If we really cared about the safety of asylum seekers on leaky boats

If there’s one thing more absurd than the prospect of a government losing an election because it’s not nasty enough to refugees (and, let’s give Labor its dues here, it is trying really hard to be), it’s the hideous gall of the people who pretend that they only want us to damn the refugees in order to “save” them.

We only want to drag them back out to sea on leaky boats because we care!

We only want to deport them to countries with limited legal protections because we want to keep them safe!

We only want to imprison them indefinitely without charge because we care for their wellbeing!

It’s a crock. And you can tell it’s a crock because the laws they call for don’t mention refugees’ safety at all. Their advocates use refugees’ safety as a rhetorical crutch in debates, but when it comes to the crunch, for what are the diabolical “people smugglers” prosecuted?

Not for dangerous boats. Not for safety violations.

Just for bringing these desperate people here from places where they’re in danger. (Much more danger, for the record, than any boat trip, which is why they’re willing to take the risk.)

If we really cared about the safety of refugees, we’d distinguish between people smugglers who willfully, sociopathically put them in danger on non-seaworthy boats, and those whose boats are seaworthy and run responsibly. The offence would be to run vessels that unnecessarily endanger life (which of course should be a crime) – not to help asylum seekers reach a place of refuge (which of course shouldn’t). Helping asylum seekers reach a place of refuge is a noble thing. It was a noble thing when the refugees were Jews fleeing Nazi Germany – it’s a noble thing now.

Because if we were to start making a distinction between those people smugglers who don’t care about refugees’ lives and those who do, then there’d be an incentive (apart from the moral one, obviously) for the boats that come to be safer. Unlike the “leave them in dangerous camps where we don’t have to care” approach, it would save lives. Sure, a few more asylum seekers might get here in one piece – but isn’t that a good thing? Weren’t we saying we were doing this out of concern for their safety?

Of course we were. So how could that outcome upset us? We’re not selfish pricks who’ve benefited from the massive (unearned) good fortune of being born in one of the most privileged countries in the world but who want the far less fortunate to keep their suffering and dying to refugee camps in South-East Asia where we don’t have to hear about it, are we?

No, of course we’re not.

So let’s hear the two big parties advocating my solution: breaking the model of people smugglers who put lives at risk, by rewarding those people smugglers who look after their customers.

And while we’re at it, could the government remember the people for whom it’s supposed to be regulating the prostitution industry? Because stories like that of Jetsadophorn “Ning” Chaladone, seem to indicate that it’s forgotten. When the government finally raided the Sydney brothel where Ning had been raped repeatedly since the age of 13, was it the police coming to charge the proprietor with rape and slavery charges? No, it was Immigration, coming to send the victims – the women – back overseas. It was Immigration, reminding other enslaved women that if they go to authorities, it will be they who were punished.

I am heartily sick of hearing the heartless justify cruelty to the most vulnerable people in our society on the basis that they’re really interested in “protecting” them.

That’s not what their words and actions reveal.


27 responses to “If we really cared about the safety of asylum seekers on leaky boats

  1. Hear Hear!! This is brilliant & gets right to the crus of the matter. What the Asylum seekers are doing kis not illegal, & they should not be treated as such!

  2. Great article. You make very strong arguments out of which there is no reprieve. This is quite frustrating because somehow this truth is hidden so well by politicians and shock jocks on radios that the majority of Australians just don’t see it that way. Instead jumping to a range of convenient justifications for this brutality by our government.

    On the surface the issues most people have with asylum seekers change whenever they’re challenged.

    They’re illegals, oh they’re not ?
    Ok then they’re mostly terrorists, statistically incorrect over 15 years ?
    Ok… They’re doll bludgers, not more than white Australians are you say ?
    Ok ok ok, they’re queue jumpers, escaping death you say ?
    and the list goes on.

    The sad fact is there is an underlying core of racism (or to be nice, xenophobia) around which all these excuses navigate. It’s not about the topical reasons. It’s just that brown people do not deserve a life as good as … white people.

    wallahu a3lam.

    Thanks again


  3. Splatterbottom

    “It’s a crock. And you can tell it’s a crock because the laws they call for don’t mention refugees’ safety at all.”

    This is hardly determinative. What did you expect? Seaworthiness regulations for boats used in the business of people smuggling? OMG I just read the next line and found that is exactly what you propose! That would make a lot of difference then wouldn’t it. I have a better idea. Why doesn’t the government just run seaworthy ferries for everyone at a price which undercuts the people smugglers. I mean it wouldn’t make any difference to the number arriving because, as everyone knows, that depends on “push” factors.

