“Deterrence” will never work or, get ready for a sad “I told you so” in 2014

When the ALP decided to ape most of the Howard Government’s anti-refugee policies last year, I said it wouldn’t “work”, even if you defined “work” as “bully vulnerable people into staying in danger in Indonesian camps indefinitely instead of getting on boats”.

And of course it didn’t. Of course it didn’t, because Indonesia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and we are, so we cannot leave refugees who come here without any humanitarian protections at all like they can.


Remember how we justified IMPRISONING CHILDREN on the basis of how many lives it was going to “save” and then it didn’t anyway?

But not letting a cruel abject failure deter us, we’re trying again! The ALP is now attempting to “deter” people on boats by being even crueller than before, and just refusing to take any refugee who arrives here on their own if it’s by boat, but not if it’s by plane, and nobody’s quite sure what the rules are for hovercrafts (god you’re hopeless, national media, why can’t you find this out?).

And, again, it won’t “work”, even under the monstrously inhumane definition of “work” described above. Why not? Because whilst PNG is worse than Australia, and dangerous, and corrupt – so long as we’re required to make sure they’re at least safe and able to eat while being processed, which we are, by virtue of the Convention and also our rhetoric of claiming to give even a vague shit about their lives – then they’re still better off than they were in Indonesia.

(Let’s ignore for now that the policy is discriminatory and will undoubtedly be challenged as being almost certainly contrary to our obligations under the Convention.)

The test if you want to “deter” isn’t “how can we treat them worse than the most vulnerable people in our society” – the test has to be “can we treat them worse than they’re treated in Indonesian camps”. And the answer is no, we can’t.

So again, this won’t work. We’re just treating refugees ever more cruelly because it makes the people in Western Sydney, who apparently blame every challenge in their lives on fantasy “reffos” who are living in imaginary LUXURY ON OUR DIME, feel like at least they’re being punished for daring to ask us for help – but it won’t stop them coming, and in a year we’ll be trying something even nastier. Which also won’t work.

I’m telling you so now. And all those who thought that the ALP’s scheme last year was going to “work” but haven’t called on them to abandon it once it became clear it hasn’t – what will it take before you recognise that “deterrence” will not work, cannot work, and we’d be much better off professing refugees promptly and compassionately and stopping trying to duck our responsibilities and drive them away.

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36 responses to ““Deterrence” will never work or, get ready for a sad “I told you so” in 2014

  1. I’d be willing to bet against the predictive content of what you’re saying here – that if this policy stays in place by say late 2015 and there are no other major changes, we will by that point with high probability see a drastic reduction in boat arrivals.

  2. Didn’t you think the switch to LNP policies last year was going to see such a reduction?

  3. I guess I don’t know enough about the conditions Afghans are living in in Indonesia. I take it things are rough. But they’re also an organised group of people and they already seem to have realised how bad conditions can be in PNG – including the horrendous amount of violence against women. They’re making noises about not taking the boat trip. Apparently, unlike other asylum seekers in Indonesia, they don’t pay the boat owners in advance and are not committed to making the trip. And it seems they’re rethinking the idea of making the sea trip in an attempt to reach Australia. Where that leaves them while they’re stuck in a non-signatory country I have no idea. Does anyone?
    I think you may be half right in your “told you so”. The PNG deterrent may work with some asylum seekers and not with others. Depends on the level of desperation maybe.
    And while I don’t approve of what Rudd’s done, it looks to me to be very clever. He’ll win the vote of some of the fence-sitting xenophobes, “country’s full” voters, people taking a look at a vote for Hanson, etc. Will he lose the left vote? Where are they going to go? I’m hoping it’ll be #1 Greens #2 Labor. Lefties aren’t likely to vote #2 LNP. So Labor doesn’t miss out on the left vote anyway, just the $2-something payment from the gumnut for the #1 votes and Labor doesn’t really need that money anyway, does it?
    [PS. Sorry one of my (increasingly frequent) ‘senior moments’ mucked up a SomethingWonky support Tweet recently. Some twisted neurons dismissed the ‘Dave’ and plucked the ‘roger’ out of the memory bank. Doh.]

