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A Wicked Problem. A Wicked Solution?

When Kevin Rudd announced Labor’s new asylum seeker policy yesterday, my knee-jerk reaction was to be very concerned. Kevin Rudd and his Labor colleagues obviously desperately want to win the election, as I hope they do. But the last thing I want to see is Rudd winning by adopting Abbott’s right wing policies– that’s not the Labor Party way. And besides, what’s the point of campaigning against Abbott for the last three years, only to eventually give in and say ‘if you can’t beat them, you may as well become them’? However, knee-jerk reactions aside, after having some more time to think about this situation, I must admit I’m really not sure what to think. But what I would like is to at least be given the opportunity to discuss and debate policy changes, before having them written off by every left-winger I know, before joining protests and before wasting my vote by not voting for anyone.

When I first heard mention on Twitter that Rudd was going to get rid of the Carbon Price, I panicked. But then after realising he wasn’t actually emulating Abbott, and rather moving to an ETS a year sooner than we would have anyway, I understood it was actually a smart move. Taking ‘Axe the Tax’ away from Abbott has left him impotent. It has erased his one-dimensional stunt and smear campaign, and forced the media to take a least a cursory interest in his Direct Action alternative. This has to be a good thing. In an ideal world, the Carbon Price would have been accepted by the entire community as a cost we had to bear and polluters wouldn’t have pooled their resources to smash the Labor Party for bringing in this policy. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, far from it. And if the electorate is threatening to vote Labor out for introducing the Carbon Price, and all it takes to stop this happening is to change it to an ETS a year earlier than originally planned, isn’t this outcome better than handing power to Abbott and his wasteful, ineffective joke of a Direct Action policy? Might the ETS not even work better to reduce emissions? Pragmatism, I think it’s called. There’s no point being holier-than-thou in opposition when you can have the less-than-perfect, but better than the alternative, policy in government.

Bearing in mind that the whole idea of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister has been a little difficult for me to stomach over the last few weeks, I am now looking at his asylum seeker policy change and wondering if he’s done something evil and unacceptable, or if he’s again being pragmatic in the very less than ideal world of an electorate who hate ‘boat people’. When you’ve got every news outlet in the country, including the ABC, reporting every single asylum seeker boat arrival like it’s an invasion by an alien species, it’s no wonder there are large portions of the Australian public who feel justified in their bigoted hatred of people arriving by boat. But the really difficult problem, which many seem desperate not to discuss, is that the political reality of the situation is thus: if the majority of the electorate is going to vote for the leader who promises to ‘stop the boats’, Abbott is going to win the election by promising to ‘stop the boats’. And however vile, illogical and racist this sentiment is, I haven’t seen anyone, Labor and Greens included, make any headway whatsoever in changing this attitude in the Australian community. Yes, we should be talking about these people’s individual stories and their terror and desperation in their decision to get on a boat. But while we fail to hear these stories, and while the electorate refuses to budge on this issue, the Labor party is left with a wicked problem. Pander to the voters by promising to also ‘stop the boats’. Or lose the election by leaving the policy as is. And let Abbott ‘stop the boats’ by turning them around, which everyone with any expertise knows is not a viable alternative and will not solve anything. Also, good luck getting Abbott to increase the intake of refugees. He’d slash it given the chance. No doubt even suggesting that Labor should ‘pander’ to the electorate is enough for me to lose very Greens Twitter follower I have, but I’m not apologising for supporting anything that keeps Abbott out of power.

So back to Labor’s asylum seeker PNG policy. Again, I haven’t totally decided how I feel about it, and I am not ready to jump to campaign against it, or to support it in full. But I do know that this is one policy area where many people seem to want it both ways. For instance, when the media reports the devastating news that asylum seekers have drowned on their journey to Australia, the government is blamed for these deaths. Because they didn’t ‘stop the boats’. But then when the government attempts to find a way to convince asylum seekers to stay where they are, to wait for resettlement, to not get on a boat, the very same people who are complaining about the dangers of coming by boat, are complaining about the policy alternative being cruel and inhumane. Let’s get something straight. Kevin Rudd can’t stop people who come by boat from drowning. If people choose to come by boat, a certain percentage of them will drown. This is tragic and unfair. But it is fact. This is why I am not afraid to say that I support stopping the boats. I don’t want to stop asylum seekers. I just want them not to get on a boat. In fact, if Rudd’s policy of sending asylum seekers to PNG does stop people coming to Australia by boat, won’t this policy also stop drownings?

And how about the people who have been stuck in Indonesian refugee camps indefinitely because they can’t afford to pay a people smuggler to bring them to Australia? Aren’t these people disadvantaged by their extreme poverty? If Australia agrees to provide a certain number of Humanitarian Visas each year, and the quota is filled by those asylum seekers who have survived the boat trip to Australia, what happens to the people who can’t afford to come by boat? I don’t think we talk about these forgotten people enough.

