi Jimmy,

    No, I don’t actually think those things are being done- that’s why I wrote all that. The way asylum seekers are portrayed by both politicians and the media does not examine the reasons why they come here but leaps straight to condemning them for jumping queues or doing things “illegally”. The hatred towards and contempt of refugees is widespread and it’s all due to this portrayal.

    Increasing the intake is a good start but it does not solely address the issue of better processing- there are many other things that could be done.

    No, I don’t think we look at the way other countries do it or we would know that we have a disproportionate paranoia about boats here that perplexes many overseas commentators and international refugee experts. This obsession doesn’t exist in many other countries who get more asylum seekers than we do and do not mandatorily detain them.

    The “Malaysia Solution” is hugely problematic and does not address that at all. It was a hamfisted piecemeal policy which will create two tiers of asylum seekers in Malaysia (those with guaranteed rights and those without) and could even result in people getting in boats to come to Australia, knowing they will be returned to Malaysia, but with greater rights than they had before.

    I think you and I see the problem very differently and will just continue to disagree. As I’ve said before, I think “solutions” are bunkum and this whole issue needs a massive rethink.

  55. Bernard Keane

    Fiona – the benefit of the Houston Panel report — and it’s an approach I advocated before that panel was initiated — is that it proposes that Australia reweight the incentives for people to get on boats both by increasing the deterrence AND increasing the number of people we take through resettlement. We now have a more appropriate humanitarian program (20,000 places, though I’d argue it should be more like 25,000) that will take more pressure off the alleged “queue”, as well as deterring people from getting in boats.

    I disagree on the moral economics of deterring deaths among asylum seekers. To be blunt, I’d rather many individuals spend five years in limbo, being looked after, their kids receiving schooling, and resettlement at the end, than one individual die trying to reach Australia. There will be mental health problems, yes, and I’ve written about how unprepared we are for them, but the alternative is people dying. And that of course also causes mental health problems among survivors, family and community.

  56. Recalcitrant.Rick

    Hey Ian, I’d rather be a “do-gooder” than a self rightous, pompous p**k!

  57. Fiona Katauskas

    Hi Bernard,

    I’ve got to go out and have spent too long on this today anyway, but I disagree that that those are the only two options we have to choose from . I think it’s a false dichotomy and I think the reality of indefinite detention is far from the at-least-the-kids-are-in-school-&-we’re safe-and-fed image that the govt presents.

    Thanks for the article anyway- lots of food for thought.

  58. David Hand

    There is groupthink right through this thread that asylum seekers are in fact refugees. An example is the notion that increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake to 20,000 or 25,000 will provide an avenue for boat people from Indonesia. This is very unlikely.

    The diabolical problem with the boats issue is that under the refugee convention, you must actually reach Australian soil to then ask for asylum. That’s why they come. They come by boat because their citizenship status in their country of origin would disqualify them from a visa to get on a plane.

    I think Australia should withdraw from the refugee convention. It wasn’t designed with us in mind, but for situations where thousands of people might be fleeing across a border to avoid a war.

  59. Saugoof

    @Fiona Katauskas, where can I vote for you? Seriously, I’d much rather have someone like you running the country than Labor or the Liberals!

    Mind you, I suspect that many of the current crop of parliamentarians currently sitting feel terrible about what they’re doing, but know that in the current climate (even if they created this themselves) any other position would be political suicide. Future generations will look back on this and “marvel” at how beating up on the most disadvantaged people was seen as a vote winner.

    But as long as there isn’t bipartisan support to take this whole issue offline and resist any cheap point-scoring and sloganeering, no solution that either party will come up will actually have any positive impact.

  60. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Saugoof – You have fallen into the trap of thinking only Liberal and Labor.

    My post earlier (which has received no responses) points out that both the ABC and The Age want you to keep thinking this way.

    Note that change will not come by the Greens getting into power. It will come from Labor (and even perhaps Liberal) becoming a bit more progressive to counter the Green vote.

    But as long as almost everyone continues to vote Libor or Labiral then we will probably continue on our path towards the looney right.