  4. That “here are some ENTIRELY RANDOM Afghans who say now they won’t come” story heading the ABC site this morning is pretty darn suss.

    Anyway, who’s going to choose to stay in danger with no protections in an Indonesian camp when they can get on a boat and go to PNG with the Australian government guaranteeing conditions to some extent and there being some prospect of working/getting fed?

  5. Didn’t you think the switch to LNP policies last year was going to see such a reduction?

    No. I thought the Malaysia Solution might have, but it was never implemented.

  6. Its possible you are confusing me with mondo, or maybe SB.

  7. However I do think if you look at the rates in arrivals over the Howard years, and try to factor in plausible “push” and “pull” factors, it seems likely at least some of the latter had some effect; but its very difficult the causation from all the correlation.

    To be clear though, the point of my original comment is that I am sufficiently confident this move will have an effect (which isn’t to say its good policy) that I would be willing to bet against anyone who believes the opposite, including yourself;

  8. If it happens, this should really put out the welcome mat for Muslim would-be refugees arriving in PNG: http://pacificflash.onepng.com/2013/07/png-move-to-ban-non-christian-faiths.html

  9. I look forward to us being invaded as a result of not meeting our obligations under the Convention. Hopefully one of our Dear Leaders will duly extricate us from it before the weight of international ire comes crashing down on our heads.

    Oh wait, no one cares. They are just basking in the warm glow of realising that brown people won’t take derrrre wimmin and derrre jeeeerrrbbbssss.

    Anyway, bored of this now, what’s the next piece of dog whistle nonsense we can spend a decade or three terrorising the plebs with?

    I think something do with the internet, maybe mixing cybercrime and kiddie porn. Australia has a chance to be a world leader in online repression and if we can terrify the peons severely enough, that trophy can be ours.

  10. Splatterbottom

    At the time Rudd took over, the Howard refugee policy was not operating harshly because there were virtually no refugees in detention and virtually none attempting dangerous voyages. There was no reason (other than moral exhibitionism) to abolish that policy.

    If instead of abolishing the Howard policy Rudd had substantially increased the refugee intake we might right now be doing our share when it comes to refugees, over a thousand people would not have drowned and we would not have thousands of people in detention.

  11. Can we please start calling a spade a spade? We don’t put asylum seekers in “detention” we lock them up. We don’t have “detention centers,” we have prison camps or prisons or concentration camps if you prefer. And let’s stop being so nice to Mr Abbott. Every time he uses the word “illegal” to describe desperate people on leaky boats he is lying. He knows it’s not illegal to come here and seek asylum and yet he continues to say it.

    As for Rudd, the man has no soul. Sending refugees to PNG is completely sick in the head. How must the rest of the world see us? The richest, luckiest country on earth and we demand that one of the poorest nations take refugees who dare to ask for our help.

    And anyone who thinks that a sane, compassionate refugee policy would mean electoral death, please look up any or all of the following sitting and former MPs on Wikipeadia: Petro Georgiou, Judy Moylan, Russell Broadbent, Tony Windsor and the late Peter Andren. The latter, in particular, is a stand out. He was proof that a pollie who told the truth about this issue could romp it in. Because Australians are not fools and they love politicians with guts.

  12. If Howard’s policies kept the refugee boats away, what then happened to those people who would have taken a boat due to their circumstances?

    Did they form an “orderly queue” or did they actually DIE by other (quite likely violent) means in their own country?

  13. Splatterbottom

    The ones who come by boat have already made it to Indonesia. They are not likely to die ‘quite violently’ there. More than a thousand have DIED since Rudd resuscitated the people smuggling business.

  14. returnedman

    Hmmm and I wonder what happens to them in Indonesia …

  15. Splatterbottom

    No doubt the enterprising ones decide to invest in a small business with the money they would otherwise pay the people smugglers. But if they think the benefits of coming to Australia outweigh the risk and the money paid to people smugglers they would choose that option. That is what I would do.

