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Jul 29, 2013

'Let them all come' is 'stop the boats' for unthinking progressives

A focus on outcomes rather than conspicuous compassion is required if the Left is to deal itself back into the asylum seeker debate.


welcome refugees

Today it was former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser’s turn to offer a progressive solution to boat arrivals, citing his own handling of Indo-Chinese refugees in the 1970s. He called for a regional processing centre in Indonesia and a resettlement agreement with other major resettlement countries (which is basically the US and Canada), because as Fraser admits, the numbers of asylum seekers are greater than Australia can manage.

As a former conservative prime minister who has been through a refugee “crisis” and handled it with aplomb, both at the time and for the long-term benefit of Australia through a successful Australian-Vietnamese community, Fraser brings far more to this debate than most progressives, particularly given his international experience and credibility as a Cold War warrior who was and is also respected for his role in African issues.

Whether he meant it to be or not, his observation that Australia needs the assistance of the other big resettlement countries to deal with its current influx is an implicit rebuke to those who advocate “let them all come”, a slogan repeatedly invoked by asylum seeker advocates in response to PM Kevin Rudd’s PNG agreement.

“Let them all come” is a progressive version of “stop the boats”, a slogan that substitutes emotion for thinking and personal morality for good policy, a phrase that elevates intentions above outcomes. To “let them all come” would be to encourage more asylum seekers to undertake boat trips to reach Australia, knowing they will be resettled here if their request for asylum is granted. The good intention of “let them all come” will lead to the outcome of more drownings.

For policymakers, more than for most of us, the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

The progressive response to this criticism is two-fold: either they accuse those claiming concern for drownings of feigning compassion and using it as a figleaf for racism, or they suggest we fly or sail asylum seekers from Indonesia to avoid drownings.

Most assuredly, many bigots prefer to express concern about drowning rather than openly express their dislike of asylum seekers. But that doesn’t render the argument about trying to stop drownings automatically invalid, even if articulated by someone in bad faith. And assuming voters would accept a taxpayer-funded transit service from Indonesia to prevent asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat, what would be the numerical limit given all of them would need to be resettled? About 17,000 asylum seekers reached Australia by boat in 2012, more than Australia’s humanitarian visa resettlement program until then-immigration minister Chris Bowen — in an action for which he was given zero credit by asylum seeker advocates and which the Coalition still proposes to reverse — increased it to 20,000.

“Ignoring this ongoing failure will condemn refugee advocates and progressives to a continuation of the status quo …”

There’s also the problem of cost. Resettlement, done properly with the goal of ensuring refugees can have decent and productive lives in their new home, costs a lot of money. Significantly increasing resettlement numbers will cost billions. What taxes will have to be raised, or other spending cut, to fund this? And do we set up upper limit at all? 25,000? 30,000? 35,000?

Then there’s an equity problem: assuming no significant fall in the push factors driving refugees to seek sanctuary elsewhere, “let them all come” advocates must either accept that most or all of our humanitarian intake would be made up of asylum seekers who can reach Indonesia or need to address the implicit unfairness of such a system: what happens to asylum seekers who lack the resources to reach Indonesia? “Let them all come” is an implicit statement to the latter that they will never be resettled in Australia, because we have prioritised those who can get to Indonesia.

It’s not as clear and stark a statement as Kevin Rudd declaring no one arriving by boat will be resettled here, but the policy outcome will be the same: no one who can’t reach Australia by boat will ever be resettled here.

Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with such an approach: Australia, as Fraser notes, can only do so much by itself; if every asylum seeker we resettle is a bona fide refugee, and nearly every maritime arrival certainly is, then privileging one group of asylum seekers — those who reach Indonesia — over others doesn’t undermine the fact that Australia is generously welcoming a large number of refugees for permanent resettlement. And it is simply human nature, even among policymakers, to prioritise people closer to us than those further away: asylum seekers trapped in refugee camps in Africa or the Middle East or Pakistan are for most of us an abstract with no great immediacy as a humanitarian issue, whereas most of us get very worked up, one way or the other, if the same people try to reach Australia.

But those who say “let them all come” should be open about their assumptions and that their approach would have the outcome of ending the resettlement hopes of those who can’t reach Indonesia.

But those who say “let them all come”, and many refugee advocates (Julian Burnside very much excepted), do not seem interested in policy outcomes, preferring instead a display of conspicuous compassion. Indeed, this is the story of the broader Left on asylum seekers over the last decade-plus: a comprehensive failure to address policy outcomes, in preference for public displays of compassion and an alternative narrative in which most Australians are fundamentally racist (Richard Cooke expertly addresses the “Australians are racist” line) or that former PM John Howard invented the threat of asylum seekers (which fails to explain why it was the Keating government, in 1992, that established mandatory detention).

Ignoring this ongoing failure will condemn refugee advocates and progressives to a continuation of the status quo, in which policymakers get on with trying to find ways to stop people coming in boats, while refugee advocates futilely jeer from the sidelines.


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77 thoughts on “‘Let them all come’ is ‘stop the boats’ for unthinking progressives

  1. morphy richards toaster

    Brilliant article, Bernard. Thanks for articulating what the rest of the media simply has not.

  2. chinda63

    Thank you for putting it so clearly.

    I used to be a “let them all come”, until it became increasingly apparent what the practical upshot of that policy was – more boats and more people drowning. No thanks.

    Let’s concentrate our efforts on resettling those too poor to afford plane tickets and boat rides who are already languishing in camps, patiently waiting their turn.

  3. Bo Gainsbourg

    There are some who say ‘let them all come’. There are also many who back some mix of solutions similar to Fraser’s….including, I would have thought, the Greens, or something close to it. Also incumbent on those who support the PNG solution and the oppositions current position is what happens when there are simply redirected drownings? That is, boats than would have sought to come to Australia now head for other countries. Out of the view of our media, with similar tragic circumstances. As the Greens are currently the only significant organised political/parliamentary voice not sharing the major parties view, can we have a closer look at their policy in relation to this? Would it not explain why Fraser was supportive of their general policy approach?

