Chris Bowen, former immigration minister and Treasurer, was asked about asylum seeker policy after his National Press Club address yesterday. Without mentioning that it was he who increased our resettlement intake from 13,500 to 20,000, he replied:

“We’re very close to Canada and in terms of resettlement it goes United States, Canada, Australia and then there’s daylight … But that doesn’t mean that we can let that program be dominated by people arriving in Australia by boat for two reasons. One, it’s very unsafe and we’ve seen far too many, far too many drownings at sea. We’ve seen more just in recent days and there is nothing compassionate about that, nothing humanitarian about that and you do need to make, again, tough decisions about how to deal with that and you also need a fair system, an orderly system.

“I’ve been to refugee camps around the world with conditions that I find difficult to describe and there’s people in those camps who stand no chance of getting the money to come to Australia by boat and I don’t want them forgotten in the debate either.”

Bowen is correct. As a wealthy country, Australia has a responsibility to resettle people fleeing persecution. It also has a responsibility to apply some fairness to that resettlement process, so that it does not favour those in any one region or with greater resources. And above all it has a responsibility to try to mitigate the circumstances that lead to people drowning trying to get here.

That’s the basis on which any government’s asylum seeker policy should be judged. Stay tuned …

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