  61. jenauthor

    Glad someone in media doing homework instead of simply taking the ‘one liners’ from those who have an agenda of their own

  62. Ian

    @56

    While I understand that you do-gooders need, nay, can’t exist without, the angst and despair of asylum seekers to assuage your considerable superiority complexes the reality of it this:

    Every boat arrival, every bit of vision of the Navy rescuing passengers from a deliberately scuttled boat, every riot, every tax payer funded high court challenge, every salacious tabloid television report, and especially, some do gooder banging their gums about the cruelty of it all reinforces and entrenches the inherent racism in Australia. You may not like it and there may be no obvious racism on the surface of your social circle….but they are there. Accept it. It’s real.

    When people such as yourself either put aside, or, at the very least, understand your need to feed from the angst and despair of others and control it…maybe then a conversation can be had.

    We’ll never stop racism, but by stopping boats, full of economic refugees, it can be blunted.

  63. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Ian,

    None of the 4,766 who arrived by boat and were accepted as refugees were just seeking a better economic life. The criteria for being a refugee require the person to be fleeing persecution, etc. Being a refugee means that it is not safe to go back home.

    But such ‘details’ don’t worry the looney right.

  64. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    That is 4,866 genuine refugees arrived by boat LAST YEAR.

  65. Ian

    [ None of the 4,766 who arrived by boat and were accepted as refugees were just seeking a better economic life. The criteria for being a refugee require the person to be fleeing persecution, etc. Being a refugee means that it is not safe to go back home. ]

    so by being able to come up with thousands of US dollars, generally in their home country to pay people smugglers before they leave, in order to bypass the refugee camps.

    You know them. They are the places where despair, horror and misery are the daily fare. You have heard of them?

    I doubt very much whether there would be that many Australians, bleeding heart do-gooders aside, that would reject the plight of a refugee from a Sudanese camp over an economic refugee who can afford to spend thousands of US dollars at their point of origin to circumvent proper procedures. You, by your words, apparently do.

    and you call me looney?

  66. Chess C

    What a hypocritical species we humans are. At the same time as apologising to the single mothers for forcibly taking their children, we are incarcerating people who have fled persecution, without any accountability or transparency. I wonder if I still be alive when we apologise to the survivors. Oh, if only we’d known, we’ll say. We had no idea what was happening in those camps.

    It all started with Pauline Hanson. Then Howard turned around his imminent electoral defeat by co-opting some of her policies. Then the ALP strategists decided pandering to the xenophobic vote was critical to their electoral survival. And now even the chattering classes are convincing themselves that locking up asylum seeker in Nauru for 4+ years is the morally right thing to do.

    But we need to be tough to save them from drowning at sea. But this conveniently overlooks that these tragedies were an unintended consequence of a previous policy: getting tough on people smugglers. By destroying the vessels and mandatorily ja-iling the crew, all we did was ensure that the vessels used were barely floating, with young and inexperienced crew. Unfortunately, we completely missed the intended target, the people smugglers.

    I never thought I’d be agreeing with Craig Thomson, but I am.

  67. Chess C

    That Craig Thomson has become our moral compass, really sums up the state of our democracy.

  68. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Ian – yes you are looney.

    The government (including under Howard) have people who are trained to evaluate whether or not people are genuine refugees. Even under Howard most boat people were found to be genuine refugees.

    I’m sure they people doing the evaluations have made some mistakes – some real refugees have been wrongly denied, and some economic migrants have wrongly been found to be refugees. But on the whole the system will have worked.

    And being a looney you have not recognised that persecution and it not being safe to return to your own country has nothing to do with whether you are rich or poor. (But I admit that the very poor cannot afford to get here.)

  69. Ian

    So, essentially your saying that if someone is rich their persecution is much more valid because they can afford to buy their way out, game the system and use international law to their personal advantage.

    However the child with extended belly in a Chad hellhole is of no import?…because their family has no hope of buying a passage?

    How very noble of you.