  4. Professor Tournesol

    Bernard I think that you are missing the main point. It’s a strawman argument to claim that any more than a small number of those who oppose asylum seeker assessment and resettlement are advocating an effective open border policy.
    The real issue is around how people who dare to arrive here without a visa and by boat are treated. Should these people be effectively incarcerated for life and further intentionally traumatised by our Government in order to provide a disincentive to possible new arrivals? Should over 2000 children be kept in indefinite lifetime detention without any examination of their asylum claim because they arrived here by boat with their parents who asked for asylum? I think that your understanding of what you call ‘the left’ is simplistic if this article is any example.

  5. ruawake

    Fraser always misses the point that we lost a war in Vietnam, that the Indo-Chinese refugees Australia resettled were about 10% of the total and that over 800,000 were resettled in the USA.

    Of course many were robbed and killed by Thai pirates, or picked up by merchant ships and dumped in Hong Kong.

    But heck we can do it all over again, rubbish Malcolm.

  6. Professor Tournesol

    ruawake, perhaps it’s escaping your notice but we are losing the war in Afghanistan too, and that we contributed to the war that also started the displacement of Iraqi citizens

  7. Trevor Kerr

    Spot on, Bernard.
    There’s another unresolved dilemma for this nation – how to include an honest statement about the First Australians in our foundation documents. Until we get that one near right, especially a frank treatment of frontier conflicts, we cannot treat “resettlement” of other peoples with the pragmatism called for by Malcolm Fraser.
    As it happens, Mr Fraser’s history with Western Victoria puts him in a good position to re-examine what Henry Reynolds is writing about in the book Forgotten War.

  8. Elvis

    those who say “let them all come” should be open about their assumptions and that their approach would have the outcome of ending the resettlement hopes of those who can’t reach Indonesia.

    This is only true so long as the Australian Government links unexpected asylum arrivals to the formal quota. By de-linking them (as per Greens policy) this argument would be completely removed.

  9. Andybob

    So actually protecting asylum seekers is to be denigrated as ‘let them all come’. The real humanitarians are those who support camps because we must be cruel to be kind. Perhaps we should prevent deaths at sea by not burning arrival vessels and assisting our neighbors in imposing very substantial penalties on those who put people to sea in unseaworthy craft. Asylum seekers are going to come unless we inflict worse conditions on them than they are fleeing. Explain to me again why that is a noble cause.

  10. Russell

    The notion that “Australians are racist” on refugees – or more particularly Western Sydney electorates are – is now so accepted (in some media circles) that it has become conventional wisdom.

    That the accusation so often comes from the progressive left, and more importantly, from people in electorates like mine where the Greens are the dominant force, is also telling. In the inner west of Sydney, it is rare now to see a non-anglo face. In Annandale, Balmain and Newtown, the only person anyone will see not exactly like them will be the waiter at a North African-French fusion restaurant. Or the driver of the taxi on the ride home. He’ll be making around $9 an hour, if he’s having a good night.

    In Western Sydney, there are huge migrant and refugee communities. People speaking a language other than English at home are now the majority in many places like Rhodes, Harris Park and Fairfield. Yet these people are “racist”?

    Bernard has hit the nail on the head. He can expect to be shouted at and denigrated – loudly. The whole refugee “debate” amongst progressives is actually about else entirely. Something that dare not speak its name.

  11. Bo Gainsbourg

    People, there is hardly anyone saying ‘let them all in’..I appreciate the focus on drownings in this article, that’s an important issue to raise and legitimate, but no-one of any credible voice is saying ‘let them all in’ that I can see…frustrated expressions are not the same as consistently advocated policy positions…however useful they are in framing an argument. Its a bit like saying ‘so, you want more regulation do you? Well how would you like to live in communist Russia??’ Using a position advocated by almost no seriously organised groupo to typify the discussion is not helpful and distracts from the practical proposals that are being aired. This is why Julian Burnside presumably is happy to repeatedly appear at Greens functions…not saying Greens have ‘the answer’ but they do have something between ‘let them all in’ and ‘lets have a bastard-fest to see who can be meanest to them’.

  12. Michael Jones

    Keane’s shoddy grasp of the issue shines through in his reliance on straw men and his indulgence in the laughable notion of push factors. This is the same old myth dressed up for a new segment of the population who are, understandable, showing fatigue on this issue, and want to buy into the myth that it’s compassion that is getting people drowned, and that all this Fake Policy is somehow going to do them a service.

    I realise it’s very gratifying to be seen as a moderate wagging ones finger at those filthy progressives, taking a rational stand and all that. And it’s clear that there’s a lot of pressure to bend to this absurd, racist fantasy.

    Keane has clearly chosen this as his issue with which to differentiate himself from other assumed progressives, but in doing so, he endorses a view not nearly as rational or pragmatic of realistic as it is described as.

    On other issues, you see people taking similar action by, for instance, arguing that nuclear power is the ‘pragmatic and realistic’ solution to climate change, or thinking that debates over torture are matters of ‘ethics vs outcome’.

    In reality, nuclear power is not a viable solution to climate change, because the massive cost of decommissioning + regulation, combined with the huge amount of tantalum and other rare resources involved, make it far more expensive and risky than commonly claimed.

    In reality, torture is not a useful or effective way to gain intelligence, and people miss that key point when they argue about wether it is ‘moral’ to use it.

    And, in reality, the best and only even remotely genuine way to prevent those deaths at sea, is to ferry people here- this is also the only way to really damage the business model of people smugglers, either.

    This sort of false pragmatism is common amongst people who are both more self conscious about their political identity than they claim, whilst also being less well informed than they believe. Keane is clearly no expert on this matter, making this a poor choice of subject with which to try and differentiate himself from the ‘herd’.

