You know another country “blessed with a large land mass and a very small population”?

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.

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19 responses to “You know another country “blessed with a large land mass and a very small population”?

  1. This is not to invoke Godwin’s law but because I’m living in Switzerland at the moment. Let’s contemplate the proud record of the Swiss border guard in WW2 when they returned Jews to Germany:

    – border security; Switzerland was completely surrounded y the Nazis and their allies, and rightly fearful of their own security,
    – orderly processing: many Jews who turned up at the border had either destroyed their papers or had false ones,
    – the queue: Switzerland had an embassy in Berlin during the war. Anyone who wanted a visa couple simply join the queue there and apply for one,
    – not Switzerland’s problem: were the Swiss expected to take every fleeing Jew. They would be overwhelmed. It would destroy swiss harmony etc.

    Let me reiterate. I am not saying that Australia is at any risk of becoming like the Nazis. But I hope we will come to regret our decisions today, in the same way that Switzerland now regrets its actions from 60 years ago.

  2. I think this is the first time ever that I’ve really wished I could exhaust my preferences (and still have my vote for the Greens count). Kim’s piss-weak response to Howard over Tampa came close but this is the first time I’ve seen Labor worse than the Libs (for as long as it lasts).

  3. Don’t think of preferences as voting “for” someone – think of them as voting AGAINST people, with the candidate you despise most getting the highest number, and the number decreasing as you order the candidates you dislike slightly less.

  4. And now he’s copying Howard’s “Unchain Your Heart” trick: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-20/government-runs-ads-to-promotel-new-png-asylum-seeker-deal/4832638
    Didn’t the ALP, when they were in opposition, complain that Howard was misusing government funds to promote what was basically an election promise?

  5. Item #7 is a bit problematic for me.
    It seems to be advocating that somebody should be allowed to get on a plane without a visa, passport or return ticket if it is their intention to claim asylum upon arrival.
    Would that apply to asylum seekers from anywhere in the world or only those in Indonesia, who are likely to chance it by sea?

    The former introduces a great structural discrimination against poorer asylum seekers in favour of those who can afford airfares.
    If it’s the latter, why not just set up a processing centre in Indonesia before they get on the boats?

    Either way, it’s a moot point because none of this is Greens policy.
    Clicking through the link will show that it’s a submission (and a very good one) to the expert panel on the issue.
    The actual policy is here.
    Let’s not conflate the two.

    Cheers.

  6. The Greens policy is pretty good, although it could be a lot better if they:

    * Put a bit more meat in 7 (that should be abolish, not review, esp. if its the basis of how the Greens propose to halt smuggling)

    * Likewise 1 (25.000 is still way too low, even taking into account the delinking of onshore and offshore)

    * At least acknowledge the possibility that 7 may lead to a very large increase in arrivals, if not lay out any sort of proposed response to that scenario

    * Said something about what kind of specific measures they will take to boost services and infrastructure to specifically cope with the significantly increased strain in all those western sydney electorates where a) most resettled refugees congregate b) all the redneck xenophobes have to live and work c) and approximately none of the Greens voters, members or MPs live or work.

    Still its both compassionate – light years ahead of the ALP/coalition on that front – and starting to approach rationality. If this were the only issue to vote on it would definitely win my preference for the Greens.

    Incidentally, Jeremy, my standard question to the haters of Rudd’s new policy: given how awful Manus and PNG apparently are, including for children, is it also immoral for us to not let Papuans migrate from there?

    (full disclosure: this is not the nationalists’ trick question version trying to prove letting refugees come here is absurd; my own answer is “yes, essentially it is immoral”, with some caveats.)

  7. It seems to be advocating that somebody should be allowed to get on a plane without a visa, passport or return ticket if it is their intention to claim asylum upon arrival.

    No, we’d just grant them a visa to get here and seek asylum. Rather than specifically refusing to grant them a visa IN CASE they seek asylum.

    We’re presently scared people might arrive here SAFELY and seek asylum.