  70. Groucho

    Interesting to see those trying to over intelectualise what is essentially base politics. People drowning at sea wasn’t an issue for either party until someone had the temerity to point out the sheer hypocrisy exposed by differing treatment of arrival by air.

    Lets stop pretending the current Labor “change of heart” had anything to do with the plight of those arriving by sea. It was a political fix betrayed by the very first post which framed further drownings in regard to the political ramifications for Labor if it did not.

    The Houston “expert panel” and exactly what makes Houston an expert pray tell in its rambling motherhood statements admits on the first pages that it is essentially a political fix.

    So how many have arrived now since offshore processing was reintroduced?

    Lets stop pretending and just be honest about real motivations here. What exactly do you think will be the plight of these people if they don’t get on boats?

    Or doesn’t it matter as long as you can’t see it?

  71. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Ian – You were saying that the boat people were just economic migrants. I proved you wrong.

  72. Ian

    Do you really think so?….and do you really think anyone cares?

    The way I see it you have proven one thing only.

    Those who have the wherewithal to buy an airfare, then coach travel, ending up at a boat ramp are of much more importance than a genuine refugee, who has no money or any chance of getting some, languishing in a hellhole somewhere.

    As I have mentioned…how very noble of you.

  73. jusme

    actually, that UNHCR quote reads to me that excising ourselves from being an immigration zone doesn’t magically remove our responsibilities to fellow people in trouble. like we signed up to do.

    anywho, this time next year the war will be “over”. karzai is almost as bad as the taliban but hopefully not as bad as constant war so maybe the 7,000 or so that come by boat each year will decrease and we won’t have to panic over it.

  74. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Ian – Either people are a genuine refugee or they are not. You claimed that all of those on boats are economic migrants, yet most are found to be genuine refugees.

    And do you really think that accepting 4,766 refugees who came by boat last year need make any difference to the number of refugees we accept direct from other countries?

  75. Groucho

    jusme when we leav

  76. Groucho

    People keep talking about joining queues and “proper channels”. The fact is the proper way to seek asylum is by getting to our border by any means available to you and requesting it.

    Wether that is boat, plane, gyrocopter is irrelevant.

  77. banistersmind

    Why is it that the Australian Govt. cannot work more closely with Indonesia to neuter the people smuggling trade at the source – in Indonesia. Surely one part of the solution to this morass is to push for greater co-operation between our Federal Law Enforcement Agencies to break the cartels involved in people smuggling. Secondly, how much input does Australia have in the refugee camps where, as we keep being told, waits of upto a decade are common place for people seeking asylum. Do we, as a nation, need to invest more in these refugees camps both in money and personnel to speed up the processing of refugees in those camps so that people aren’t left in an indeterminate limbo for years on end. It seems to me that cauterizing these problems at their source is a far better way to manage the flow of people into Australia, rather than try to stem the multiple haemorrhages we are presently faced with. Of course, these are only a couple of a multitude of measures that should be looked at.

  78. shepherdmarilyn

    Banister, there is no people smuggling trade, it is not possible for a couple of Indonesian fishermen to smuggle anyone anywhere.

    Smuggling requires the exercise to be against the will of the person involved, asylum seekers really, really want to find safety so it is not possible to smuggle them.

  79. schaffer bill

    I have no idea what the phrase ‘sharply misguided’ is supposed to mean, but the logic of this piece is so blunt that it excises itself entirely from the sphere of reasonable argument. The entire argument consists in asserting that “the Houston report says so, so it must be true, so there”. It is absolutely circular to insist that we must stop maritime arrivals because ‘people die. The moral option is to embrace our responsibility to the vulnerable and helpless and FACILITATE their arrival. The moral posturing by those politicians who use magical acts of redefinition to evade their international obligations needs to be exposed, not justified. BTW, the spin put on the quote from the UNHCR seems to be wilfully misleading. It seems to be in fact saying that these legalistic evasions actually fail in their purpose, which is to annul our responsibilities regarding refugees.