One part of Rudd’s PNG policy announcement which seems to have flown under the radar, in preference for outrage and condemnation from some politicians, their supporters and those speaking on their behalf in the media, is the promise to “consider progressively increasing our humanitarian intake towards 27,000 as recommended by the Houston panel.” I congratulate Rudd on this, and I hope that it is not just considered, but also implemented. As I said, I fully support Australia accepting more refugees. Full stop.

I guess where I’m feeling most confused is trying to reconcile my feelings about the policy, with the underlying dread that Rudd is just doing this to win votes. But then, isn’t beating Abbott, and stopping him turning back boats, a justifiable motive for doing whatever it takes to win the election? And is the PNG solution really as evil as many people are making out? I haven’t decided, but I appreciate the opportunity to think aloud, to analyse the situation before a knee-jerk reaction becomes my opinion. This is quite a foreign feeling for someone as opinionated as I am, but I’m learning to live with it.


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  1. g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336a

    this is pretty close to my thoughts on the issue
    It is a very complex problem and is never going to have a simple answer

    It is not a perfect decision but it is not all bad either

  2. Ricky Pann

    This article is a prime example of knee jerk reaction.. You don’t like Rudd I get it but Rudd has done more in a week than the postulating pole sitters have in years. Get over it and give it a chance, the alternative is rhetorical nonsense from a fake with nothingnes.

  3. denise

    Excellent Vic.

  4. Robert Macklin

    If it was the only element in the Rudd policy it might be arguable, but with his regional approach through the Indonesian President and the global aspect involving the UN (plus his willingness to raise refugee numbers to 27,000) I think it’s worth supporting.

  5. denniallen

    I agree with that too Rick. 🙂

  6. Bacchus

    My hopes for this policy:

    * The people smugglers’ model will be broken, stopping so many people from getting onto “leaky boats.”
    * As a result, very few extra people will end up in PNG in the longer term.
    * PNG will get extra help from Australia to handle the Asylum seekers they’re already getting across their border with Indonesia, and extra assistance with health, education and policing.
    * Australia will increase their humanitarian intake, vastly increasing the numbers of “forgotten” refugees currently languishing in camps around the world, but especially in our region.

    I’m hoping, with the cooperation of regional leaders, this can be further expanded to other near neighbours – Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga – a true “regional approach.”

  7. John Lord

    Victoria I have answered your question by suggesting that the great good is better served by retaining government.

  8. Monicas wckd stpmthr (@Monicas_WS)

    Australia takes the same number of refugees every year, whether they are selected from overseas refugee camps or “self-select” by claiming asylum in Australia after arriving by air or sea. The major problem with onshore asylum claims is that it can be very difficult to process these claims, because of a lack of documentation, or conditions in the home country preventing Australian officials from gathering evidence. There is a further problem, in that it can be difficult, and often impossible to deport people who fail to gain refugee status. Some countries (eg Iran) refuse to accept involuntary returns, some are “stateless”, the Convention doesn’t permit return of people to an unsafe situation, and some people are considered to be a threat to Australia’s security and can’t be released. Many Government resources (public servants, the court system) are tied up dealing with a small proportion of long-term residents in our detention centres. I expect that the few intractable problems, which get publicised as refugee advocates try to prevent non-refugees removal from Australia, have increased the resentment towards onshore asylum seekers (even though a majority are successful). All boat arrivals are lumped together, even though many are completely blameless.

    A further problem with self-selection, is that Australia’s refugee intake is skewed towards young males and away from women and children. Women and children are much less likely to come by boat, for financial and cultural reasons. However, women and children are more likely to need Australia’s protection than young men. I would feel a lot more comfortable if Australia’s refugee policy was “women and children first.”

  9. Buff McMenis

    As usual, Victoria .. clear, concise, well thought out explanation of your feelings and an eerie similarity to mine! I only hope that more of us feel this way and do NOT respond with the “knee-jerk” reaction of Christine Milne and SHY, who are making a profession out of being very vocal about their ideological extremes on every subject rather than the considered responses we used to get from Bob Brown! They are doing a “Meg Lees a la Democrats” and this is a shame for the Greens.

  10. Rod Lloyd

    You have expressed the misgivings of the “not polarised”, myself amongst them. It is a diabolically wicked problem in itself, apart from the wider politics and public opinion aspects. Many people, men women and children are being drowned attempting this, people who are in the main fleeing from bad and dangerous circumstances whilst trying to avoid the alternative awfulness of refugee camps and the years of waiting in that for themselves and the people they love – like we love ours. They are being exploited terribly by heartless smugglers becoming richer by the month and no doubt instructing them in dubious means of rescue and false promise of hope. Any decent person would want this to stop. But the needful and desperate still are there. Nationally we are offering and taking on and participating in global refugee resettlement attempts, yet still our compassionate side, if we have one, (with our guilt, appropriate or not) would unrealistically say yes to everyone of need and suffering. It is time to face every way we face there is no way out – particularly with the idealistic but unrealistic intransigience of the Greens. The more they stomp their feet and say no, the worse the available options get, while people drown. Perhaps this hardness with a different kind of applied compassion with increased intakes via less treacherous channels is the last sad choice we must make. Eventually, at least, it will slow the rate of these treacherous journeys and their tragedies. MSM is just a ooh ah circus in all this, ever part of the problem.