  13. shepherdmarilyn

    morphy, Bernard is talking complete and utter garbage, he is slinging around the government propaganda and thinking he is very clever.

    Everyone has the right to seek asylum and if they do it here we need to suck it up and stop being so bloody whiney.

  14. Sam

    Are you willing to throw DIAC an infinite budget? If so, then it is indeed possible to accept all comers.

  15. Professor Tournesol

    Sam, apart from Bernard’s strawman contention, very very few people are suggesting that we take all comers. Our obligation is to accurately assess the claims of those who do come and reject those who do not qualify. Nobody would see the present ‘leaky boat entrepreneurs’ as providing a satisfactory means of arrival. DIAC does have to be adequately resources as you point out, however as current border protection policies cost around a total of $9 billion a year I don’t imagine that there is a lack of resources.

  16. Thomas McLoughlin

    I think the “real” question is how many refugees die from a pre-emtive execution, if you shut down their pathway via boats? Leaving them backed up into the jaws of the dictators and killers.

    Arguably those determined to reduce drownings to zero should equally be “open about their assumptions” regarding the rates of deaths from persecution where the boat pathway is foreclosed. I think the Jews who survived the 1930ies and their descendants might have a perspective on that.

    Talk is that Syria is on a trend in fatalities comparable to Rwanda’s genocide. Afghanistan after the exit of western allies may also be very big quoting Phil Glendinning of Edmund Rice Centre on Sydney radio last Friday prime time (about 8.45 am from memory) who is also President of the Refugee Council.

    It seems to me you don’t let them come – even at the risk of drowning – you are saying let them die out of sight in even greater numbers (?) Please show me the error of that logic, and if it valid, where is the morality in it?

    I think refugee advocates know that for every hour and day they forestall the impatience and compassion fatigue of the public and the government, they have saved more lives – including by boat, and including allowing for those who drowned. In the face of that knowledge the moral criticism here is not very convincing.

    Fran Kelly said as much on Insiders 8 days previous regarding the compelling push factors that make the risk of drowning a viable risk equation. I think a bit more respect for that knowing decision by refugees is also in order. They are willing to face death for freedom and that’s not a bad character reference.

  17. Jodi Matic

    I’m inclined to agree with Professor Tournesol (#4). I like to think I’m a supporting member of ‘the left’ but also accept that all systems have their limitations and if pushed will break. Therefore the sentiment that “we can’t take them all” seems plausible, but I don’t understand why we need to persecute asylum seekers. Why are children and their families being indefinitely detained in a manner akin to the concentration camps of WWII? Please don’t tell me it’s just to make a point or because we can’t ‘fit’ them in, what a disgusting notion.
    Malcolm Fraser’s suggestion is not bad and has merit, but only if it improves the quality of refugees live’s and their long term ‘processing’ outcomes. This at the end of the day is the point, isn’t it? “Stop the boats” so as to stop the senseless deaths/drownings… “Let them come” so as to stop the senseless inhumane detention (refugee camps included) of innocent, displaced peoples all over the world… Unfortunately I feel it would just become another political smoke screen, like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

  18. rossco

    Yes, expanding resettlement in Australia would be expensive. But “border protection”, Christmas Is, Nauru, Manus and now PNG as well as on shore detention facilities are already costing us billions which is largely hidden from public scrutiny. There are huge savings to be made there and it may well be cheaper to direct expenditure to resettlement processes here in Australia. The money we are currently spending on deterrence is clearly not having the desired and is just money down the drain.

    The govt talks about smashing the people smugglers model. If I were a people smuggler I would think the way to smash the govts model is to increase the number of boat arrivals so as to completely overload the capacity of offshore detention facilities. When the facilities are full to capacity, what next?

  19. Elvis

    I like money, but I value human life and dignity more.

    Does that necessarily make me a naive loonie lefty?

    I pay a lot of tax, and would like to see it used on helping the world’s most desperate people, not denigrating them through indefinite incarceration.

    Does that really make me an extremist?

  20. Rod O'Dea

    Perhaps the best article I have read on this topic. Let’s hope this sort of logic gets some traction.

  21. CherieJ

    Normally, I don’t think compassion and politics make a good mix, but the Left to its credit is making advances in the argument by justifiably appealing to the electorate’s sense of its own decency and even-handedness in the immigration debate. Conservatives then become the ones with the image problem, they are perceived as uncaring opportunists only interested in obtaining votes from unscrupulous and maybe, shock and horror, racist members of the Australian public.

    The humanitarian arguments of the Left are merely a reaction to their correct perception, that surprise, surprise, Australia is in fact a racist country. And that is something we cannot gloss over in respect of our Asian neighbours so long as a lop-sided arguement in favour of conservative thinking about the issue continues.

  22. Sarah

    What a bizarre article. Bernard seems to be trying to articulate the complexities involved in the refugee issue, while painting any opposition to the ALP and Coalition-proposed “solutions” as completely without nuance. The irony is a bit hard to swallow.

    I was at the Sydney protest used above to illustrate this article, and I didn’t hear anyone arguing to “let them all come”. While there was indeed a lot of compassion, two speakers did in fact address alternate policy ideas, and most of those protesting, I’d bet money, completely agree with Julian Burnside’s position. Why are we being portrayed as having no interest in policy outcomes where he is named by Bernard as very much the exception?

  23. Phen

    Article is spot on. The PNG solution ends up being the least unattractive solution and so should be supported in the absence of anything superior.

  24. Professor Tournesol

    Sarah, Bernard’s strawman article is exactly the sort of Murdoch/Fairfax journalism that lead me to subscribe to Crikey in the mistaken belief that I could escape it here.