  80. Pamela

    Talking to a man who finally made it here after three tries- the first boat sank losing ten people, the second lost fifteen people. He was lucky on the third. The drownings were in Indonesian waters so not recorded in Australia. This man had waited in Indonesia for two years, eleven months of that in an Indonesian detention prison. He tells me that the boats will keep coming.
    I asked him why. His answer “ Nauru- we know that this is last stop then Australia close the door”.
    Since 13 August when the Governments offshore policy was announced by the expert panel, over 5,800 people have arrived by boat- more than ever before in a comparable time frame. A policy designed to “stop the boats” clearly failed. All the consultation was just sham. No one in the human rights or refugee sector supported this offshore dumping of human beings. We proposed reforms to manage boat arrivals and really stop the risk of people drowning but they were politically unpalatable so more failed policy from the past whose only positive is that it appeals to the worst in us.
    The other punitive measures of effective denial of family reunion are yet to be absorbed. The excision of the Australian mainland for the purposes of migration is all foam and no substance. Only a handful of people have arrived directly onshore. We fund the Navy and customs billions of dollars to ensure this. In any event people are not sneaking ashore, rather they are holding up their hands and saying –come and get us, here we are, listen to our plea. Excision is more breast beating by a government flailing as it adopts everything that they opposed in the past.
    With all due respect Bernard, I think an expedition out of Canberra and sitting down and talking face to face with the people who have put their lives on the line might broaden your outlook on refugees and refugee policy. I could tell you about the many people arriving here with UNHCR refugee cards in their hands, the people who have fled torture and political persecution but this is less likely to influence your thinking than just sitting and discussing directly with people, the reasons they fled and the options they had and the decisions they made. The invitation stands.

  81. schaffer bill

    The moral test for a move like this is simple: what would happen if our action became the universal norm? What would happen if all refugee arrivals were excised (in Keane’s tortuous usage, according to which events of arrival can be subject to the spatial act of excision – which they can’t) by all nations? There would be no refuge for refugees anywhere. This move is a straightforward denial of the right of refuge.

  82. Peter Wood

    This article, like the Houston report, makes the error of assuming that the current government policy of making life hell for asylum seekers is going to stop them from fleeing to Australia. There is no evidence that this is true, and growing evidence that this is not true.

    If the Houston report was relevant to saving lives, it would have looked at improving safety of life at sea issues, rather than failed approaches to discouraging people from coming here. The terms of reference didn’t provide for the report to look at this. The report is not a serious contribution to policy.

  83. Jimmy

    Fiona – “No, I don’t think we look at the way other countries do it or we would know that we have a disproportionate paranoia about boats here that perplexes many overseas commentators and international refugee experts” Seriously? I agree the paranoia is disproportionate but that doesn’t mean the public servants in the immigration dept aren’t liasing with other public servants.

    “As I’ve said before, I think “solutions” are bunkum and this whole issue needs a massive rethink.” ” I disagree that that those are the only two options we have to choose from .” But you don’t have a third option, you are great at shooting holes in the plans presented but only have vague platitudes when it comes to presenting an alternative.

    And I agree with Bernard – I’d rather have many in dentention than a few die.

  84. Jimmy

    Peter Wood – The Houston report also includes “carrot’s” like increasing the intake along with the sticks.

  85. johndal

    hi guys. the new mobile layout is great….just can’t read the stories….they are all in fine print …any way the font size can be upped

  86. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    @82 – Waleed Aly is a good ABC / The Age journalist.

    He writes about a world that only has Liberal and Labor. He passionately supports the Greens views, but doesn’t mention that there is a party who agrees with him.

    It is fine to write something that supports a Liberal view, and if you do you will mention the Liberals. It is fine to write something that supports a Labor view, and if you do you will of course mention them.

    And it is fine to write something that supports the Greens view – as long as you don’t mention them!

  87. David Hand

    Michael,
    The carefully worded phrase “found to be refugees” gives the l ie to your contention. An anonymous person arrives by boat at Christmas Island with zero documentation and a story. A hapless DIAC public servant takes it from there.

    Captain Emad was one of the 4766 “genuine refugees” to whom you refer. Remember him? Middle Australia does. The government cancelled his refugee via on 3 August so you can now make that 4765. If only 4 Corners had the resources to check them all out.