  11. puffytmd

    “Rudd did more in three weeks”

    Anyone who thinks this was knocked up by Rudd in a week is dreaming, ditto the Indonesian visa crackdown.

    These would have been worked out over the months and been sitting there waiting for signatures at the right time in the campaign.

    I suggest this was a Plan B of the Gillard government waiting to be implemented after parliament rose, timetabled for the Sept 14th election.

    Rudd is just filling the court-heeled shoes.

  12. Gilli Bruce

    All well said, Victoria. I appreciate your musings/thinking aloud greatly.

  13. Fed up

    puffy, I hope you are right. That means it will be well thought out plan. It appears that the number we take will be increased to 27,000. Morrison intends to bring it down to 14,000.

    We now have Warren Truss Coalition getting a good hearing today on ABC 24 He reminds us that there is 16 members of the front back that were in the Howard government. Is that really stability. Can think of a better definition. Something like stagnation and living in the past.

  14. Caroline

    I support RUDDS PNG PLAN and he has been doing brilliantly since taking the leadership again. My only concern is his apparent pro gas stance. The Australian people don’t want onshore unconventional gas destroying their land, water and air.

    Sent from my iPhone

  15. Lee J.

    This is the closest thing I’ve read to my own thought on this issue. We also have to consider PNG – they obviously think this plan is to their advantage, presumably because of all the funding they’ll get from the Australian government. This could be good for PNG in the long term, and given that they’re our nearest neighbours, greater stability in PNG is good for us as well. It’s hard to predict exactly how this will pan out, but it certainly won;t be changing my vote – I still want Abbott kept out above all else.

  16. Rob

    I don’t pretend to have the answer to such a complex question but I do know treating people without compassion is not the answer, just as imprisoning children because they fled from danger isn’t. I believed Rudd when he said he would not lurch to the right on this issue, now I don’t believe anything the man says,

  17. Steven M

    Thank you for articulating what’s been buzzing around in my head

  18. izatso

    Step on a Boat,you go to PNG.
    Boats stop, good.
    More processing of refugees proper.
    expansion of said processing.
    no more Drownings at sea.
    Win flamin’Win.

  19. mikisdad

    “No doubt even suggesting that Labor should ‘pander’ to the electorate is enough for me to lose very Greens Twitter follower I have, but I’m not apologising for supporting anything that keeps Abbott out of power.”

    Right on, Victoria, but not just Greens, you’ll also lose some Labor followers, too. However, I don’t believe any apology is necessary. The fact is that a Party can do far more in power than out of it. Indeed, although the Democrats and the Greens, have both done much to help this country avoid some of the worst excesses proposed by major Party governments, without government, no Party can achieve much to further their principles and ideals.

    And “principles” are exactly what this is about and why you have felt the quandary that you have and why many others will, too.

    As much as I hate to admit it, though, (for I believe that I am “principled”), sometimes those principles need to be tempered with pragmatism and acceptance of something less than ideal – or even – very much against the grain – (as it obviously is for Rob, above, whose reasoning I have to respect). In other words: in order to achieve the “greater good”, perhaps sometimes we must accept the lesser of two evils in the short term.

    I don’t find this very palatable and if someone can tell me what better option I have I’d love to hear from them but I certainly can’t see that assisting Abbott to take government will do anything whatsoever for the lot of refugees and asylum seekers and I very much believe that it would actually make things worse.

    “Stopping the boats” isn’t going to happen and never has happened, regardless of the claims of Howard and his sycophants. The issues we face in relation to refugees do not comprise the actual problem – they are simply a symptom of it. Unless their is an overwhelming change in human nature, selfish, corrupt, and bullying individuals and regimes will oppress and disenfranchise their fellow human beings and cause those unfortunates to seek shelter and help elsewhere. As long as that is the case, the best we can hope for is to attempt to alleviate some of their hardship and suffering. If that means that, because of mass ignorance, xenophobia, and selfishness, our political climate is such that we can’t offer these people a home here, it would seem to me that the collaboration with PNG is better than drowning at sea or worse, that would otherwise be their lot and that, if Labor can get home there is at least a chance of more sympathetic change in the future.

  20. Scenic Route to Hell

    PNG has got to be one of the most inappropriate places to send vulnerable people. What even more inappropriate solution could Abbott come up with to out-arsehole Rudd? The Burma solution? The North Korea solution? To consider this PNG “solution” even remotely acceptable simply means you have given up on giving a shit or are the usual ignorant dunce that would support “just make ’em…” type solutions anyway. Look at PNG a little closer and see if you would be happy to send your own family there to live for a long time. If not, is your family somehow better than those now being sent there by our “stay or get in power at all cost” government and opposition?
    This policy is not pragmatic as the proponents and apologists will have you believe. It’s lazy, cynical and morally bankrupt. Yes solutions are complex and difficult, but this one only got as far as nasty.