  16. Curious, for a number of commentators who complain about mainstream press being a “bit loose with the facts” we seem to playing pretty casual here as well.

    ‘Where that leaves them while they’re stuck in a non-signatory country I have no idea. Does anyone?”

    Well yea, most of the ones near my place are living in village hotels and accommodation mostly paid for by UNHCR, however a significant number of the Iranians are doing nicely out of the drug trade and moved upmarket. The downside is my daughter and friends must now be constantly escorted as the misogynist attitudes brought to the community by these people. Certainly none of the muslim refugees are likely to die a violent death although if you happen to be a minority belief then life is much harder and you run the risk of violence at the hands of the Muslim majority refugees.

    ‘If it happens, this should really put out the welcome mat for Muslim would-be refugees arriving in PNG:”

    Well this is hardly surprising as many Papuans will have relatives in West Papua where native Papuans are now a minority group in their own land both population and belief wise. Muslims primarily from Java now control virtually all business and government agencies with rampant human rights abuses and daily discrimination including the particularly repugnant practice of forced removal of children to be religiously indoctrinated in Java.

    “Hopefully one of our Dear Leaders will duly extricate us from it before the weight of international ire comes crashing down on our head”

    This of course is laughable, do you really think any of our ASEAN neighbours gives damn about the “refugees”? Regionally, at best they are means to extract some ill gotten gains, at worst a problem to be passed on to others as fast as possible.

    “The richest, luckiest country on earth and we demand that one of the poorest nations take refugees who dare to ask for our help”

    In the case of PNG, possibly debatable point but for Indonesia nonsensical. Indonesia is vastly more wealthy than Australia the fact that after 60 years of independence she has not moved past a brutal, uncaring robber baron mentality is not Australia’s problem. The oft quoted “Australia has a responsibility or an obligation is rubbish (she may desire the humanity but not an obligation). The so called Convention was never designed for the current situation. Far more nations have an “Obiligation” both ethnically or religiously under Ummah. It beggars belief that people can parrot on about Australia’s obligations whilst willingly ignorant of other nations attitudes and approach.

    Lastly a disclosure, I am a Muslim living in Indonesia with my Muslim family and yes I resent the vast numbers of so called refugees that arrived and destroyed the fabric of our community. The very laid back traditional Islam is being replaced by a misogynic and radical imported version. The practice of Nikah Mutuh (short term marriages) is now increasingly used to defile women and Iranians in particular are active in the drug trade. Yes there are genuine refugees but few and far between by the time they get to Indonesia.

  17. “Indonesia is vastly more wealthy than Australia” – Oigal

    Not really – per capita GDP is a much better indicator of wealth.

    ” I resent the vast numbers of so called refugees that arrived and destroyed the fabric of our community. The very laid back traditional Islam is being replaced by a misogynic and radical imported version”

    And it’s all the refugees fault, of course. It’s not like any Indonesians travelled to Afghanistan in the 1980’s or anything like that……

  18. “Indonesia is vastly more wealthy than Australia” – Oigal

    “Not really – per capita GDP is a much better indicator of wealth.”

    Debatable, Indonesia has vast resources and a huge (and young) population. Nor does per capita GDP accurately reflect relative wealth. That said the point as who is responsible for the realisation of that wealth (or not) is a post for another time. Point is why is Australia more morally obligated than Indonesia (or Malaysia) for Muslim refugees for instance. Is it because Indonesia is currently ruled by a robber baron elite hence poorer than it should be by any measure? An banking measure perhaps but not a moral one.

    ‘And it’s all the refugees fault, of course. It’s not like any Indonesians travelled to Afghanistan in the 1980′s or anything like that… ” – Nawagadj

    Indeed, and if you wanted to trace the parentage of modern Indonesian terrorism it is commonly acknowledged as a good place to start. Interesting inference you are then drawing about travellers to and from Afghanistan.