    Seriously, what we need to do is to get comfortable with taking a much larger number of refugees and make appropriate arrangements for them to get here. Once we put a limit on the number arriving the people-smugglers will be back in business. Australia is dramatically underpopulated compared to the rest of the world. It will be much better for us to make orderly arrangements, as well as being the right thing to do.

  4. Yes, reward sailors who run safe boats. Or run a government-funded weekly ferry to Indonesia and Malaysia to collect the refugees. If the problem is the unsafe conditions, then that’s easy to fix. But as you say Jeremy, it’s not about safety and never was – the Tampa was more seaworthy than the boat those people started in, but it was still turned away at gunpoint. Safety doesn’t Stop The Boats.

  5. narcoticmusing

    Interestingly, for those that so vitrioloically posture against any of the things suggested here, the first thing that came to mind was Matthew 7 (it is a very interesting chapter that Religious extremists and the Christian Lobby (vis acutal Christians) really ought to read before they open their mouths about, oh, most of the crap currently ‘key issues’ for them… good ‘ole Jesus just keeping it real on not judging people, the hypocrisy of such behaviour, and that hiding behind BS ‘righteousness’ is vile and so obvious, not sure why you think people don’t see it coming… clearly Jesus hadn’t anticipated shock jocks…

    Nevertheless, the particular section that came to mind was (notwithstanding I am not christian, but I recognise wisdom when I see it…):
    15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?

  6. The other thing to point out to Christians is that much of the Old Testament was written by refugees (the Jews under Moses and at other times) and that both Mary and Joseph were refugees.

    Oh, and that other bit in Matthew where Jesus says that whatever you do to the lowliest person, you do to him.

  7. jordanrastrick

    “Once we put a limit on the number arriving the people-smugglers will be back in business.”

    Fortunately, having a price on entry (which wouldn’t even have to be less than what people smugglers charge, since it would be more attractive to applicants given its superior safety, speed and legality) will naturally limit on the number of applicants, thanks to the magic of supply and demand.

    I think if you combined this with a few charter cities for refugees to settle in for a minimum of a few years before being granted full citizenship, to counteract any complaints about congestion pressures on our existing population centres, you could both truly “break the people smugglers’ business model”, whilst maintaining reasonable support for a vastly increased refugee intake. And you could even still process any applicants that do turn up “unofficially” in the same location – just disadvantage them enough that the incentives remain heavily in favour of going through official channels.

  8. narcoticmusing

    Oh, and that other bit in Matthew where Jesus says that whatever you do to the lowliest person, you do to him.

    Also in Matthew 7 – like I said, it is one of those chapters that if you just know that one, you can pretty much retort any hate filled BS a Christian spits at you – notwithstanding that most Christians I know are acutally very loving and not represented by the vile views of the ACL…

  9. jordanrastrick

    “The other thing to point out to Christians…”

    Well, frankly, Christians shouldn’t really need non-Christians to point out to them our duty to care for refugees. In Australia, at least, mainstream Christian opinion is firmly to the “left” on this particular issue.

    Of course in practice individual Christians won’t always feel the same way.

  10. narcoticmusing

    PS – the specific scripture you were referring to I think is like Matthew 25 something, but it is interesting that there are comparable verses throughout the bible, particularly in proverbs and eccelesiastes.

  11. Splatterbottom

    Non-Christians lecturing Christians on Christian teachings is as offensive as non-Muslims telling Muslims what to believe on he basis of their understanding of Islamic teachings. If you were actually sincere about changing someone’s mind you wouldn’t be getting in peoples’ faces and implying hypocrisy. There are plenty of effective ways to approach this issue, but being a smug smart-arse isn’t one of them.

    For example Jordan’s approach of pointing out prominent Christians who take a different view might actually get somewhere, particularly if the person you are talking to actually admires said prominent Christian. Or you might ask about how their beliefs sit with particular passages of scripture, not in the manner of a fire-breathing atheist, but rather out of genuine curiosity.

  12. narcoticmusing

    SB – you have no idea about my life or history and have made many assumptions in order to attempt to insult me. Your comment is as offensive as you deemed mine to be. You make incorrect assumptions about how I would address this, surely by now you would recognise that I would not merely spit vitriole at a Christian if I disagreed with their view on doctinal grounds? Nevertheless, the reality is that many Christians would benefit from reading the Bible, and this is not done enough. Few Christians at the Church where I met my husband had read the Bible. Before I was 18 I’d read it no less than 10 times. Cover to cover.