  21. izatso

    scenic route… this ambit to take the game away from smugglers. the unfortunate few who end up in manus pay, but the impetus is removed for people to get on boats..no boats, no drownings……. some breathing space for all. hope this helps.

  22. Angrybudgie

    Still got this Green 🙂 It is a very complex problem a mixture of the election and reugees. The best we can do is concentrate on one thing at a time, and first is keeping Abbott & Co. out of government. Then we can build public pressure to do better by those refugees trying to reach our shores. It was difficult at first to go with the pragmatic approach of doing this to shut down the lnp rhetoric, but after seeing them stumble all over themselves in the last 24 hrs, it was definitely the right thing. Shut them down completely. For those who can’t vote ALP now, at least put them as your second preference ahead of the lnp. Preferences count, & as the Greens say “you can preference in any order you wish” and at least put the Greens first in the senate.

  23. richo

    What of those that self-select by way of airplane arrival I wonder.

    Yep its muddy waters for sure. As inhumane as it first seems it is at least better than languishing in limbo without claims even being processed.

    Should these people get quicker access to resettlement than those in camps etc in non convention countries.

    What is it we want. Do we necessarily want these people in Australia, I don’t say yes and I don’t say no. What I do know is that I want these people protected and resettled in safety.

    Whenever this issue is brought to mind I think of Eric Bogle’s song ‘Shelter’ and its speaking of Safe Harbour on our shores. I Then feel a shame of our country and how it has become so horribly divisive.

    The 25000 arrivals over the last 10 years is a drop in the ocean in comparison to those years after the Vietnam days of 25000 per year!

    When will our so called media actually challenge the “We stopped the boats” claim anyway. Whenever the LNP trot out that line they should respond with the reality of the 18 year global low of assylum seekers. in that period. Let’s face it as much as we try we simply can’t stop the boats. Desperate people will do desperate things.

    A humane and progressive free society will do what they can to protect and resettle these desperate people whether that be here or elsewhere.

    A bit of a ramble I know but I think I can only support this policy as the alternative is a hard nosed response that is promoted by the LNP, Murdoch Press, and Shock Jocks

    Dazed and Confused. But hopeful it gags the mad monk

  24. Truth Seeker

    Victoria, I understand where you are coming from, but after watching K Rudd’s speech, I came to the conclusion that we all need to get behind this PNG solution, and give it a chance to work. 😀

    I have explained my thoughts on this issue in my post “So Tony, Where do you go from here?” 😀

    So Tony, where do you go from here?

    Cheers 😀

  25. Alison White

    I’m undecided. I feel I may have a racist streak in me because I find radical Islam hard to swallow and from my negative experience in dealing with Middle eastern refugees. I’m confused by their attitudes in that they often seem to be seeking to re-establish the political narrowness they have fled from???? My heart aches for those souls perishing at sea – but I’m not 100% sure I’d welcome them into my home either…:(

  26. mikisdad

    @Scenic Route to Hell – You are, of course, entitled to your opinion but, as someone who has voiced the view that this solution is better than the alternative likely under an LNP government, I do take exception to your statement that:

    “To consider this PNG “solution” even remotely acceptable simply means you have given up on giving a shit or are the usual ignorant dunce that would support “just make ‘em…” type solutions anyway.

    I don’t beieve it means that. As I said in my previous post:

    “I don’t find this very palatable and if someone can tell me what better option I have I’d love to hear from them but I certainly can’t see that assisting Abbott to take government will do anything whatsoever for the lot of refugees and asylum seekers and I very much believe that it would actually make things worse.”

    Perhaps I have lain myself open to such an attack by those who failed to read or understand my argument and its context. Yes, of course I know that, in theory, there are better solutions for refugees than this one and I could suggest some. However, in practice, what happens to those who turn to our country for shelter is that the treatment they now receive is poor but will only become poorer under an LNP government – and I refuse to be a party to that.

    If it were of my choosing I would dispense with “borders” and would have all people who are in need treated humanely and respectfully. Australia has a vast inland infrastructure which is deteriorating ever more rapidly because of economic manipulation, mismanagement, and the inability of small farmers to maintain a living on their properties. As a result people move away from rural communities, banks and business close, and many, once thriving, communities are becoming ghost towns. If we were to see the refugee input as an opportunity rather than a burden, they could be resettled in many parts of Australia and bring skills and approaches that would benefit the nation.

    I *care* and do what I can to assist those in need whether within or outside Australia and I would sincerely prefer a Greens aligned refugee policy than this one but, we all know that the best we can hope for is that the Greens get some extra Senate representation and perhaps an odd Lower House seat. I wish it were different but until they gain the strength of a major Party, they will only be able to bring about “adjustments” to policy – not make it. I don’t belittle what they have achieved nor mean to denigrate them but I am a realist and believe that what I have said is a fair appraisal of the situation.