    The former introduces a great structural discrimination against poorer asylum seekers in favour of those who can afford airfares.

    No, because it’s not either/or. We’d continue to work to assist those in the region as efficiently as possible – and increasing that intake.

    We’d just stop arbitrarily punishing those refugees when someone else arrives by air. We’d stop playing one group of refugees off against the other.

    If it’s the latter, why not just set up a processing centre in Indonesia before they get on the boats?

    That’s also Greens policy.

    Clicking through the link will show that it’s a submission (and a very good one) to the expert panel on the issue.
    The actual policy is here. Let’s not conflate the two.

    Well, the latter’s an implementation of the former, but the clarification’s still valuable.

  8. * Put a bit more meat in 7 (that should be abolish, not review, esp. if its the basis of how the Greens propose to halt smuggling)

    * Likewise 1 (25.000 is still way too low, even taking into account the delinking of onshore and offshore)

    Agree.

    * At least acknowledge the possibility that 7 may lead to a very large increase in arrivals, if not lay out any sort of proposed response to that scenario

    The policy as a whole involves taking sufficient numbers of people that it reduces the pressure anyway. There’d be adequate processing in Indonesia – there’d simply be no need to get on boats.

    So the number of people arriving here on boats would drop off to pretty much nothing. The number of people arriving in total would increase, but not catastrophically – the truth is that the number of people trying to get here is not in excess of our reasonable share anyway, paranoid fantasies of the “we’ll be swamped” crowd notwithstanding.

    * Said something about what kind of specific measures they will take to boost services and infrastructure to specifically cope with the significantly increased strain in all those western sydney electorates where a) most resettled refugees congregate b) all the redneck xenophobes have to live and work c) and approximately none of the Greens voters, members or MPs live or work.

    No, fair point and a reasonable question to ask the Greens.

    I’m confident that their response would be expanding infrastructure and services, funded by things like reversing the Howard income tax cuts.

    Oh, and funded by saving billions not locking refugees up on remote islands, which is actually vastly more expensive than treating them humanely.

  9. No, we’d just grant them a visa to get here and seek asylum.

    How is that any different from simply applying for asylum before arriving in Australia?

    If I was an Iraqi in Malaysia and wanting to come to Australia by plane, I would still have to have some sort of contact with DFAT, usually in order to get a Visitor’s Visa. I would be getting that visa on false pretenses because it was always my intention to seek asylum, though I kept it quiet for fear of having my visa application rejected.
    The policy aspiration that we’re discussing seems to create a new visa class for those who wish come here, not on business, nor for vacations, but for the purpose of claiming asylum.

    I think that’s a brilliant idea. It allows the asylum seeker to be up front about their wishes to immigrate to Australia as a means of fleeing danger/persecution. The way our current visa system works actually obliges them to be sneaky and hide their real intentions. This new class of visa would bring a bit of dignity to the process. However…..

    It seems to me that applying for an asylum seekers visa would still be subject to the same processes as an application for a Visitor’s Visa. So what’s the difference?
    Unless the asylum seeker’s visa is granted immediately with little possibility of refusal, you might as well just apply for asylum and travel when you get the all clear.

    I suppose this proposal would be a worthwhile thing if it allowed asylum seekers to be in Australia while their case is being reviewed. This visa would offer them a temporary protection from persecution until everything is settled.
    What do imagine they should call it?

    Regarding the processing centres in Indonesia, you said;

    That’s also Greens policy.

    Really? Where? I can’t find any reference to such a thing on The Greens website. I may have been looking in the wrong place.
    The closest I could find was item #12;

    Greatly enhanced regional cooperation in the Asia-Pacific to provide safer pathways for asylum seekers,…

    Cooperation is not a DFAT office on the ground.

    Cheers

  10. As for JR’s question about;

    …what kind of specific measures they will take to boost services and infrastructure…

    I think The Greens are on to this with policy item 2;

    The development of networks, materials and programs that increase community understanding of the causes and benefits of migration.

    And policy item 3;

    Sufficient funding for public and community sector agencies providing migrant-specific services to deliver adequate, effective and timely support.

