Rudd and Asylum Seekers

The various issues of refugees, asylum seekers, immigration policy, people-smuggling, queue-jumping, and so on are as vexatious as they are pressing. Syria right now for example has millions of refugees and displaced peoples because of its civil war.

Australia also has its own sets of problems here, most notably the ongoing arrival of boats filled with people desiring to enter our country. A boat a day is the current state of play, with far too many of these poor folks dying at sea in their desperate attempts to get here. And as people die, people-smugglers are getting rich, and governments are trying to figure out what to do.

Indeed, there are really two problems here. One is the big, long-term problem of those fleeing their home nations for whatever reason (persecution, war, the desire to come to a freer and more prosperous land, etc). The other is the disastrous Labor Party policies of the past few years which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of boat people.

The former problem is indeed immense and complex, not just for countries like Australia, but for other Western nations. Solutions to this big-ticket item are not easy to come by and are in fact not really the focus of this article. Instead the emphasis will be on our immediate problem of stopping the boats, thwarting the people-smugglers, and preventing all these tragic deaths.

The very simple storyline here runs as follows: Under Howard and the Coalition, the Pacific Solution did indeed stop the boats, stymie people-smuggling, and prevent deaths. That much is crystal clear. The Howard solution did work in those three immediate objectives.

A very revealing graph on all this can be found at this link:

Of course when Kevin Rudd became prime minister in 2007 he dumped the Howard policy. Since then Labor has been all over the place on this issue, with the most recent about face coming yesterday when Rudd announced his new policy.

Full details of the arrangements with Indonesia and the Papua New Guinea “solution” are not yet available, but we can say this much: in many respects this is simply the Howard Pacific Solution, v. 2. The policy Rudd dumped as being unworkable and uncompassionate has basically been snuck back in.

So to the extent that Rudd is dumping unworkable Labor policies and returning to the workable policies of the Howard government, this seems certainly to be a step in the right direction. Howard had successfully stymied the people-smugglers with his policy, and now Rudd is seeing that he must do something similar.

The details we do know are as follows: All boat people who come here by boat will be sent to PNG’s Manus Island for assessment and those deemed to be genuine cases will be allowed to settle there. Also, Indonesia will stop giving 30-day visas to Iranians on arrival in Indonesia. Over 5000 Iranians have come there since the beginning of the year seeking asylum. They fly in from Iran to Indonesia then boat here.

But plenty of questions remain. Does PNG really have an appropriate social welfare structure to take in and adequately deal with all these people? Do those who live there approve of this idea? Will this not keep enticing people-smugglers? And how will we (us taxpayers) pay for all this?

Andrew Bolt asks further legitimate questions:
“- What is the cost? It is ominous that Rudd has not said what he’s paying PNG, and in what form.
– How will it be paid for? The carbon tax ‘cut’ is being paid for by a tax change that has already put scores of people out of work and threatens the jobs of hundreds more.
– Was dressing this toughness up by increasing the refugee intake to 27,000 smart? Only two years ago our refugee intake was half that, and still judged generous. Refugees tend to struggle to find work. Are we building a problem for the future?
– When will the facilities at PNG be ready to receive all these boat people? Last year we were promised 600 people would be sent to Manus Island. There are just 200 people there in accommodation so bad that children were brought back to Australia.
– Will PNG take all boat people, as Rudd claimed, or some, as the PNG Prime Minister hinted?
– Will exempting, for now, women and children actually encourage people smugglers to stuff boats with them?
– Will PNG uphold their end of the deal? The PNG Opposition is against it. The deal will be reviewed in just one year. Will the cost then rise?
– Will PNG uphold their end of the deal in ways we can live with?
Right now the most important question I want answered is: what will this cost?”

And how many people can PNG take? Or more importantly, how many does it want to take? And since PNG is largely Christian, while most settlers will be Muslim, what possible problems will arise in that mix? Greg Sheridan also sees big problems here:

“But there are a lot of problems, big, big problems. One is the lack of clear answers to quite critical forensic questions – when will the facility at Manus be fully up to standard? What will its ultimate capacity be? And crucially how many people will Papua New Guinea really take? Yet they are absolutely central. There are many ways this could fall over.

“The other question is credibility. The Labor government has no credibility on this issue. This is not a political judgment, nor a case of unfair media scepticism. It is a clinical and unavoidable strategic assessment. And it is key….

“Some sources believe PNG will place an absolute limit of 2000 to 3000 on how many people it will take. This was an important difference in the way Rudd and [PNG PM] O’Neill spoke of the arrangement. Rudd was at pains to give the impression that everyone who comes to Australia by boat will go to PNG. O’Neill, on the other hand, said he wouldn’t place a figure on the numbers.”

It seems like as we so often see with Labor and Rudd, this is simply policy on the run. And it is a quick fix, not so much for the boat problem, but for the election. Rudd knows that Australians have had a gutful of porous borders and lame border protection, so he has taken a hardline in order to win the next election. It has little to do with compassion or clearly thought-out policy, but everything to do with retaining power.

But time will tell if this new policy does any good. And we will likely find out soon: the first boatload of asylum seekers since yesterday’s policy announcement has been detected off Christmas Island.

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