    I have struggled with my principles and beliefs in this matter, as clearly have many others. I don’t believe that we deserve to be demeaned in the way you have done. I think it is a simplistic view.

    Incidentally, I have also lived with my family in PNG and they are a wonderful and considerate people who enjoy a beautiful country which has no worse problems than the worst of ours – manipulation by greedy, self-serving, wealthy and elitist individuals and multi–national exploiters making money for shareholders who will never set foot there.

    I can assure you that PNG is far less xenophobic and racist than is Australia and, for many, will probably be a far better place to settle. In addition, the Australian support may provide PNG with much needed stimulus and increase the value of our relationship to the people there.

    I can accept your passion and applaud you for holding onto principle above all else, but a dead martyr, beyond symbolism, can offer little practical assistance to people in need; as noble and satisfying as occupying the high moral ground may seem, it will alter nothing in a situation such as this, particularly if its cost is an LNP government.

  27. mikisdad

    Yes, well said.

  28. ananda1955

    thanks for your honesty alison, I find nothing is easy these days. so many different view points to consider. But three things i think we all should aspire to have is PEACE, LOVE & MUNGBEANS !

  29. Fed up

    “I find radical Islam hard to swallow ”

    I find radical religion of any kind hard to swallow. Suspect many of those fleeing might just agree with you.

  30. ananda1955

    To be radical, is to close your mind to anything different or better. not a good trait.

  31. Stephen Bird

    Good article Vic, thank you.

    I find it interesting the way some folk (Greens) have attacked the PNG option as cruel and unfair. It seems to me PNG can provide shelter to genuine refugees, ie fearing persecution, but not the lifestyle of a first world country the economic refugees are seeking. To those who do see it as cruel or unfair, how do they feel about the lives of PNG citizens, or the citizens of any developing country for that matter? Should we be offering residence to the entire developing world?

    Re the early shift to ETS, I’m concerned it may be interpreted as justifying Abbott’s scare campaign that the price was too high. I would have preferred Labor had stayed the course and instead talked up the positive results of minimal CPI impact and significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

  32. DRG

    Australia did offer Jewish people a refuge before WW2 – the North West of Western Australia was offered to create a Jewish homeland – but was rejected because it was not THE Jewish homeland.

    On another note, I have enjoyed Abbott’s comments re the PNG solution to whit: “Stick with the original political party the one which did it better.” ie: the one we voted out after 9 years? Neither Liberal nor Labor have divine right to rule, all political parties should remember that they should not rest on their laurals, but should continually work to earn our respect.

  33. Adam Smith

    I recently returned from Geneva, Switzerland and as with similar behaviour in that small nation and many parts of Europe, and reading your well reasoned opinion piece, I can say to you, that you’ve confirmed for me yet again, that white ‘Catholic’ Australians in their deep-behavioural-“hearts” fearful remain of other people. They may not believe they’re racists, but then it’s not for me to say. Prime Minister Rudd may have made the best political call at this time, close to another federal election. By negotiating outcomes with our neighbours Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the world’s political forum, the United Nations, it will be interesting to observe the machinations as acted out by the LNP. After all, most of Australians, who possess a Catholic styled mindset, desire to live their lives practicing Capitalism in one form or another. And many of these, our fellow citizens, not realising that this style of economic living is in itself very divisive and pernicious, focus their fears on the wrong picture, like people seeking refuge and climate change policy etcetera. One only has to recall Mr Abbott MP voting to punish workers with his slave-like labour laws. Nevertheless, most Australians, thinking they are ‘freeee’ to choose, fail to realise that the few who own the media and mines are manipulating their lives, using the Liberal-National Party as their front. The same sort of tactic was very apparent in some nations during much of the previous twentieth Century. I think the Mr Rudd PM, clearly understands these implications, as I’ve outlined, recognising that Capitalism is now totally global, and that some enlightened Capitalists don’t wish to revisit the 20th Century. From my observation of Mr Abbott MP and his supporters, they obviously fail to learn from history and wish to carry on as usual, behaving as typical dullard reactionaries.

  34. Jen

    ,In fact, if Rudd’s policy of sending asylum seekers to PNG does stop people coming to Australia by boat, won’t this policy also stop drownings?”

    That’s the problem – it’s wont stop people getting in boats because anything is better than what they are fleeing. The people we are talking about are refugees – ie: they have been proven to to be fleeing persecution and danger .. They are not risking their childrens and their own lives for a flat screen tv.
    And we have a obligation under the UNHCR to assist them to send them to an impoverished third world country when we are one of the wealthiest nations on earth. And yes Rudd has agreed to increase the intake of people to 27,000
    – we took 200,000 refugees from Vietnam – to the benefit of us all.
    I feel for the Labor politicians who have been rightly slamming Abbott for his lack of humanity towards asylum seekers –
    How are they going to defend this?

