A decent Liberal

I don’t like the Liberals nor Labor. But Petro Georgiou is uncommonly honourable in his opposition to both partys’ cruelty to asylum seekers. He’s in the National Times/Age.

Is there any evidence that the policy of mandatory detention introduced by Labor in 1992 and toughened by the Coalition deterred arrivals? The answer is simple: no. When the policy was introduced, there were a handful of boat arrivals. Ten years later, there were 5000. Labor has maintained mandatory detention since its election. The number of boat arrivals has increased recently.

Did charging people for the cost of their detention, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, prove to be a deterrent? Manifestly not. Did refusing to give permanent protection to people found to be genuine refugees deter? Again, no. In the five years before the introduction of temporary protection visas, there were 3103 boat arrivals. In the five years after, boat arrivals increased to more than 11,000. Did the Coalition government’s eventually giving the overwhelming majority of temporary protection visa-holders permanent protection lead to a surge of refugees? No.

Has the excision of Australian territories from the migration zone deterred arrivals? Again, no. The territories excised by the Coalition remain excised. There has recently been an increase in boat arrivals. Was the Pacific Solution, with its pledge that people subject to it would never come to Australia, effective? Again, no. Of those sent to Nauru under the so-called solution, 61 per cent of people found to be refugees were ultimately settled in Australia.

Uninvited refugees may offend a sense of order, but escaping persecution is not always an orderly business. The circumstances under which asylum seekers travel and arrive can unsettle societies that are used to order and control, and can obscure a sense of perspective.

Several years ago, images and slogans did obscure our perspective, and led to a belief that we were being swamped by boat people, and our sovereignty threatened. That was not the case then and it is not the case now.

Consider two vantage points. The first is an international one. As a result of conflicts and persecution, Australia is again confronted, as are many other countries, with an increase in people seeking refuge. Internationally, the number of asylum claims rose by 28 per cent to 839,000 last year. The fact is that 80 per cent of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries: Pakistan, Syria, Iran and Jordan.

Among the developed countries, the US received 49,600 applications for asylum, France 35,400, Canada 34,800, Britain 30,500, and Italy 30,300. Australia received – and this is taking together all people arriving by boat and plane – 4500 asylum claims.

Now consider the issue from an internal vantage point. People arriving on boats present confronting images. The fact, however, is that the vast majority of asylum seekers arrive by air. We quite rightly process those arriving by air, seeking protection, with little controversy. Why should we feel threatened by the much smaller number of people who arrive by boat?

Responsible leadership should not be about using vulnerable people as a political football. The arrival of a small number of people fleeing persecution requires an evidence-based and humane response, not a macho slanging match. We have been there before. It was a dark chapter in our history. We should not turn the page back to it.


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