  88. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    David Hand – Read my earlier comments. I admitted that A FEW mistakes will have been made. But a few mistakes does not mean that all the evaluations are wrong.

    As Waleed Aly said in his article, you seem to be very upset when a mistake is made to let someone in, but when someone is sent back home and killed this doesn’t matter?

  89. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Can a subscriber please tell me whether or not the Crikey article “The ‘excision’ that isn’t, and why it’s good policy” mentions The Greens.

  90. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Whoops, I meant the article “Amnesty: there is nothing ‘good’ about excision policy”.

  91. schaffer bill

    @Bernard Keane. Thanks for including the link to UNHCR, but a few readers have asked you to justify what appears to be your wilful misinterpretation of its implications. It is saying that the move will fail in its intent, which is to excise Australia from treaty obligations. It is not providing a moral or legal cover for that intent, as you imply.

  92. David Hand

    Michael,
    Please provide the basis for your optimistic appraisal of the situation that there are only a few mistakes made.

    That was the line peddled by refugee advocates when the Baktiars were deported to Pakistan after a TV programme went to their claimed Afghan origin and failed to find any trace of them.

    Surely genuine refugees could turn up with the passport they used to enter Indonesia. It would make DIAC’s job much easier to prove their identity and limit the time they languish in detention.

  93. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    What an amazing question. You must be applying the ‘logic’ of climate change nay-sayers to asylum seekers.

    Lots of refugees were accepted under the Howard government. If the system was so broken that many mistakes are made then don’t you think the Howard government would have done something to fix it?

  94. David Hand

    Mike,
    The same problem existed under the Howard government. Anonymous people were “found to be refugees” then as well. But the Howard government did do something to fix it. They stopped the boats.

  95. Peter Ormonde

    Good policy?

    I wonder how? Does it protect people? Does it assist in our meeting our humane obligations?

    No apparently it’s “good policy” because it’ll “stop the boats”… which is apparently what “good policy” is all about these days.

    Pathetic Bernard. Get out of the Press Gallery a bit mate … find out what folks are thinking a “good policy” will look like. The problem does not like the same out here. And it does not involve Kafkaesque legalistic gymnastics and DIAC minions making unlawful life and death decisions on sending folks back home.

    What have they put in the water in Canberra that a commentator could describe this as “good policy”… Good for whom?

  96. Andrew ( )

    Bernard Keane should be thanked for writing this article and although all views expressed should be carefully considered, the issue is complex and so called solutions are not guaranteed.

    However I feel the main issue is economic.

    The government is simply trying to plug an increasing money ‘sink hole’ that processing these unschedualed arrivals is causing. If they don’t do something now, come election time, the opposition will have plenty of ammo at hand.
    Maybe those in favour of ‘let them all in’ would like to pay the billions of dollars its going to cost. More people means more infrastructure, housing, hospitals, services, etc. We can’t just dump them in the outback and forget about them.

    @MWH – Howard was only interested in keeping the issue off the political agenda. Whether the system was broken or not was not that important as long as the issue was kept quiet. That was the whole idea of processing offshore so that the problem was out of site to the Australia voter.
    You seem to believe that these arrivals are all honest. You need to just look around you to see the ammount of fraud we have in Australia. From insurance fruad, shoplifting, money laundering, tax evasion, favourtism, questionable business practices and the list goes on. Don’t think for one moment that other cultures and countries don’t have the same problems. In many cases worse.
    Indonesia is rife with corruption.
    Those suggesting we expect the Indonesian government to stop people getting on boats forget that their government is not in control of what happens in all the hundreds of islands and regions of Indonesia.
    I will repeat that our government has information that supports what they are

  97. Andrew ( )

    Bernard Keane should be thanked for writing this article and although all views expressed should be carefully considered, the issue is complex and so called solutions are not guaranteed.

    However I feel the main issue is economic.