  35. Milly

    I am undecided.

    The thought that keeps coming to mind is the impact on PNG – I do not think this will stop the boats. WIll this create another Palestine? another Northern Ireland? With the future PNG population possibly dominated by a few sophisticated, well educated implants?

    My hope is that PM Rudd is using this as a ploy to defuse Abbot’s sniping about the boats; that there is a plan to do something effective, reasonable, humane, and in the true spirit of an Australia proven by history to be well able to absorb, and prosper with, people from all backgrounds.

  36. Cass Silva

    If we in Australia are looking towards full employment we cannot keep opening our doors to people who will become a burden on the welfare, hospital and employment systems. The average cost of a person fleeing Iran is A$10,000, which is where the majority of these refugees are coming from, so we are not talking about persecuted homeless refugees but people who have the means to jump the queue when it comes to resettlement. The same applies to those refugees coming from Sri Lanka and Pakistan. They are fully aware of the risks when they step on those boats, and that they would place their women and children in this situation defies understanding. They are fully aware, before leaving their home country of the risks when they see media broadcasts of what the real situation is. As the west leaves Afghanistan we will also begin to see a flood of refugees asking for asylum, so where do we draw the line. If we continue to allow 50,000 refugees a year into Australia without being able to offer them employment and housing I fail to see how their economic status will change. If we can believe the dreadful conditions these refugees are leaving I would suggest that even our detention centres offer them 5 star accommodation, yet there are some screaming for rights they have not yet earned in this country. Our ancestors have worked long and hard to ensure that Australia is the country it is today. Nothing was handed to them on a plate,they had to fight tooth and nail for every right we have today.

  37. patriciawa

    Thank you Victoria, for expressing so well my own doubts about joining the Greens in rushing to knee jerk judgement on this.

    Meantime I’ve tried to explain over at Cafe Whispers why I think it may be a useful circuit breaker.

    What interests me more than the asylum seekers’/people smugglers’ perspective, who have all demonstrated a very strong determination to break down any barrier to their passage to Australia, is what do the people of Papua New Guinea think of this? If it is welcomed as an opportunity for development of facilities like a university, hospital, roads and other services then why not wait and see if these do in fact eventuate and the people of that country come out winners?

    If it really does ‘stop the boats’ after all the likely challenges then that’s a plus. We need to stop talking about the boats, the smugglers and their passengers, and start instead to focus on how we can help all those wretched souls languishing in camps ‘waiting their turn.’

  38. Pingback: A Wicked Problem. A Wicked Solution? | Australi...

  39. mikisdad

    @Cass Silva – yes, very compassionate attitude, Cass – even our detention centres are better than what they came from yet they can all afford to come and are not actually desperate – they’re just rotten people who don’t care about their own lives and those of their children – oh, how very convenient for “Stop the boats” xenophobes, that argument is.

    This country is one of the richest in the World. In a modern sense, it was built by migrants (after having been stolen from its owners by the British) and leaving aside the Australian Aborigines (who actually, anyway, were the first migrants) everyone here is either a migrant or descendant of one.

    We have space enough, infrastructure enough and wealth enough to take many, many, times more refugees than we do now.

    Your argument, in my opinion, is specious nonsense and selfishly narrow-minded in the extreme.

  40. Cass Silva

    The facts speak for themselves, there are hundreds of thousands of syrian refugees at the moment in make shift camps that have no water, sewerage etc. How many of these would have $10,000 in bank accounts? Where are the facts to back up your claim that our infrastructure can accommodate such huge influxes of immigrants. Our health system is already struggling with current demands not to mention the current housing crisis for dependants on welfare. Our economy is currently in deficit because Labour wanted to maintain jobs during the global downturn, which I commend them for and saved us from a much worse scenario. Yes our country is built on migrants but those migrants came at a time when Australia needed workers to grow. We already take the highest number of refugees, outside of the U.S., in the world. I am not against refugee resettlement but those that are coming via the boats are being dishonest and probably have no concern that they are pushing others further down the line. They are exploiting the current system under false pretences. Your argument is based on emotional blackmail and adds nothing to the debate.
    If PNG are willing to take these people what is the problem with their resettlement outside of Australia, considering that they are saying that they were persecuted in their own country?

  41. Möbius Ecko

    I think you need to check your facts Cass Silva, there are so many wrong in your posts I won’t even bother going through them as I have with others.

    Just to show one massive error in the number of refugees, here are the top ten countries, Australia doesn’t even rank. I can look it up but we are well down the list.


  42. mikisdad

    @Cass Silva Yes, the facts do speak for themselves but I’m not sure where you are getting yours from for they are in serious error. viz.

    “We already take the highest number of refugees, outside of the U.S., in the world” – This is a completely erroneous statement when considered against any of the major reporters of such statistics, such as UNHCR or the World Bank.