  19. “. Point is why is Australia more morally obligated than Indonesia (or Malaysia) for Muslim refugees for instance. Is it because Indonesia is currently ruled by a robber baron elite hence poorer than it should be by any measure? ” – Oigal

    I would no more expect Indonesia to be responsible for refugees because they are Muslim, than i would Australia if they were Christian.
    Any moral obligation stems from the principle of ‘each according to their means’. Some may also find a moral obligation stemming from the involvement of wars in those countries of origins.

    ” Interesting inference you are then drawing about travellers to and from Afghanistan.”

    Not sure what you mean.

  20. I would no more expect Indonesia to be responsible for refugees because they are Muslim, than i would Australia if they were Christian.

    Not really apples with apples, Indonesia as a muslim majority has a moral obligation (as does any Muslim nation) under the concept of Ummah. As for means, Indonesia certainly has the means to provide at least as much as she does for her own domestic population. 50,000 or 100,000 is not really going to put much of dent in the population of 240 million. Granted it may be said that Australia could provide more or even should but to pretend that countries like Indonesia do not have the same if not greater obligation is false.

    One cannot pretend that if Rudd’s current bluff is called and a significant number of Muslim Refugees end up permanently in Papua this will not lead to major community disaster. There is nothing but bloodshed at the end of this journey. Surely a more logical approach would be to resettle Muslim Refugees in Muslim Indonesia (of course, this would expose intolerant brands of Islam currently gaining ground in the country).

    “Some may also find a moral obligation stemming from the involvement of wars in those countries of origins.”

    Yes, perhaps and yet again a get of free card for Muslim Governments around the world. Do they not have an obligation for standing silent and allowing continual gross human right abuses across the Middle East. As a resident in Indonesia, I have always found it mildly amusing when the Indonesian Government rants about Gitmo yet welcomes the President of Iran with open arms despite the now over 5000 political prisoners held in Iranian..well let’s be polite ..prisons.

    Curiously perhaps what some may think after what I have written. I am actually a supporter for increased Refugee intake. However, the risk is assuming all or even the majority can accept that Australia’s greatest asset is that religion has no place in the public sphere. Many traditional Muslims cannot accept that, as is Islam is more than a religion but a complete way of life. To pretend does not need to be managed and managed well is a recipe for discord and only empowers the xenophobes.

  21. I would no more expect Indonesia to be responsible for refugees because they are Muslim, than i would Australia if they were Christian.

    Not really apples with apples, Indonesia as a muslim majority has a moral obligation (as does any Muslim nation) under the concept of Ummah. As for means, Indonesia certainly has the means to provide at least as much as she does for her own domestic population. 50,000 or 100,000 is not really going to put much of dent in the population of 240 million. Granted it may be said that Australia could provide more or even should but to pretend that countries like Indonesia do not have the same if not greater obligation is false.

    One cannot pretend that if Rudd’s current bluff is called and a significant number of Muslim Refugees end up permanently in Papua this will not lead to major community disaster. There is nothing but bloodshed at the end of this journey. Surely a more logical approach would be to resettle Muslim Refugees in Muslim Indonesia (of course, this would expose intolerant brands of Islam currently gaining ground in the country).

    “Some may also find a moral obligation stemming from the involvement of wars in those countries of origins.”

    Yes, perhaps and yet again a get of free card for Muslim Governments around the world. Do they not have an obligation for standing silent and allowing continual gross human right abuses across the Middle East. As a resident in Indonesia, I have always found it mildly amusing when the Indonesian Government rants about Gitmo yet welcomes the President of Iran with open arms despite the now over 5000 political prisoners held in Iranian..well let’s be polite ..prisons.

    Curiously perhaps what some may think after what I have written. I am actually a supporter for increased Refugee intake. However, the risk is assuming all or even the majority can accept that Australia’s greatest asset is that religion has no place in the public sphere. Many traditional Muslims cannot accept that, as is Islam is more than a religion but a complete way of life. To pretend does not need to be managed and managed well is a recipe for discord and only empowers the xenophobes.

  22. Australia’s greatest asset is that religion has no place in the public sphere. Many traditional Muslims cannot accept that.

    Many traditional Christians cannot accept it either, apparently. See – prayer in parliament, chaplains in schools, marriage equality, Lyle Shelton, Danny Nalliah.