    The government is simply trying to plug an increasing money ‘sink hole’ that processing these unschedualed arrivals is causing. If they don’t do something now, come election time, the opposition will have plenty of ammo at hand.
    Maybe those in favour of ‘let them all in’ would like to pay the billions of dollars its going to cost. More people means more infrastructure, housing, hospitals, services, etc. We can’t just dump them in the outback and forget about them.

    @MWH – Howard was only interested in keeping the issue off the political agenda. Whether the system was broken or not was not that important as long as the issue was kept quiet. That was the whole idea of processing offshore so that the problem was out of site to the Australia voter.
    You seem to believe that these arrivals are all honest. You need to just look around you to see the ammount of fraud we have in Australia. From insurance fruad, shoplifting, money laundering, tax evasion, favourtism, questionable business practices and the list goes on. Don’t think for one moment that other cultures and countries don’t have the same problems. In many cases worse.
    Indonesia is rife with corruption.
    Those suggesting we expect the Indonesian government to stop people getting on boats forget that their government is not in control of what happens in all the hundreds of islands and regions of Indonesia.
    I will repeat that our government has information that supports what they are doing as necessary. The general public does not have ready access to all the details. The government is acting now to prevent problems later.

  98. Andrew ( )

    OK, Hope someone can delete post 97 as it was incomplete. Thanks.

  99. Peter Ormonde

    “We can’t just dump them in the outback and forget about them.”

    Why not? Let’s be consistent here. Folks turn up in boats up in the Kimberly somewhere and we leave ’em to rot, till they die of thirst, or hunger. How’s that for a message … we REALLY don’t care!

    Talk about cost-effective … we could shut down all those detention centres and offshore 5 star retorts you folks reckon we’re providing… just let the flies and the desert take ’em.

    At the moment you folks who are frightened of a few families in old fishing boats are costing us a LOT of money telling people to go away. This is a far cheaper alternative isn’t it?

  100. Hamis Hill

    Charity begins at home, so it is said in one of those underrated folk wisdom statements.
    So why according to some posters are Aussies so uncharitable to refugees?
    Economic insecurity at home might be the cause of this lack of charity, it may be hard for some to be charitable when they have nothing to give.
    And there is hardly any point in arguing the comparative case between a first world country and a third.
    People, at home, do not compare themselves with refugee victims, they compare themseselves with their next-door neighbours.
    Did not the Australian military, whose job it is to defend the nation and its boundaries, determine that mass movements of humanity caused by Climate Change would put increasing pressures on our borders?
    When is the refugee problem ever going to be contained?
    Ordinary Australians, whose prospects for economic security are continually threatened with being dashed into the gutter at the threat of overnight joblessness and massive mortgage default, are not feeling very charitable.
    Why shouldn’t they see the nation as a boat about to be swamped by unsustainable arrivals of strangers?
    With everyone about to drown economically, socially whatever, as a consequence?
    Charity begins at home and at present, as a result of mainly conservative policies of the Howard era Australians are not feeling very charitable at all.
    With economic insecurity and climate change becoming a global flood why wouldn’t people put their all into a later day Ark in the hope that they will eventually wash up on an unfatal shore?
    National security? why don’t you ask the experts what their projections are? Stop the boats? Very unlikely. Stop the crap, even the very uncharitable can see the basic sense of cleaning that up that everpresent domestic political problem.
    It will take decades to clean up the sewage that Howard left scattered about an entire continent, without letting his hangovers back to add to the pollution.

  101. Peter Ormonde

    Hamis,

    Actually I don’t think this is purely about charity. It’s about solving a problem. It is both a practical and a moral issue.

    On the practical side, those folks demanding that we “send messages” to the world by imprisoning children are costing us a great deal of money and resources. I don’t they they have argued the case for the importance of sending messages over say a new hospital every year or a handful of schools.

    It’s not the refugees that are costing us money – it is our bureaucratic response. And it is a very expensive way of sending a message. Not just economically. We are doing irreparable damage to our reputation in the region and more broadly.

    Interesting notion this charity beginning at home. The phrase dates from Sir Thomas Browne (1642). He was describing the grinding poverty which enclosure, land seizures and evictions were causing through England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. It is about recognising need right under our noses. It is a very proddy notion.