    The “facts” are that:

    Neither the US nor Australia are at the top of the table in refugee intake. On a World wide basis, Australia ranks 69th on intake of refugees per capita and 73rd in relation to GDP. The US ranks 73rd and 96th on the same measures.

    The ration of refugees to population in Australia is about 1000:1 and in the US 1200:1. As a comparison, in Jordan it is 3:1; in PNG 700:1, and in the UK 300:1

    In 2012 Australia spent 0.4% of GDP and the US 1.7% of GDP on refugees as compared with 1.2% and 6.3% overall on immigration.

    In terms of individual refugee intake, the US took 17% in 2012 and Australia took 3%, On no measure does either the US or Australia take “the highest number of refugees … in the World” Indeed, Australia’s humanitarian intake stands at about one-half of the level it was at in 1977 and over the last decade has averaged about 8% of our total immigration.

    My arguments are nothing to do with “emotional blackmail” as you charge but are based on the refugee reality and a good understanding of what brings the situation about and a compassion that cares to do something about it that it is more in keeping with our wealth and capacity. If my argument, as you say “adds nothing to the debate” then yours doesn’t even rate use as toilet paper.

    The deficit that the Right so fondly point to in order to frighten the public, is a Furphy and for the record, was not created by Labor. If you had any real knowledge of this country you would know without any doubt about just how much wasted infrastructure we have.

    Your assertions that “hose that are coming via the boats are being dishonest and probably have no concern that they are pushing others further down the line.”

    is without any foundation; simply a prejudiced and xenophobic generalisation. If it were true then most of those arriving would be rejected for resettlement after assessment. In fact, precisely the opposite is the case. Furthermore, what you fail to understand is that there is no line for most of these people – whilst you and others may choose to deny it or pretend it isn’t happening, the “fact” is that the vast majority of refugees are fleeing for their lives. Why do they get on leaky boats? Not, as you suggest, because they are dishonest but because they are desperate.

    Finally, I might just add that I never claimed that there was a problem with refugees settling in Papua New Guinea. In fact, if you read my earlier posts you would see that I countered the assertions of another commentator in relation to PNG.

    What I have argued is that our current refugee policies are wrong and breach our obligations under international law to which we have given our signature. I have also consistently argued that we should take a more compassionate, humane and generous attitude to this group of human beings who are in need. The “facts” readily indicate that we can afford to do so and if we looked at this issue as an opportunity rather than as a problem, we could almost certainly benefit from it, not withstanding that we are morally and legally obliged to act differently.

    I won’t delve here into why, in 2013, we have a continuing refugee problem across the globe but I will say that if you bother to properly investigate where and why these people are homeless, stateless, impoverished and desperate, you will find much that implicates nations such as Britain, the United States and Australia as being complicit in promoting and acting in ways which bring about the very conditions from which a glut of refugees is the result. That alone is enough reason for us to act differently.

  43. Fed up

    There is no evidence, that Australia taking refugees has a harmful affect on the economy. I would say, that the evidence since the second world war has shown mass migration, especially that of asylum seekers, has greatly added to this nation;s wealth.

    Yes, they actually add to the economy and growth, not detract. It is in our best interest, to allow them to come.

    What has happen this week is not Australia taking less, but making the boats not an option. What needs to happen now, that we increase the numbers from the region. The new policy is not a deterrent, preventing people from coming, just ruing out the option of leaky boats.

    There is still more to be done. Suspect there will not be an election until early September, to allow more to be put in place.

  44. Bacchus

    I can’t argue against the thrust of the arguments of either Möbius Ecko or mikisdad – both are spot on, but the source of Cass Silva’s misleading assertion that, “We already take the highest number of refugees, outside of the U.S., in the world” is the Refugee Council of Australia.

    In terms of resettlement of refugees, we rank #2 after Canada (not the US) on per population and per $GDP bases. In raw numbers, we’re third after the US and Canada on this narrow measurement.

    In terms of refugees hosted, we rank a dismal 49th, with Pakistan and Iran in the top two…


  45. Bacchus

    There is no evidence, that Australia taking refugees has a harmful affect on the economy

    Fed up, the literature does point to the opposite:

    While there are costs associated with settlement services, language tuition and income support in the years immediately after arrival in Australia, major studies show that the net economic contribution of humanitarian entrants is positive after about a decade and this economic contribution increases significantly over time (Williams 1995; Access Economics 2008). The profile of the humanitarian intake is also heavily skewed towards the younger age cohorts, with many arriving as children and receiving much of their education in Australia. The young age profile of humanitarian entrants makes a very positive contribution to a labour market in which new retirees now exceed new labour force entrants. For humanitarian entrants of working age, labour force participation rates are low to begin with but move up steadily over time (Access Economics 2008).