  25. Damien McBain

    ‘Professor Tournesol’ @ 4, I think the headline is a comment about extreme statements detracting from an otherwise potentially reasonable position.
    ‘Stop the boats’ is a ridiculous proposition for any number of reasons, the two most obvious being (a) it’s not possible and (b) it’s sick and inhumane.
    ‘Let them all come’ is equally ridiculous even though it comes from the ‘progressive’ line of thought based on compassion and obligation. For this reason it detracts from the ‘progressive’ argument, probably not in the mind of a ‘progressive’, but it’s certainly used as ammo against the compassionate position to make it look extreme and loopy.

    I really like the article because it’s well researched, well reasoned, very well written and an overall piece of good balanced commentary on the commentary rather than just another boring, polarised and predictable opinion piece on the topic itself.

  26. Limited News

    Protecting the interests of boat arrivals has become something of a sacred cow to many activists and I wonder if it is the result of an oversupply of law graduates. The frustrations of working for some awful corporate law firm must grate on eloquent and talented lawyers who then seek purpose and meaning in the absolutist pursuit of refugee rights.

  27. Mark from Melbourne

    It all comes down to priorities unfortunately and most of us have the luxury of avoiding the burden of making decisions in a largely zero sum context.

    So what is most important?
    a. reducing the number of people at risk of being drowned in unsafe passage
    b. making sure that the refugees we do take end up having a safe and fulfilled life
    c. taking a share of refugees from the camps in the war/famine zones, rather than one’s who have got to a safe place such as Indonesia but really want to come to Australia

    Given the sheer scale of the problem, you can’t say yes to them all. So go ahead and start choosing.

  28. Guy Mosel

    You done good, Bernard. I’ve not read this point of view expressed so clearly anywhere else before so for that, I say thanks.

  29. Professor Tournesol

    Damien McBain #25, yes, if this were a loud message from ‘the left’ (whatever that is these days) then it would be worthy but if there is anyone actually suggesting that (and I doubt it) the volume is insignificant compared to the ‘stop the boats’ rhetoric. It’s disingenuous for Bernard to focus on this insignificant message as ‘another example of the decline of the left’.

  30. CML

    Bravo! Bernard – couldn’t have said it much better myself. The “let them all come” argument was NEVER realistic, and it is way past time that someone in the media said so.
    Malcolm Fraser is right. We are fast reaching the stage where people arriving by boat are overwhelming our capacity to settle all of them. And as others have mentioned, to continue with this argument completely overrides our ability to take ANY known refugees via the humanitarian intake. Very, very unfair.
    Aside from the drownings, which are horrendous, and the cost which is exorbitant, no one is looking 10 – 20 years down the track to make sure this huge influx of people from Moslem countries can be successfully integrated into Australian society. The experience of countries like France and Britain suggests that it could be a very big problem indeed! It beggars belief that refugee advocates have NO answers to the societal upheaval caused by introducing large numbers of people from different cultures, religions and educational levels. In fact, they either don’t know, or don’t care about what happens in the future. Not good enough!
    I also have a problem with this “permanent” settlement idea. The Refugee Convention DOES NOT say that refugees must be given permanent asylum/citizenship. It says we must provide asylum UNTIL it is safe for them to return to their own country. Why is this small item never mentioned???? Didn’t Australia do something like this during the Bosnian war? What is wrong with continuing that approach? As far as I can see, the only people who might object to this happening are probably “economic” refugees. And they don’t qualify under the Convention anyway.

  31. StephenD

    I say let them all come.

    Drownings you say? I find it hard to credit that that moronic argument has actually been accepted by the public – and worse, by some supposedly intelligent commentators.

    As Jeremy Sear has pointed out many times, if you want to stop the drownings, then:
    1. Give people visas to get here if they want to claim asylum (and pass a security check, for those paranoid about ‘terrorism’)
    2. Don’t seize and burn boats used by people smugglers – that just encourages them to use the cheapest and least seaworthy craft they can lay their hands on
    3. Cut out the people smuggling business by running commercial passenger ships from Australia to Indonesia specifically to transport asylum seekers.

    There. Done. No more drownings.

  32. shepherdmarilyn

    Or we could rescue people instead of letting them drown.

    By Bernards tosh the 6,000 Syrians a week who flee should stay home and die because it might be dangerous to get out of Syria.

    Bernard has spent too long in the cold air of Canberra and has no idea what he is talking about.

    But we are not protecting our borders. Christmas Island is one tiny island 2600 km from the mainland, the mainland itself if largely unprotected.

  33. Venise Alstergren

    Excellent article Bernard, thank you.

    Perhaps we have passed the point of refugees to Australia and front up to the fact that countries like Iran have been invaded by in excess of two million refugees. Ditto Jordan, Pakistan. The list is too long to continue. Not to mention the numbers of Syrians who will join the list. The real question is how the world is going to manage to cope with the whole refugee crisis? It can’t.

    LET THEM ALL COME=to Hell?

  34. dazza

    “Let them all come”?
    I didn’t know, and I don’t believe that is the war cry of the Greens?
    Anyhoo, why not take the business model away from those sleazebags people smuglers by providing more competition!! Surely the parliament agrees (they all say so) saving lives is the priority, and then by allowing these people to board decent boats provided by free market entrepreneurs would suit both right wing parties. bingo – problem solved?

  35. Venise Alstergren

    It has been estimated that by 2020 France will be a Muslim country. Will Australia be far behind?

  36. Professor Tournesol

    If we are taking the ‘end justifies the means’ argument then we would cause the greatest harm to the least number of people by just machine gunning a few boat loads of asylum seekers and widely distributing the images of dead babies being fed to sharks – a very effective deterrent that will ‘stop the bats’, possibly at the cost of tens or hundreds of lives instead of thousands with the present ‘strategy’. This policy idea is a free ‘gift’ to Abbott.