    Somehow this has been transformed into a rather self-serving argument – that charity begins at home means “look after ourselves”… not really.

    Just wonder how much money, how much good-will, how much of ourselves and our history we will throw away sending messages and trying to plug the dyke.

    A razor-wire nation.

  102. Hamis Hill

    Peter, it is good to see some historical perspective introduced to the debate, though it is hard to see how, in the midst of the War of the Three Kingdoms, Protestants abandoned charity.
    Perhaps the Irish Catholics, armed by CharlesI, using the tainted lucre of his French totalitarian brother in law, were exercisng the true faith and hope (and charity) when they slaughtered any English they could find in their beds in the middle of the night instead of going off to enforce the divine right of kings over the English parliament.
    And all that fabulous prospect of renewed Catholic faith was destroyed by the Bible reading, very proddy “People of the Covenant” intervening in English Affairs to maintain the ascendancy of someone elses parliament.
    No doubt very uncharitably repeating “remember remember the fifth of November” when a gentleman of the non-proddy persuasion tried to blow said parliament to Kingdom Come.
    No, the capacity to be charitable has diminished in Australia as a result of Howard’s tweaking the times to suit himself during his twelve year shared rule with the DLP.
    That other proddy Adam Smith described how economic straits made people very “conservative” in their attitudes, and Howard achieved this by selling his “battlers” into mortgage slavery, with the delusionalperception of increased wealth sitting very uncomfortably with the reality of half million dollar debtonly underpinned by precarious capital gains and the constant threat of unemployment.
    Very much like those 1642 conditions of continuing enclosures and evictions.
    The comfortably well-off, both intellectually and financially, cannot understand the insecurity of Howard’s Battlers as the reality of his cynical betrayal of their faith and hope sinks in and their cognitive dissonance declares the Gillard government to be the cause.
    In this artificially induced scarcity, set up to create the conditions for high interest rates, Australians cannot project a generous future for themselves let alone any objects of their possible charity.
    In the very proddy Parable of the Talents the servant with the greatest work ethic gained the most praise.
    At present those Australians who will determine the next government have buried their “economic opportunities” under the concrete slabs of their McMansions for which failing they deserve that very Biblical boot up the arse.
    They have chained themselves to their shalow materialist, middle class(especially the Taigs) arriviste aspirations and could not be charitable, moral or practical on the asylum seeker front even if they wanted to.
    Noblesse Oblige is not in their vocabulary, centuries of down trodden peasantry, while pervert priests feast on your children will especially do that to a Taig.
    Now there’s some proddy charity for you, the truth shall set you free.
    When they vote Abbott in they will reap the same reward of the infamous Celtic Tiger that they avoided when Swan became Treasurer.
    Then they will swap their mortgage slavery for real penury,and their excised island will become the venue for bargain basement sales. Plenty of cashed up millionaires in Asia if you are wondering where the money is comming from,who knows what a bit more charity at their homelands might deliver for refugees closer to the AS problems.
    And they will take the rest of the comfortable middle class fops with them in what will become known as “The Recession We Really Had to Have”. Just ask Malcolm, he had this all lined up in 2008 with his opposition to the stimulus.
    Evictions, dispossesions and enclosures, then you’ll see the real meaning of charity begins at home.
    All the fault of the proddys, no doubt, Peter?

  103. Peter Ormonde

    Not only proddies, Hamis and certainly not all proddies. But I have noticed a remarkable level of concern – of the type suggested here by CML seems to come from folks of English ancestry.

    Perhaps it’s got to do with never being exposed to famine, homelessness, persecution or discrimination. ‘Bout time we changed that I reckon and show them what a serious problem looks like…. to be on the receiving end rather than just dishing it out. It’ll be character-building. Much needed.

    I’m thinking a flotilla of tinnies packed with sardine poms and a couple of sets of oars… pushed off towards New Zealand. We can all wave them off. Let’s do it every Australia Day.

    Not all of them – not all proddies either – and I am of course not all that serious – but this fear of foreigners seems a curiously English disease…. very Olde Worlde. Quanit. The English doormouse confronts the world.

