Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Rudd and Asylum Seekers

Jul 20, 2013

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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16 Responses to Rudd and Asylum Seekers

  • Bill, something the public are never told is, out of the numbers of boat people who arrive, how many are sent back to wherever? Always graphs for arrivals, but never for what happens to them next!

    Brenda Rudolph

  • As an Aussie PNG-watcher, I offer the following:

    Does Rudd know that the illegal immigrants into Australia from predominately Muslim nations, when they are deported to PNG, may NOT be able to practice their Islamic religion?

    The PNG Parliament has recently passed a motion to carry out a nationwide consultation on the question of religious freedom and whether to ban faiths that are non-Christian.


    Phil Manley

  • What’s to prevent Rudd and Labor from (God forbid!) winning the election on the basis of any number of more moderate, sane, Liberal-mimicking policies grasped to their collective bosoms during the campaign, only to jettison them once elected and return to the insanity of the post-Howard years?

    Steve Swartz

  • Nothing, Steve!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Mr. Rudd has history of making big promises and then overturning them as soon as he is elected. No one can believe anything he says. If this man was serious about overturning the Carbon Tax and moving to an ETS, he would have recalled Parliament. He did not do so, as he would not get his policy through the Parliament. I feel fairly certain that with his so called ‘solution’ to the problem of boats, there will be a High Court challenge. Anyway, either way, it will wait for a long time as the facilities at Manus have to be built in order to take up to 3000 people. This will cost many millions of dollars, then of course, it will cost billions more to meet all of the promises Kevvy from Brizzy has made to PNG. Furthermore, if these people are to be settled in PNG where there is no welfare, housing or jobs, what on earth will become of them? Yet another policy that has been brought in ‘on the run’.

    Joan Davidson

  • I agree with Bolta. WHAT A BUNCH OF SHAMELESS HYPOCRITES! After condemning the Howard govt for doing this they turn around and do it themselves for the vote.

    Damien Spillane

  • I wouldn’t trust Rudd as far as I could throw him. Anyone that calls themselves Christian but acts in opposition to God’s word is clearly not really a Christian, I would imagine he wouldn’t have too much trouble with being dishonest about many other things. He has been re-aligning himself politically in preparation for the Gillard cull although he said he wasn’t going to challenge her. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways the Bible says, it also warns of the wolves in sheep’s clothing. It boggles the mind how Rudd can fool a great many people when careful observation reveals his true motives. His non regard for the weightier matters of God’s Will is the most telling.
    Greg Sadler

  • There’s no doubt this is all primarily a shameless electioneering stunt by our Prime Minister and a policy very much like the one used by the Howard government which Mr. Rudd himself was so scornful of when it was politically expedient to do so. I generally have a lack of trust for people trying to get elected, but Mr. Rudd is worse than most in my humble opinion. Only his immediate predecessor rates worse in that area in recent history in my humble opinion.

    All that however is a distraction from the real issue I believe. I think it is helpful to consider this issue in two parts. One – there are people smugglers getting rich on human misery and there are people dying in their attempts to get to Australia thanks partly to these evil people. Two – there are people out there who need our help, and we are quite capable of giving it – far more capable that PNG, for example. Unfortunately I believe these two issues create a short term conflict which makes any policy at all fraught with problems and I admit I don’t have the “super pill” to fix it all either.

    I believe we must be attempting to address both of these issues in the long term. I think however that holding people for long periods in poor conditions is not acceptable and I think continuing to pursue policies that allow people to die off our coast all the time is also not acceptable. Dealing with these issues must be a priority, even if there is short term losses in other areas – as long as in the long term, the other areas are also eventually dealt with.

    John Symons

  • The presently contemplated “offshore” solutions to “stop the boats” are surely only band-aids in response to a global problem: Why do people find Australia more attractive than Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Sri Lanka?

    What Australian interventions can transform these countries into places their citizens don’t want to leave? Can we seriously expect South Pacific and Southeast Asian nations like New Guinea and Indonesia to act in Australia’s interests, before they take their own national interests into account?

    Why is it politically incorrect to speak of the present wave of asylum seekers as a creeping cultural transformation – an “invasion” of Australia by stealth? Has the Church in Australia really taken a serious look at the imported mission-field in their own backyard that asylum seekers represent? – I very much doubt it… The Western nations are now paying for their failure to act responsibly towards the parts of the world they once colonised to feed their mercantile and industrial revolutions – what they sowed they are now reaping.

    John Wigg

  • The left are screaming that we don’t let more people come here and then they denounce countries like Oz as racist backwaters. They are a ball of contradictions.

    Damien Spillane

  • Hi Bill,
    I have heard it said that there are no passport requirements between PNG and Australia. What would then stop these people from coming to Australia once they have been successfully processed in PNG anyway?
    Jeremy Peet

  • Thanks guys. A great article on this can be found here;

    “His Devil’s Island tactic, putting asylum seekers in tents on a malarial island off the coast of an impoverished, violence-ridden state, is malevolent politics. He has made a massive bet that he can get away with this ploy before it can be tested by the courts, where it would almost certainly be rejected. This does not concern Rudd. Legal challenges take months. He is thinking in weeks. He just wants to get across the line, win the election, and clean up the mess afterwards. The mess he made.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • For me, I simply don’t trust Mr Rudd to in fact, capably carry through on his grand plans to a successful outcome. When we look at his track record on such plans we see a litany of disasters. Is there an overwhelming mass of people who are absolutely convinced Rudd has changed his spots? No, just those taken in by his persona – the Ginger Megs impish rascally boyish style. What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

    Michael Mercier

  • I no longer trust Mr Rudd. As previous respondents have already stated, Rudd has previously shown that he is good at making announcements but the implementation of most of them has been a disaster. PNG has no infrastructure for handling large numbers of refugees and can barely look ofter its own citizens. Who will be displaced by these new arrivals when they are supposedly settled in PNG where much of the land is held tribally? I don’t pretend to have all the answers about how we should handle these refugees, apart from giving them a temporary visa until their genuineness is verified, and letting the bureaucrats deal with each situation on merit. That appears to be a more Christian response to dealing with the problem.

    Eric Frith

  • As someone living in PNG, I don’t believe PNG has any existing social welfare system as us Australians would understand it (except for one’s relatives living in the rural villages where subsistence farming provides). So, to expect a social welfare system to be provided for settled refugees is ludicrous. And the problems associated with acquiring land, providing healthcare, education, employment……..! Please Mr Rudd, think again!

    Noel Carpenter

  • Mr Rudd has shown us what real political behaviour is – completely self serving. He wants us to think he has solved the problem of asylum seekers entering this Country – a problem he and his government caused in the first place. His solution is purely political. He just put it together so he can be re-elected. There’s no other reason.

    He must think we’re all idiots.

    Over this past year, Catholic churches throughout Australia have been observing the “Year of Grace”. We have been praying to start afresh from Christ. To make a new start. Inter alia, we have been asking God to make us more aware of the presence of His Holy Spirit, so that our whole Church may be transformed and that “our nation grow in compassion and justice.”

    If there was ever a time for Australia to be compassionate and just towards asylum seekers, surely it is now. If there was ever a time to stop cynical and uncaring people-smugglers trafficking in human lives, surely it is now.
    I sincerely believe that we as a nation can show such compassion. That we can and should stop the people-smugglers. My hope however, is that we shall do these things, not as a purely political exercise, but rather with the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    I ask that we continue to pray to the Holy Spirit to show us the way to do this.

    John Ferwerda

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