  37. Robert Smith

    Nicely hard headed. However the PNG bluff or whatever it turns out to be would look a bit better if more explicitly linked to a migration policy with scope for refugees to apply to and one or more refuge application centres closer to refugees’ point of departure. It would be even better if all this was linked to an international effort to resettle refugees with genuine claims.

    Fear and loathing about points and methods of arrival by small boat have constricted the debate for far too long.

  38. dazza

    Professor Tournesol
    Please don’t give any ideas to Abbott, especially ideas involving guns or tow-ropes or navy generals.

  39. Elvis

    Both sides of this argument agree on something important: we want the drownings to stop.

    Now do we do that by deterrence (e.g. locking up innocent, desperate people) – which appears as though it doesn’t actually work anyway – or by creating safe pathways?

    If your concern is really for the refugees themselves, then your answer will be to establish safe pathways. A humanitarian crisis requires a humanitarian solution.

    The argument that PNG is a necessary evil would only work if there weren’t other options. Thankfully, there are lots.

  40. dazza

    No, Australia will never be French.

  41. wally crusoe

    someone asked me where the immigration office was today. i said i didn’t know.

    does that make me racist?

  42. Repete

    Each nation, society, generation & individual faces its own moral dilemmas. We have the post Tampa psychology to grapple with. Good luck, to those that will, attempting to change the course of SS Stop the Boats/End the Business Model.

  43. laura ingalls

    The slogan is ‘Let them come,’ or ‘Let the boats come,’ which is used in opposition to ‘Turn the boats back.’ Bernard would know there are different schools of thought in the refugee movement, from those who remind us that Australia has obligations under international law to hear the claims of asylum seekers, to those who argue, quite thinkingly I might add, that nation-states and their borders are a capitalist construct. And yes, anything to do with human suffering has a moral element, and is not merely about ‘policy outcomes.’

    I do think there’s room for discussion about how effectively the refugee movement argues its case, but Bernard Keane, being a cheerleader for Sandi Logan on Twitter, is probably a little too close to DIAC to see reason.

  44. drsmithy

    It has been estimated that by 2020 France will be a Muslim country. Will Australia be far behind?
    Muslims currently represent ~3.2% of the French population and ~1.6% of the Australia population.

    I reckon it might take more than 7 years for that percentage to increase twentyfold.

  45. shepherdmarilyn

    Since 2008-09, Australia has resettled more than 3000 Bhutanese – and while few would begrudge them the opportunity to enjoy a better life in Australia, no one could seriously describe them as the neediest refugees in the world: a recent study concluded that ”relative to refugee camps in other countries, the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal are of a reasonable quality, and relative to health and education systems in rural Nepal, they are of a high quality”.

    The main reason this resettlement has occurred is that the Americans, most likely looking for a non-Middle Eastern group to assist, opted to resettle Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and urged their allies to do likewise.

    Second, offshore resettlement programs can be subtly biased in favour of those who know

    how to work bureaucratic systems. Form 80 from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, to be completed ”neatly in English using block letters”, states that ”if you are applying for a refugee/humanitarian visa you must provide all addresses for the last 30 years (both month and year are required with no gaps)” – not so hard for a bureaucrat, but not so easy for a

    non-literate widow.

    Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/die-somewhere-else-20130726-2qq3s.html#ixzz2aQRAN2RR

  46. Renee Montgomery

    Bernard, why does this article not even *refer* to the Greens policy? It is an excellent example of a thoughtful, effective and progressive asylum seeker policy. Ignoring it is to paint all on the left as bleeding heart hippies.

  47. Josi V

    Thomas Mc #16 – I totally agree with your last sentence. These people take a calculated risk, knowing full well that they are risking their lives – from the point they first leave their homeland to the final point of travelling on a dodgy boat on their way to Australia. It’s a gutsy move that is never recognised by those ‘full of compassion’ and ‘wanting only to do good’.
    Life for them has gotten to the point where they are willing to face death for the opportunity of freedom.

  48. Peter Gibson

    What a lazy piece of journalism Bernard. You characteriser those interested in a non-punitive approach to asylum seekers arriving by boat as not being interested in policy outcomes, and the cruelty auction on display by the major parties as some sort of nuanced policy making which has the prevention of drownings at sea as its rationale. According to the Australian parliamentary website facts on refugees there is no orderly queue for asylum seekers to join. Only a very small proportion of asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR and only one per cent of those recognised by the UNHCR as refugees who meet the resettlement criteria are subsequently resettled to another country. So the is virtually no hope for genuine refugees anywhere to be resettled if they rely on the UNHCR process, and 90+% of those who come by boat are genuine refugees. At the end of 2011 there were an estimated 15.2 million refugees (10.4 million under UNHCR mandate). It is pure and simply immoral to lock up these people who have committed no crime other than being born in countries torn by war and sectarian strife (much of it the result of western imperialism and colonialism but that’s another story). The rationale is to break the people smugglers business model. The cruel and in humane treatment of desperate people is reduced to business modelling? Of course there should be processing of these people in Indonesia or Malaysia and our resettlement program increased. This is a far better way to spend our money then paying shoddy private security companies to set up deliberately inadequate facilities in impoverished pacific nations. And hey I live in Wentworthville fancy that!

  49. Meave Ramsay

    Excellent article, thanks. The matters you’ve raised have been largely ignored. Another matter which needs discussion is that here, in the 21st Century, it is time for an international agreement that violation of human rights will not be tolerated anywhere on this one interdependent planet. We need a re-empowered UN who can provide a safe zone for any persecuted or ‘at risk’ citizens, and the cost of providing asylum for those who must flee their homes should be borne by the government which has failed to safeguard their rights. Progress and growth towards a peaceful world is not helped by fluffy picking up of the pieces and nursing the wounded while ignoring ongoing abuse. Taking only the most recently displaced and ignoring the 29million and growing number of people stuck in refugee camps, many of them for decades, is not compassion, it’s unjust favouritism. Perhaps if we renamed the detention centres “refugee camp” and select our ‘quota’ for resettlement offers from all camps without favouritism, we could reclaim our immigration policy as something we set, not set by the brutal who have hijacked the futures of the citizens of their country they have forced to flee.