    And, finally, policy item 8;

    Greater incentives for rural and regional distribution of refugees and immigrants using successful models for settlement.

    All from; http://www.greens.org.au/policies/immigration-refugees

    BTW. I love the way that on The Greens website, if you highlight text, it is done so in a beautiful deep green colour, as opposed to the standard blue.
    Very clever!

    Cheers.

  11. This new class of visa would bring a bit of dignity to the process. However…..

    It seems to me that applying for an asylum seekers visa would still be subject to the same processes as an application for a Visitor’s Visa. So what’s the difference?

    Unless the asylum seeker’s visa is granted immediately with little possibility of refusal, you might as well just apply for asylum and travel when you get the all clear.

    I reckon the processing required would be fairly minimal – they don’t need to determine if they ARE a genuine refugee, just that they’re going to seek asylum. Then you have a requirement that their Visa is dependent on their keeping DIMIA aware of their location in Australia, and process them as you get around to it. And let them work in the meantime.

    And the security concerns – same as for anyone else getting on a plane. Check names on interpol watch lists etc. Longer and more involved if you don’t have a passport so checking your identity is more difficult, encouraging people to keep theirs if at all possible.

    The main change is that at the moment we specifically exclude people from obtaining a Visa if they’re seeking asylum or if they’re from certain countries where we’ve greatly limited the number of Visas we’ll grant (if any at all).

    Regarding the processing centres in Indonesia, you said;

    That’s also Greens policy.

    Really? Where? I can’t find any reference to such a thing on The Greens website. I may have been looking in the wrong place.
    The closest I could find was item #12;

    I’ll have to have a look, but I’ve heard them say plenty of times it’s about regional processing on the ground in the countries with the camps.

  12. Marek, my own preference is to accept UNHCR determination of refugee status, since they already have facilities and staff on the ground and generally a lot closer to the source countries . DFATs involvement only needs to extend to working with the UNHCR to ensure their processes remain robust (i.e. not subject to increased corruption as a response to the policy) and perhaps to do the usual security checks before arrival (health checks can almost certainly wait until people arrive).

    Jeremy, there are ten million or maybe more refugees in the world, depending on how you do your estimates. I’m sure most of them, given a chance, would move to Australia to escape the incredibly horrendous situations they are faced with.

    The cost of a plane ticket alone puts applying for asylum here beyond the means of all but a fraction of these people. But that fraction may still be say one million asylum seekers; until the new policy is in place, we can’t know for sure (keep in mind being smuggled by boat is orders of magnitude worse in expensive, speed AND danger than coming by plane). In fact I’m not aware of any even indicative research to give an estimate – e.g. a survey of the amount of the distribution of wealth amongst the world’s refugee population. Also, if applying for asylum does become significantly easier, I think its reasonable to expect the proportion of fraudulent claims to increase.

    Now personally I believe Australia could easily handle the resettlement of even a million asylum seekers – but not if they showed up in a single year, for instance.

    This is why I would myself put an additional price on the refugee visa, that allows some degree of control of arrivals, at least in the medium term while the system is getting started. It will still vastly underprice the people smuggling industry and thus stop the boats.

  13. Longer and more involved if you don’t have a passport so checking your identity is more difficult, encouraging people to keep theirs if at all possible.

    There is no airline in the world that would allow check-in without a passport, so it’s fair to say that all travelers would have one thereby making identity checks a breeze.
    Ironically, what The Greens are proposing is a form of Temporary Protection Visa. The blaring difference between those and the TPVs of Philip Ruddock’s time is that they will be used for good and not evil.

    Cheers.

  14. Jeremy, there are ten million or maybe more refugees in the world, depending on how you do your estimates. I’m sure most of them, given a chance, would move to Australia to escape the incredibly horrendous situations they are faced with.

    That’s one of the big furphies underlying the paranoia about being “swamped”, isn’t it?