  23. ” Indonesia as a muslim majority has a moral obligation (as does any Muslim nation) under the concept of Ummah” – Oigal/antiross

    Is this written in the Indonesian Constitution?

    “Yes, perhaps and yet again a get of free card for Muslim Governments around the world. Do they not have an obligation for standing silent and allowing continual gross human right abuses across the Middle East.”

    Why on Earth is Indonesia more responsible for Iranian (for instance) human rights abuses than Australia?

    Does Australia have some special obligation in dealing with human rights problems in Chrisitian majority countries?? It’s absurd.

  24. narcoticmusing

    Given (and please correct me if I’m wrong) Indonesia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and Australia is – unless our word means squat, I think we can settle the ‘who owes a greater obligation’ debate. WE AGREED TO HELP. Indonesia didn’t.

  25. No Indonesia is not a signatory of the Refugee Convention but she is a founding member of ASEAN and of the OIC which does imply a number of obligations.

    However the point you are making is the only obligation is if someone signed a document many moons ago? That is strange argument, by that standard if we formally withdraw from the agreement then we have no more obligation to do anything? Hardly seems reasonable. As for our word meaning squat? I think our performance over East Timor, Greatest moral challenge of our time, etc pretty much has set that standard.

    Do not misinterpret what I have said. I never said Australia should not help. However I do not buy into the fallacy that other countries in the region do not have at least the same moral obligation if not more and frankly signing a document or not is not an excuse.

  26. narcoticmusing

    So Oigal, you’d suggest that someone who has explicitly promised to do certain things has less of an obligation than someone who has some vague inferences that they might do something? Really? You know we can withdraw as a signatory at any time – so if we want to reduce the obligation we can. But guess what, Australians don’t want to remove ourselves. Australians WANT the obligation and the promise we made to be fulfilled.

  27. Ok Narco, let’s play that one out as much as it is a side road.
    Firstly let’s be honest the “explicitly promised to do certain things” was an agreement from another time and an entirely different set of conditions. It you may will conclude that the overall moral principle remains the same but you must acknowledge the government of the day did not intend it to cover todays mix of refugees. Why what was it that the hero of the left Gough said “We don’t want not Vietnamese Balts here” (sorry para phrase).

    Secondly, pretty sure I said “that other countries in the region do not have at least the same moral obligation” Now I understand it helps to frame anyone who happens to think the current free for all is a recipe for disaster as an unrepentant, uncaring bastard but it really does not help things at all. My point is and remains that Australia can and should assist does not negate the fact that other in the region have an equal or in many cases due to religious, cultural issues a greater obligation.

    Thirdly, there is nothing vague about Ummah or OIC principles and the obligations therein. It is silly PC to pretend that Islam is not a huge factor to be considered in many if not the majority of cases. Islam alone dictates the resettlement of refugees in PNG can only end in bloodshed and surely Malaysia and Indonesia would be a far more logical location (although, as I said, from my own selfish viewpoint, more than happy to have Australia and elsewhere take on these mid-east brands of hard line Islam and the community issues they bring).

    Lastly, “Australians WANT the obligation and the promise we made to be fulfilled” actually quite obviously they do not. If they did you would not see such silly things such as the PNG solution and once again the ALP having no idea what it actually stands for. The polls very clearly indicate that the majority of Australians DO NOT WANT the obligation. This does not make them evil or uncaring but justifiably cynical when refugees transit through Muslim countries, lose passports and papers somewhere between Australia and Indonesia (not all but a significant amount)..

  28. “Firstly let’s be honest the “explicitly promised to do certain things” was an agreement from another time and an entirely different set of conditions” – Oigal

    Which the Australian Govt can formally withdraw from at any time it wishes to do so.

    “…does not negate the fact that other in the region have an equal or in many cases due to religious, cultural issues a greater obligation.”

    Still not sure quite sure how a state has any moral obligations stemming from the religious beliefs of the people living in it. Maybe you can explain this?

