How to stop the boats
The sole decision in the Federal Government’s treatment of unauthorised boat arrivals has been not to make a decision. The inaction of both the Rudd and Gillard governments in the boat arrival problem has been accompanied by media coverage which may only be described as naïve or supportive of the Federal Government’s neglect.
The effect of this combination of weak government and compliant media is to leave the population largely ignorant not only on how the people smuggling industry operates, but also to provide a veil of doubt as to what options the government has to deal with the problem.
To begin to understand Australia’s position in dealing with the problem, three questions need to be examined:
Who are the people making the voyage to Australia?
What is working to inhibit reasonable action to halt the people smuggling operations?
What is a solution to the problem that is credible, long-sighted and in Australia’s interests?
However there is something even more fundamental to ask:
Is there really a problem with the boats?
Listening to numerous “expert” commentaries, one may regularly hear that the boats do not provide a problem at all.
“Oh, it’s only four or five thousand a year, nothing to worry about” has been a theme commentary for several years. I view this response as a deliberate avoidance of the facts. Of course there is a problem, and these numbers will grow out of proportion when families are gradually brought to Australia to join the boat arrivals, as per the promises of the people smugglers.
The very public message being dispatched throughout Asia by the Federal Government is simple: get on a boat, arrive in Australia, call yourself a refugee, have a good story and you are in. This is dangerous and has established an unworkable precedent.
The “numbers” argument fails again when the question is asked: “Five thousand this year, what if 10,000 appear next year? What if 20,000 arrive? These are not unrealistic estimates.
The Government’s avoidance of a decision on the boat arrivals has also created a vacuum of responsibility in the event of civil disturbances in our region. Given the present situation, any suggestion of human rights abuse could trigger the option of heading to Australia, one way or another, and creating a problem or, rather, a series of problems that the Government will be unprepared for and society unable to absorb.
There is a problem with the boats, and it is extremely serious. The media generally has chosen to ignore it. The problem is not limited to characters in Southeast Asia arranging boatloads of people destined for Australia. There is an industry of thousands, many operating from within Australia, functioning to exploit those who can pay, and to use these same people for criminal purposes. People smuggling and crime within Australia bear a high correlation, but this will not be officially recognised.
Who are the arrivals?
A doctrine in law is that all people are innocent until proven guilty. A similar popular presumption is applied to boat arrivals. All claimants to refugee status are deemed, but not classified, as refugees until proven otherwise. The reality is quite different.
What can be confidently stated is that the large majority of those arriving by boat in Australia and claiming refugee status are economic migrants – with a good story. The “story” is refined by the people smuggler to ensure immigration officials are presented with enough difficulty to be unable to prove it to be incorrect. Many of those claiming to be refugees have, in all likelihood, experienced a tough time, but this is not the basis of a refugee claim. The fact that the big majority of economic migrants are determined to be refugees demonstrates how fragile the legal barriers are against the criminal gangs who make a mockery of Australia’s sovereignty and national security.
The politics of self-interest
Why is the Federal Government unable to stop the boats?
This is a reasonable question for which there is no apparent, let alone comprehendable, answer. The government talks of Australia’s “international obligations” and little else is mentioned. Let us be very clear on this point. Neither Australia nor any other country is obliged to accept illegal arrivals into the community. Should a claim for refugee status be lodged on arrival, this should be heard, but it may be considered only in conjunction with the principle that all countries have the right to have secure borders.
What is the Federal Government frightened of that permits the problem to continue in the absence of sensible and balanced discussion?
The Rudd Government displayed little serious interest in stopping the boats. Remember the humiliating experience of our prime minister pleading for assistance in resolving the Oceanic Viking affair?
What of Julia Gillard? Why is the Gillard Government also seemingly incapable of making a decision on the boat arrivals? Why does it maintain the impotence of its predecessor? The answer is: political weakness – more concerned about political considerations than resolving a serious and conflicting national problem.
Now the unhealthy relationship between people smuggling and the policy of multiculturalism becomes clear. A tough decision on boat arrivals will not enure the prime minister to multicultural politics.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have both recently conceded that multiculturalism in their nations has failed. It has been a dismal failure in Australia, however Julia Gillard now has plans to promote the policy.
Significantly, there is the attitude of our near neighbours. Southeast Asian political commentators quietly express disbelief at the apparent ineptitude of the Federal Government. Asian cultural values embrace a simple view of the boat arrival problem. If the Australians are so stupid as to allow this type of activity to continue, they deserve what they get. If Australia wishes to acquire and hold a genuine respect from our trading partners to the north, we should demonstrate policies of fairness but also have a line in the sand. Currently, no such line exists in the illegal boat arrivals and all Australians are paying a price – one way or another.
How to stop the boats
With each boat arrival, Australia’s security and sovereignty considerations take another step backwards. However, stopping the boats is not a simple matter. Returning boats and their passengers would raise a variety of complications and, realistically, would be unworkable. The answer is to remove from the entire people smuggling equation the basic motivation – i.e. to obtain refugee status and gain permanent entry to Australia, to be followed by family members later. This is the main objective and by removing the motivation the flow will stop.
This is how it would work.
The Federal Government announces in the Parliament that any unauthorised boat arrival, commencing that day, will be treated precisely as others have in the past – with two exceptions. Should passengers claim refugee status, this process will be undertaken, not by Australian immigration officials, but by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the event of a successful claim, the country of destination for that refugee will be determined by consultation between Australian and UNHCR officials – but it will not be Australia. The cost of removing both successful and unsuccessful refugee claimants will be supported by the Australian government.
Where possible, the UNHCR is avoided by asylum seekers. The likelihood of a successful refugee claim is considerably higher in Australia than one examined by UNHCR. This alone will be a strong incentive not to pay a large sum of money and to undertake a risky journey. Knowing that residency in Australia will not be achieved in this manner will be the decisive factor in stopping the boats. The incentive disappears and Australia re-asserts a measure of international credibility.
The overseas refugee industry involved in boat movements to Australia will collapse. Political correctness will ensure that a significant slice of the Australian media will oppose the decision or remain silent. Several leaders of minority groups can be expected to raise strong objections. The Greens, predictably, will scream the loudest.