    “Most” of the world’s refugees do NOT want to come here. They are just outside their countries’ borders wanting to go home. Of the rest, a majority – or even a significant minority – do NOT put Australia as their first choice. Most try to go to Europe, or America.

    We managed fine before we started linking the formal humanitarian program with unexpected arrivals.

    Suggesting we can have a hard limit on the number of refugees we’ll take when the numbers in the world are unlimited is ludicrous.

    It’s like demanding a hard numerical limit on the number of babies we’ll allow to be born.

    Or a hard numerical limit on the number of people we’ll imprison for committing crimes next year.

    Or telling your family “I’ll help you no more than 100 times this year; after that I’m sorry but you’re on your own”.

  15. There is no airline in the world that would allow check-in without a passport, so it’s fair to say that all travelers would have one thereby making identity checks a breeze.

    Fair point. Interestingly, that would make processing them at this end much easier – because we can get their details from passports and fingerprint them at the airport before they go into the community awaiting processing.

    And unlike coming on boats, there’d be every incentive to keep your passport if possible because that gets you on on the plane in the first place.

    Ironically, what The Greens are proposing is a form of Temporary Protection Visa. The blaring difference between those and the TPVs of Philip Ruddock’s time is that they will be used for good and not evil.

    I suppose it is a sort of defacto one – but only until the asylum seeker is processed and found to be a genuine refugee. Then they can rebuild their lives and there’s nothing temporary about it.

    TPVs were about preventing genuine refugees from moving on with their lives.

  16. Marek, my own preference is to accept UNHCR determination of refugee status, since they already have facilities and staff on the ground and generally a lot closer to the source countries .

    Agreed JA, but our problem is that of asylum seekers who have grown weary of waiting around in God forsaken camps and have given the UNHCR the sack (and rightly so).
    They then take matters into their own hands and risk life and limb making the sea voyage.
    These people have taken themselves outside of the system. It’s our job to bring them back in so as to ensure their safety.
    It may seem like stating the bleeding obvious, but the whole reason people get on boats to Christmas Island is so they can stop talking to the UNHCR and start talking directly to the Australian authorities.
    If that’s all they want, then why the hell can’t we let them do that in Indonesia?

    Cheers

  17. TPVs were about preventing genuine refugees from moving on with their lives.

    Precisely!
    They were a mean spirited tool to foster uncertainty.
    The irony is that, in the end, nearly 97% of TPV holders eventually gained permanent residency. All that pain for no good reason!
    Source.

    Cheers.

  18. Or a hard numerical limit on the number of people we’ll imprison for committing crimes next year.

    Or its like asking a politician who wants to radically change a status quo policy -mandatory imprisonment for any person convicted of a newly established crime of chewing gum – “if this triples the prison population, do you at least have a plan about how you will construct them all the needed facilities in time?”

    The end of visa discrimination to enable plane arrivals – which I have outspokenly advocated for here long before anyone else – will clearly increase arrivals to some extent. Maybe by 10,000 people a year, but maybe by 100,000 a year. Until its been tried, or some “market research” if you will” has been done, no one can be sure. and its reasonable that people ask there be plans in place to deal with plausible contingencies.

    The advantage of maintaining a price on the “refugee visitor visa”, if you want to call it that, is it becomes very easy and quick to gauge what the supply/demand curve looks like; and in particular once you have data showing the numbers will be manageable its simple to drop the price to zero.

    And I’d guess nearly every refugee wants to go home after the threat that drove them has ended, but that for most the preferred option is not a squalid camp across the border but protection in any relatively safe and prosperous country. I wager the U.S., Canada., Europe. Australia etc. aren’t selected as destinations on the basis of inherent differences between them, but on the relative affordability and safety of reaching them (and to a lesser extent the presence of existing communities of migrants from the same backgrounds.) If you make it cheaper, quicker and safer to get to Australia relative to other preferred destinations, its going to have some impact.

  19. Splatterbottom

    “the truth is that the number of people trying to get here is not in excess of our reasonable share anyway”

    Where did you learn this “truth”? If I believed it I would have a lot more sympathy for your proposals.

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