  50. Christopher Nagle

    At last, someone at Crikey capable of rational thinking on this subject. How could the post-Marxist left have so degenerated into ideological slops that cannot tell the difference between humanistic compassion and being an unforgivably unciritical & indiscriminate suck?

  51. Professor Tournesol

    Venise #35. That ‘estimation’ occurs only in one of Marine Le Pen’s regular nightmares

  52. Shoot the piano player

    Thanks Bernard. An excellent piece. Despite being a bleeding heart lefty-pinko, I have become increasingly uneasy with the “let them all come” line, despite the fact that’s what my heart wants to do.

    It makes a lot of sense to have a regional processing centre in Indonesia, but I do think we have to suck it up and take more refugees from there. It’s the least we can do as a rich country.

    By itself, the PNG solution is no solution at all but a heartless cop-out, Australia abrogating it’s regional responsibilities.

    However, while the left-wing “let them all come” might be compassionate and naive (because it could actually increase drownings), the current right-wing alternative is far, far worse. Let’s not forget that.

    A final comment to make is about Australia’s latent racism. Of course we are a racist country. But every country is, especially Europeans, and including Asian countries too. It is part of the human condition and Australia is probably no worse than Italy or France or Indonesia. But to acknowledge it does not mean we have to give in to it. Rather we should admit our complicity and get on with making this country a better place.

  53. AR

    Resettlement, done properly with the goal of ensuring refugees can have decent and productive lives in their new home, costs a lot of money.” but nowhere near what the inhumane incarceration costs. And they would quickly become tax payers, esp the so-called “economic migrants” as in the mantra of the usedCarr.

  54. Philip Darbyshire

    Top form again Bernard. Always challenging and thoughtful.

  55. Meave Ramsay

    Yes AR. “Incarceration costs money” and when the investment is made, and they do ‘become taxpayers’ down the track. Although it is not, in my view, a primarily economic matter, and with the limited stats available to me from my work with refugees resettled in my local area since 2010, 3 of the 50 are now working and paying tax. The rest are in education(school, TAFE and Uni)or yet to reach school age, and some of those will pay tax eventually and some of them will contribute more than they have already received, and some of them will not get jobs or pay tax because they have disabilities or will be too old to be competitive in the labour market. All of them lived in refugee camps for 15 years and more before they were lucky to be given the opportunity for resettlement in Australia. The conditions in the refugee camps from which they came make the conditions in our ‘detention centres’ look like paradise.

    It is not merely an economic issue. It is about a humane response to the world problem of 29 million refugees already, and the number growing daily. How many do you think Australia should or can take? Who should choose which ones? Australians, or the brutal regimes that create refugees, or is it just about the economics of who can get to Indonesia or Malaysia and buy a plane ticket or pay for passage on a boat?

    The problem, the whole problem, needs to be addressed, not just whimperings over what coloured bandaid to put on it, and shallow self congratulation about our ‘compassion’ as we open our arms to the most recently displaced who are cashed up.

  56. Russell

    “The Outsiders” (ABC RN Sunday Extra); last weekend had quite a bit of discussion on how this … How the refugee issue illustrated the “complete failure of the Left”. II found it confronting, but accurate.


    Much of this long Crikey comment thread is of people saying “I am compassionate – all other Australians are horrible.” If that’s the Left, I’m now an “outsider” myself.

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  58. klewso

    Personally, with the GFC, I see the osmotic effect of economic refugees as screwing it up for the legitimate seekers of sanctuary, we’re not a bottomless pit of affluence. This way they all get tarred with the same brush – clouded bad press, that someone’s more than ready to exploit for the politics.
    What a pity the UN international policing agency wasn’t devoted to sorting out these wars that generate these mass migrations. Rather than have companies making a $bloody selling certain regimes ordnance to terrorise their own people, or those of other countries?
    Or solving, or at least mitigating, these “natural disasters”?

  59. luke weyland

    Australia’s government must provide the means by which refugees can reach Australia without needing to resort to ‘people smugglers’ and fishing vessels. I propose that the Australian government directly ferries asylum seekers by sea craft or aircraft to Aussie ports. I further propose that Australian government saves money by closing the myriad concentration camps in Australia, PNG and Nauru and replace them with open gated migrant residential centres.

  60. Alun Breward

    Other commentators have noted that they aim to be seen as neutral, and my guess is that Mr Keane may be doing some realigning. That’s fine.

    I have two comments. First re the claim that refugee camps world-wide are full of people who want to migrate. Alas the overwhelming majority of them just want to go home. Even if they have to wait in camps for years/decades. Second re the claim that it is creditable if someone wants to stop boats to stop drownings. I’d buy that argument if the same people were vocal about preventing Aboriginal deaths in custody, or would stand on the China/Nepal border and tell Tibetan refugees they might get shot. But that appears not to interest them.

    The truly bizarre aspect of the whole debate, is that Rudd’s back-flip will not win him Western Sydney. The constituency that was always the target of border protection rhetoric is Rural Australia.

  61. CML

    It seems that if you have a different point of view to everyone else here on Crikey, you have your comments removed. Since my argument was measured and contained some historical and current facts, I find that very democratic of you, Crikey, NOT.
    I am rethinking my subscription.

  62. Rubio Diego

    Great article. The question I would like answered by the Greens, is if we are going to stop people risking their lives coming here in unseaworthy boats, then how many asylum seekers do they estimate, we would need to bring in by other means,to dissuade the use of these boats?