  29. narcoticmusing

    I’d also suggest it is not up to us what Indonesia does so why is it even relevant? What is relevant is what we can do as Australians – and thus it is relevant what Australia has committed to do and whether it is breaking its promise to the international (and domestic) communities.

  30. “Still not sure quite sure how a state has any moral obligations stemming from the religious beliefs of the people living in it”
    Then you have obviously never lived in a Majority Muslim Country where belief in God is enshrined in the constitution, where the state even regulates which religion (out of six) you may belong to and where atheism is a crime against the state. Oh and do look up the concept of Ummah

    “I’d also suggest it is not up to us what Indonesia does so why is it even relevant?”

    Let’s see Indonesia is The major transit country, Visa’s on arrival are issued to known Asylum (?) seekers, boats are crewed by Indonesian crews, passages are facilitated by Indonesian Officials. Indonesia is the major recipient of Foreign Aid. How on earth is Indonesia not relevant to any discussion of Asylum seekers?

  31. “Then you have obviously never lived in a Majority Muslim Country where belief in God is enshrined in the constitution…..”

    In God , yes, but not in Islam, so the question still stands, why does the state have any moral obligation stemming from the religious belief of some of it’s citizens.

    Is the concept of Ummah in the constitution – no.

  32. Are you serious? Do you really have little idea of what and how the dominant religion trumps everyday life in Indonesia? The real world outside of pretty, protected Australia awaits. I would suggest that you try google Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe or even Tempo if you have an Indonesian translator available. Search religious intolerance or even FPI for a start and you will see how little religion trumps the constitution each and every time.

  33. I think you’re confusing 2 things.

    If you want to argue that Muslims who preach the Ummah, have a moral obligation to help refugees, who won’t get any disagreement from me.

    But the geo-political entity known as the Republic of Indonesia has absolutely no ‘moral obligation’ stemming from these beliefs. To argue otherwise is to accept the idea of religion trumping the constitution, an idea which I’m pretty sure you oppose.

  34. narcoticmusing

    Oigal, you are confusing the issues.

    First of all, this post was about what AUSTRALIA is doing, not Indonesia. Ergo, Indonesia is not relevant.

    Secondly, last I checked, Indonesia is a sovereign nation. Its ‘moral obligations’ to do or not do something is entirely irrelevant to any obligations we have. Australia’s actions and obligations are not contingent on Indonesia’s. The only obligations of Indonesia relevant to us, are those that we have agree with them. Other than that, they are sovereign to make their own decisions. If we wish to shift that, then we can (and have many times) enter an agreement with them in which they would then have obligations to us.

    You seem to be arguing that just because one person does something wrong (or doesn’t do something right) that that suddenly justifies a 2nd party also doing wrong (or not doing something right). This is a preposterous position that denies Australia self-actualisation on the basis of scapegoating.

    Ergo Indonesia’s moral obligations are irrelevant to the decisions AUSTRALIA makes about fulfilling its own obligations. Indonesia’s decisions/policies may influence the Australian policy position, but Indonesia’s moral obligation does not and should not. Otherwise all we get is finger pointing and no action – but that seems to be all you are advocating for.

  35. Well I think not, firstly it is this “all or nothing” approach that has got us where were are now. On one side we have this Australia has an open ended obligation to accept all people claiming refugee status. Quite rightfully (and contrary to an earlier post) most Australians are cynical about that, particularly when approx 30% decided to return home under the Howard Regime, so safe to say their lives were not in that much danger.

    On the other side we “All Asylum seekers are evil Muslims who will be unable to accept Australia’s way of life”

    Instead of providing an acceptable middle ground approach, we now have a rather brutal and doomed to failure PNG solution. As much as it suits the sanctimonious left to belittle other Australians as xenophobic and racist, the shrillers deserve at least as much credit for bringing us to this low point of a choice of extremes.

    Still, going around it circles now. As I said from a purely selfish point of view, PNG or Australia works for me as a resident in Indonesia the NIMBY principle works well. In fact, would you like another million or so economic refugees and religious hardliners..we got heaps..

    Thanks and goodbye for now

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