    If it is indeed the Word of God, the truth and the Light, then it should be persuasive no?

  13. Splatterbottom

    Chill, Narcotic. My comment wasn’t meant to be a personal attack on you. It was meant as general advice. You are not the only one to invoke the Bible on this thread. When I intend to comment directly to you I always preface my comment with your name.

    But now that you mention it, you did say “you can pretty much retort any hate filled BS a Christian spits at you” which sounds pretty aggressive to me. Anyway most of my comment was well-intentioned advice about how to more effectively engage with Christians. You can take it or leave it, but note that if I had really wanted to annoy you I would have left those bits out and added a bit more spice.

  14. narcoticmusing

    A retort is a reasoned reply; and certainly a hate filled BS comment by a Christian merits a reply that includes some context with their doctrines?

  15. jordanrastrick

    So yeah, about those refugees….

  16. Splatterbottom

    Narcotic, I admit I was a little sharpish, but I really didn’t intend to antagonise you so soon after the break in blogging.

    In that spirit I would respectfully note that a ‘retort’ is just that, a retort. It may be more or less reasoned or not reasoned at all. I also note I am in no position to lecture people on how to reply to hate filled BS comments. Usually I can’t resist the urge to double down which, I have to admit, rarely changes anyone’s mind.

  17. There are plenty of effective ways to approach this issue, but being a smug smart-arse isn’t one of them.

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

  18. I’m not a Christian now but was raised as one, in fact many non Christians were raised in some Christian Church or other. If there’s a Christian who finds criticism or any commentry on teachings from ex Christians offensive well’ we’ll all pictch in and buy the worlds smallest violin and hire someone to play it for them in the sook lounge.

    Anyone who tries to use the New Testament and the teaching of Jeebus to justify our asylum seeker policy is on a hiding to nothing anyway. Cos not only is our Asylum Seeker policy (over nearly 20 years and 3 separate govts, 2 of them ALP) un Christian, it’s downright Devilish, verging on Satanic.

    SB said:

    “Seriously, what we need to do is to get comfortable with taking a much larger number of refugees and make appropriate arrangements for them to get here.”

    I reckon we could pay boat owners a fair income to ferry asylum seekers over, maybe Fishermen on the condition the go easier on the fish stocks for a few years (Not necessarily forever, but enough to give the stocks a break.)

    Make sure the cost is significantly less than people smugglers and make the asylum seekers invest the rest of the money they would have spent on a dodgy boat in Australia. There are plenty of ways something like that could work with a bit of imagination and good will.

    As it is our current policies of offshore processing and mandatory detention beyond a medical quarantine makes us all scumbags.

  19. narcoticmusing

    Agreed Jordan, but to divert from the topic once again on a related issue – I just finished reading that article J linked to re: immigration raid. It is deeply saddening that such a well known issue on so many levels, would be ignored in favour of ‘deporting the illegals’. [sigh]

  20. Beautifully argued Jeremy and welcome back. May married life give you much happiness.

    Brendan O’Reilly

  21. Splatterbottom

    Apparently Bob Brown thinks that public servants who give advice he disagrees with are turkeys and out to be put out on their ears.

    What ha gotten into him lately. He seems more and more like an ill-tempered dribbling loon.

  22. Apparently Tony Abbott gives rambling, incoherent speeches to his closest advisors and staff, who are increasingly concerned about his fitness to be leader of the Liberal party, yet keep their reservations to themselves. And apparently he has the literacy levels and comprehension of a grade five student.

    Oh no, I’m not going to give links or evidence. It’s just that it’s “apparently” the case, so I’m completely convinced.

  23. jordanrastrick

    While it would have been courteous for SB to provide the reference himself, his claim isn’t exactly hard to verify


  24. My issue was with this phrase:

    “public servants who give advice he disagrees with”

    So in light of that, I’m sure my claim isn’t hard to verify either. Just gotta ask the right people. And these days, doesn’t matter if your source is anonymous, either.

  25. Splatterbottom

    RM he was attacking a public servant who gave advice Brown disagreed with. He only made himself look stupid. I don’t

  26. Pingback: A repulsive slur | Pure Poison

  27. Pingback: Only way to save lives is to encourage the running of safer refugee boats. | An Onymous Lefty

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