  63. luke weyland

    Lets bring in the refugees not on unsea-worthy fishing craft – but with Aussie aircraft and with Aussie Ships. We have 7.5 million square kilometres but just 23 million people.
    For Those who’ve come across the seas
    We’ve boundless plains to Share!

  64. Victor

    I have been associating with and talking with the champions of asylum seekers for years. However, unlike Bernard Keane, I have never heard anyone say “Let them all come” – or any words to that effect.

    What they have been saying – and what the Greens are saying – is precisely what Malcolm Fraser is saying.

    And as regards the cost of resettling 20,000 or so a year. Presumably it will be offset against saving the present ‘sky’s-the-limit’ cost of being cruel to be kind and cruel to be cruel. And also offset, in the longer run, against the benefit of having all these new people in Australia – like the benefit we ultimately got from the post-war refugees and the Vietnamese refugees.

  65. Roni

    Peter Gibson #48, you very nearly had the beginnings of a policy there. You note there’s “virtually no hope for genuine refugees anywhere to be resettled if they rely on the UNHCR process” because only 1% of refugees meet UNHCR resettlement criteria, yet 90+% of asylum seekers processed in Australia….

    But then, instead of pausing to wonder if maybe the guaranteed resettlement is why people risk their lives to have their applications processed here and maybe we should revisit that approach, you took to a soapbox crying “cruel .. inhumane .. immoral” and offered no ‘solution’ except simply increasing the intake.
    That’s effectively “let them all come.” You answered none of Bernard’s questions about the qualifications, costs and limits of this plan. You merely jeered from the sidelines.

    Well done. You just illustrated his point.

  66. dazza

    Bernard, anyone, tell me, who are these progressives who so feverishly,(according to Bernard) suggest “let them all come”?

  67. pretorius3

    Smart and yet compassionate journalism.

    Thank you very much.

  68. Allan Reeder

    Bernard Keane brands critics of the current prevailing wisdom on refugees with the slogan “Let them all come”.
    His piece falls into the same trap of substituting “emotion for thinking and personal morality for good policy”.
    Many in this comment stream have thanked him for putting into words the anxiety they’ve felt. His article articulates and searches for logic, but the foundation of this position is based on fear and panic. Look deeper, Bernard. It’s a view based on fear and panic.
    He’s worried : “The good intention of “let them all come” will lead to the outcome of more drownings”. Fear makes you feel that way, as though another a layer of a ‘White Australia’-like policy will be somehow heard by refugees planning their travel itinerary.
    Yes, hundreds have died as 17,000 took the trip in leaky boats to Christmas Island. The pope took the opportunity during his visit to the Italian island outpost of Lampedusa to this month to criticise the global indifference to the estimated 20,000 asylum seekers who have drowned trying to reach Italy from Africa in the last 20 years.
    It takes leadership to deliver such context. Sadly lacking here.
    Bernard Keane is worried about cost: “Resettlement, done properly with the goal of ensuring refugees can have decent and productive lives in their new home, costs a lot of money. Significantly increasing resettlement numbers will cost billions.”
    Every man, woman and child now in a detention centre could have their own $50,000 p.a. social worker and we’d still be in front compared to the billions now being forked out by Australian tax-payers for detention camps in Manus and soon PNG. More expensive to ‘let them all come’? You think?
    Here’s a suggestion: Let’s not be logical against such emotion-based fear. Let’s play the emotion card. Let’s not call them refugees. How about ‘post-war migrants’? Somehow reminiscent of Italians, Greeks, Vietnamese Australians who now pay taxes and help build a better nation.

  69. shepherdmarilyn

    Bernard is talking completely ignorant crap. Policy outcomes do not over ride human rights.

    What sort of moronic wankers are you?

  70. shepherdmarilyn

    No Roni, the point is that asylum seekers are required by law to make claims in signatory nations, they are not entitled to have those claims approved and then ask for better while those who have had no claims assessed are entitled to apply here.



  71. Damien McBain

    shepherdmarilyn, you have strong views born of compassion but everything you write reads like it’s been spat from between your teeth with vitriol and hatred. This is the wrong way to go about winning hearts and recruiting people to your way of thinking.

  72. Liamj

    @ Allen Reader – ‘postwar migrants’ would be good rebranding, but several of the wars are ongoing, we’re losing, and really we’re stuck in inability to admit that we’ve lost (in Iraq & Afghanistan). Maybe thats the real problem with these refugees, they remind us of our own neocolonial stupidity.

  73. Martin Shanahan

    As a subset of “let them all come in”, perhaps a better policy is founded on a substantial increase in the numbers being taken from source camps across northern Africa, the Middle East and Asia. So what number should be taken as refugees or otherwise on humanitarian grounds? Just increased by the current government from a paltry 13,500 to 20,000, this number needs to go up sharply for say ten years. To what?

    Let me come back to that. A discrepancy in our refugee/humanitarian intake policy is that the Government subtracts from our commitment to take (now) 20,000 those that have come by boat. So those in the queues at source get pushed still further back. They do the right thing, and lose out.

    So how many?

    For discussion purposes, I propose that Australia’s refugee/humanitarian intake be set at a nominal 100,000 per year for ten years. The economic pump priming can do wonders for Australia. Young families for the most part rapidly filling the diminishing 20-40 year olds building tax revenues to support Australia’s ageing population.

    My parents’ families came to Australia as part of the Irish diaspora of the 1840s and 1850s. My new local pharmacist is a child of the Vietnamese diaspora of the mid 1970s through 1980s.

    And the riches brought to our country post WW2 by people from Greece, Italy and central Europe, are almost incalculable.

  74. Jenny Haines

    From Fabia Claridge who doesn’t have a Crikey Sub -Yes, Bernard we DO suggest that Australia fly or sail asylum seekers from Indonesia to avoid drownings and we make NO apologies for that. The figure of 20,000 or the reversed one of 13,000 are arbitrary, based on the philosophy that we are running a gated community for the wealthy down under. There are two problems with your arguments. The premise. And the figures. They each manipulate the other. First, the premise. Turn it around. Asylum seekers are an asset not a threat. We are so lucky to get them! Take a look in the mirror, Australia. This whole nonsense says more about us than it says about them. Second, the figures. Let’s look at that first.

