Look, Papua New Guinea isn’t the worst country in the world. Sure, it’s mired in corruption, large parts of it are deadly dangerous, it’s desperately poor, much of it has nonexistent infrastructure and although it has signed up to basic refugee convention protections its political system is hardly strong enough to reliably enforce them. (Not that we’ve done a bang-up job of that either.)
And to be fair, as the PNG Prime Minister pointed out, they are “blessed with a large land mass and a very small population”, unlike Australia apparently.
But the miserable situation of refugees who Kevin Rudd and the ALP are now going to send there, a situation well below what we would ever accept ourselves if we’re being honest, is of course the point – the point being to try to seem pretty much as bad as the Indonesian camps that are so dangerous people are prepared to take a punt on a boat with a 10% chance of drowning to get away from them. You can’t deter people from fleeing danger by treating them humanely if they arrive, so our scheme is not to.
And now you have a choice when you vote, between the Coalition, who want to tow boats back into the ocean and dump them there (“…AND STAY!”), and the ALP, who will simply dump them all in another, far poorer country so as not to upset paranoid xenophobes in Western Sydney. If you’re determined to pretend that refugees should be someone else’s problem, and harden your heart to vulnerable human beings including children because you’re deep down pretty confident that you’ll never need to flee real persecution yourself so you’ll never have to experience that issue from the other side – well, you have two parties who’ll treat those refugees badly on your behalf to choose from.
But what if you watched Schindler’s List and you thought the “people smuggler” Oscar Schindler was the hero, not the villain?
What if you have a functioning sense of fairness, and think Australia should at least take on as many refugees as our poorer neighbours?
What if you have a functioning sense of scale, and you recognise that we have more than sufficient capacity to take those who seek to come here, because it’s still only a small percentage of the world’s refugees and a tiny percentage of our overall immigration intake anyway? What if you’re not insanely paranoid about “limits” to population growth and don’t have a heart attack when you realise that the birth rate is not “capped” either?
What if you remember that if any of these people are “economic migrants”, then those are precisely the motivated sort of people who built modern Australia?
What if you have compassion for the vulnerable, and want to help refugees rather than try to drive them away to become someone else’s problem?
What if you’re not an hysterically paranoid, xenophobic loon?
Well, then you could vote for this, a grown-up, humane and rational refugee policy:
1. Increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 25,000 per year and as part of that increase urgently resettle at least 1,000 people from Indonesia and at least 4,000 people from Malaysia;
2. Immediately increase funding to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Indonesia, or a specially deployed Australian assessment team, to boost the capacity to assess asylum applications in Indonesia;
3. Immediately escalate discussions with the Indonesian Government around preventing boat departures from Indonesian territory and enhancing their search and rescue capacity, and codify and abide by our obligations to provide safety of life at sea;
4. Immediately escalate multilateral discussions in aid of establishing a New Regional Plan of Action that is fair, safe and legal;
5. De-link the onshore and offshore quotas for humanitarian visas;
6. Address the lack of humanitarian family reunion pathways by immediately and significantly boosting the numbers of family reunion places within the Humanitarian Program;
7. Review carrier sanctions and visa impediments for people seeking protection by air; and
8. Establish an Australian Ambassador for Refugee Protection to assist the government with high-level advocacy in the region.
Number 7 kills the “boat trade” stone dead by enabling refugees with the funds for these apparently very expensive boats to get on planes instead. Number 5 gets rid of the “queue-jumping” concern – unexpected arrivals would simply not affect the “queue” at all.
One more reason I’ll be voting for the Australian Greens.
As for in which order I’ll put the big old parties well down the ballot paper after that – we’ll have to see what the LNP come back with in this nastiest of reverse auctions. A giant oil slick on fire between here and Indonesia? Sharks with frickin’ laser beams?
UPDATE: The Greens’ official policy implementing the above.