    PS Agree re the debt etc.

  104. Hamis Hill

    Yes, Peter, exceeding strange how that English xenophobia
    perversely led to an empire upon which the sun never set.
    Some sort of devil worship and wichcraft going on there?

    Perhaps you can explain the Australian fear and loathing of New Zealanders?
    A little bit too proddy for some?
    Then there’s South Australia, a bit too British with all that recognition of the first peoples, giving them citizenship and the vote?
    But all that fear of strangers was sorted out at Federation eh? By all those non British Australians from the convict colonies? Give “black” people the vote eeww!
    With all those proud but persecuted Irish Catholics catching back up 66 years later.
    I think the xenophobia in Australia looks very much as it does in the Republic of Ireland and everywhere else in the world-wide Irish Catholic Empire of fear and paranoia and exploited victimhood.
    What with the wife doing all that Collen McCollough Thorn Tree stuff with the local priest.
    All summed by that compassionate non-proddy character delicately, in such a considerate fashion ,planting his shit encrusted shoe on a child’s meal table in Indonesia.
    Perhaps they should all piss off and claim refuge in the city of the original asylum.
    Perhaps the asylum seekers could be deterred by some hair raising tales of Catholic persecution awating them in good old Non-British Australia, taking the treatment of non-Catholics in places like the Belgian Congo, East Timor, Latin America, the Phillipines etc, etc ad nauseam, as examples.Clinch the case by asking the First peoples of Australia how well thy’ve gone in a proud “Miranda Devine” style non British country.
    You know they might actually be deluded that the butchers’ apron in the corner of the local flag means that good old proddy freedom and tolerance and justice actually exists in good old OZ.The truth would be a great detterent.
    Just another Banana Republic and keep ypur children close.
    Sorry Pete but what can you expect if you introduce the provocative term “Proddy” into the discussion?

  105. Andrew ( )

    @Peter – ‘It’s not the refugees that are costing us money – it is our bureaucratic response.’ I agree.
    So far the biggest benificiaries must be the lawyers and companies that run the detention centres.
    So how can the rules be changed so we can cut these people out of business? Maybe not so easy as every decision and change of policy that is made in this country has to go through layers of investigation, reports, arguements and political grandstanding.
    We need to lay down some very clear rules about some unscheaduled boat arrivals and others claiming refugee status when they should be applying for an immigration visa. These rules should not be challengeable by lawyers, that are hanging around waiting to line their pockets.
    Although the number of boat arrivals are relatively small at present it is almost certain the number will increase and if no action is taken now it will simply have to be taken later. Lets face it, the government is doing this to reduce costs. They hope that the offshore processing will be a deterent and in a couple of years they can shut them down, as the smugglers will get the message.
    Or perhaps excising Australia means that they can resume onshore processing
    without having the risk of lawyers challanging decissions?
    @Hamis – That is true that Howard built a sand castle for the middle class. They are all worried that it is going to get washed away.

  106. Outlook Birdy

    “Excising the mainland and stopping the boats might be the answer, but the question is entirely wrong.”

    Fiona you are spot on.

    What do you guys think of developing an effective Regional Protection Framework??

  107. David Hand

    Excising the mainland is exiting the refugee convention hidden by a euphemism. It is gradually taking us where we need to be policy wise.

  108. Peter Ormonde

    Fear and loathing of Kiwis?

    Ah that’d be because of their strange cultural traditions and beliefs … all that singing, and football and kava. They’re not like us at all Hamis – a danger to our cultural identity and the Free World in general. You just watch they’ll be wanting to introduce their curious pagan ways and tribal laws here – just you watch. Oh wait – that’s muslims isn’t it? They’re sort of like Kiwis but even stranger, so I’m told.

    I’d be for shutting all the airports myself … I’ve seen what happens … every flight they just flood into the place, bringing their children and grandparents and funny clothes. Flip-flops???? Not here they’re not – they’re thongs like God intended.

    It’s obvious they’ll just never assimilate innit?

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