    Here are some facts that you did not put into your article. There are 10 million refugees world wide. Last year Australia granted 13,757 humanitarian visas. This is less than 0.2% of the world’s refugees. Australia’s GDP ranks 12th highest in the world. Over 90% of boat arrivals are found to be genuine refugees, assessed by a very stringent standard. And if you’re talking asylum seekers. Still, only 3%of the total asylum seekers in the world come to Australia.

    The money? It costs $25,000 per person p.a. To process a refugee in the community. The money is spent in the Australian community. It costs $145,000 per person p.a to detain a refugee in a remote offshore detention facility. All of that money goes to multi-national corporations like SERCO and G4 who take the money offshore. In total we are already spending $3billion p.a on deterrence. If we dropped the whole idea of deterrence that has not worked for the 20 years that it has been in place, we would save $2.5 billion p.a. That’s every year!What could we do with that? Get rid of all HEX debts? Improve public housing, schools, universities and hospitals.? And into the bargain we would get great human resources to help do all this – meatworkers, engineers, nurses, doctors . . even some decent journalists, to name just a few of the bargains we would scoop in the form!

    Further let’s put the numbers into context. Australia settles around 180,000 ‘normal’ migrants every year. On top of that there are around 200,000 457 visa holders, who come and can apply for residency after three years continuous work. So even by that measure asylum seekers in boats are still a tiny proportion of all new arrivals. So Bernard, why not make an upper limit of even as much as 80,000 per year. The next lot would wait in Indonesia until the next year if they knew there was SAFE PATHWAY.

    Now let’s look at the premise. The mainstream premise that You espouse, Bernard, is that asylum seekers are a threat. If you are honest you will admit we need to look at our own history of racism to find the reason for this – the Yellow Peril, Red Devils, Nips and Wogs and White Australia. Not to mention the massacres of our First Peoples. We are still largely in denial about all of this just as we are in denial about what is happening to our country right now! Australia has reached step two on the eight steps to genocide. The first is to verbally vilify a particular group and the second is to take away their rights. This we have already done with unashamed gusto. It is a slippery slide that is dangerous for us as human beings. To violate the rights of others damages us. But we don’t get it yet.

    Instead, we suggest that asylum seekers somehow have a choice. Surely we don’t need to trawl over the facts of why people get on boats!. . . . Of the bombings of Hazaras in Quetta, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the hangings and torture in Iran, the massive reprisals against Tamils in Sri Lanka? Can I just state AGAIN. No one chooses to be a refugee, to risk their life on a leaky boat. Every asylum seeker is a real person with hopes an fears just like you or me, a person who loves their life just as much as each of us does. Most asylum seekers are young, savvy, energetic and often skilled. Just what this country needs. I am proud to say “Let them all come!’ If you knew them as I do, Bernard you would say that too.

    Please don’t twist what Malcolm Fraser is saying. Yes, he suggests a regional processing centre in Indonesia with safer pathways to resettlement. Nobody disagrees. But it should be quite clear that Australia has nowhere near reached it’s capacity or done it’s fair share. Not by a long shot. Only then should we ask other countries who already do more than us to take people. It’s time to take a good hard look in the mirror, chuck out deterrence and all its waste and welcome refugees.

  75. Professor Tournesol

    Jenny Haines & Fabia Claridge, BRAVO:)

  76. Dianna Arthur

    “Let them all come” is a new one on me. My fellow progressives and I tend to agree on helping those who do manage to arrive on our shores (in our waters) as well as taking concerted action in the Middle East and Africa, working with other countries be they Western or even from the Eastern bloc. Such a collaborative effort would be viewed with less suspicion than what we do at present – sending in troops simply furthers the view of western nations as imperialistic overlords.

    Otherwise a welcome article to an near impossible problem.

  77. Nicholas Mueller

    Thank you for using a photo of me in the above article to demonstrate “unthinking progressives.” Incidentally, it appears that this term is a euphemism for “bleeding heart” or “loony lefty”. As a consistent paid-up Crikey reader over the last three years I’m going use up my virginity as “long time reader, first time writer” and take the opportunity to tear down your straw man.

    I paint my sign, put on my Sunday Best after a full week of work and go to the rallies not because i’m driven there by totally my heart as “unthinking” suggests. However, I am guided by responding to the affect of this community, especially where I work in Greater Western Sydney.

    While your article raises some interesting points it misses the overwhelming facts concerning the affect in our culture regarding our borders and boats. I’d suggest you look into the work of Australian-British academic Sara Ahmed in which these concepts are elucidated thoroughly and convincingly.

    I attend these rallies because I oppose the public response to refugees who arrive by boat as portrayed by politicians and the media reflecting particular public sentiment. For example, when I took my sign on the train on the day the photo was taken I was told by a young sydneysider “f*ck the refugees!” before his friend pulled him away. The friend, the other train participants and the train guard who told me “I welcome the refugees too mate” tell a different story.

    The dark sentiment above is harnessed by manipulators of affect and emblazoned ‘policy to secure our borders’. At the moment 4,700 people arrive by boat annually because they are fleeing war, persecution and torture. While these push-factors exist people will continue to flee any way they can.

    We need to have the guts to accept this. I challenge your notion that all we need is a “thinking” approach in this debate. I firmly believe that guts, emotion and affect are fundamental in establishing a mature response to this situation.

    Finally, the racist, anti-immigrant bent to the public sentiment against refugees who arrive by boat that masks the scared face of a young insecure nation also exists. We need to acknowledge this and stand against it. I stand against this and I stand for dignified refugee migration.

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