    Stevenson (2005) outlines how the long-term benefit s of settling refugees outweigh the short-term costs. He warns of short-sighted assessments of the economic contributions of refugees and other migrants. There may be short-term costs as refugees are resettled and adjust to their new surroundings but, once successful resettlement has occurred, refugees are able to quickly make permanent cultural, social and economic contributions and infuse vitality and multiculturalism into the communities into which they are resettled. Although refugees can bring short-term costs, they are able to bring long-term benefits to their new country or region (Zucker 1983, cited in Stevenson 2005).


  46. mikisdad

    @Bacchus, Thanks for the vote of confidence re my argument but as well as consulting UNHCR and World Bank figures directly, the numbers I gave actually came from data published by the Refugee Council of Australia:


    These do not support the contention that; “We already take the highest number of refugees, outside of the U.S., in the world”.

    May I also point out that I think you have misunderstood @Fed Up because the quote you gave actually supports Fed Up’s contention that: “There is no evidence, that Australia taking refugees has a harmful affect on the economy”, unless you choose to focus only on references to short term costs. Taken as a whole, the quote quite clearly indicates that refugee intake is beneficial for the economy.

  47. Bacchus

    I think you have misunderstood @Fed Up

    No mikisdad, the link I posted provides evidence that what she is saying is correct – it was supporting Fed up 😉 Perhaps badly worded – I should have indicated agreement with Fed up before posting the piece from Immigration 😳

  48. Fed up

    Of course there are short term costs. I should have explained myself better, it is the long term affect I was talking about.

    ABC 23 Abbott and Morrison are still talking down the PNG solution. Would say the people smugglers are rubbing their hands with glee. The best friends they could ever have.

    In fact, Morrison has said no more than Rudd said in his announcement, that there would be problems, but they can be overcome.

  49. Fed up

    They seem to be verballing the PNG PM. Discussing what was said in a briefing with the man. Not generally done,.

  50. Heather

    I am enjoying the fact that Rudd has wedged Abbott again.

  51. diannaart

    Thank you Victoria. I feel as compromised and conflicted as you do.

    So much to consider. While I do think that Australia is shirking its responsibilities with the Rudd PNG Plan, I also see that this could be a very good step forward for Papua New Guinea – this could trigger development in a country sorely in need of direction. Maybe it is a win/win situation for both PNG and refugees.

    However, it is not a progressive step for the emotional intelligence of Australians – too many Australians see refugees as second class citizens and this out of sight out of mind method will not change the mass xenophobia that was used by with Howard and One Nation and has been used as a political tool since.

  52. Ben Kearvell

    This article implies somewhat that it’s okay to play politics with people’s lives if you’re facing an election. I don’t want to see Abbott in power either, but not at ‘any’ cost. Palming asylum seekers off to PNG won’t stop people risking death to get here. It’s a knee-jerk policy and as such it deserves a knee-jerk response.

  53. doctorrob54

    This will stop people smuggling as it is at present,and putting a bounty on their heads is fantastic.Now they are worried.

  54. Keith Woolsey

    What the hell are we doing sending kids on to a lawless place like PNG. Refugee policy in this country has really bottomed out. Lift your game Tony, KRudd has out crudded you !

    The grand ol’ parties of Australia believe they are born to rule and will do anything to achieve it.

    I have not voted Labor since 2007 and have grappled to give them my preferences since.

    Now I have a real problem.

    Where are we heading as a society?

  55. Nick Whiley

    Good article. Reflects my feelings on both issues (carbon tax and boat people).

  56. Iggy648

    I agree with Bacchus. PNG’s gain will be our loss. A lot of good people going to PNG instead of here. And Keith, would you prefer the kids alive in PNG, or dead in the ocean? While there’s life, there’s hope that PNG will become less lawless.

  57. Möbius Ecko

    While there’s life, there’s hope that PNG will become less lawless.


    I wish those who immediately shoot off against something would take the time to read the whole proposal and policy in full before doing so.

    Have a look at what the Australian government is going to do to help PNG as part of this policy, including education, health and law and order. A significant number of AFP personnel are to be deployed as part of this policy and the police forces of PNG will be boosted by the Australian government.

    So the outcome for PNG could be better education, and thus less lawlessness, better health for the population and better law and order, things that would not have happened without the Australian PNG solution.

    Will it cost Australia? Of course, a lot.

  58. Cass Silva

    Then Mobius, you need to take this up with Bob Carr as it was he who stated this on Australian Agenda.

  59. Möbius Ecko

    Then Carr is wrong or the full context wasn’t given. I’m looking up Australian Agenda on Sky online now, have you got the date of that statement please, will make finding it easier?

  60. Cass Silva

    BOB CARR: Well [indistinct]… with my colleague the minister for immigration. I started this debate by making some [indistinct] points.

    But I’ll just say this, I think our response around the [indistinct] people to the comments you’ve quoted, are that Australia should be given credit by the UN for having the most generous immigration inflow of any country in the world in proportion to our population.

    CHRIS SMITH: Yeah.

    BOB CARR: And when it comes to resettlement on humanitarian grounds, we actually [indistinct] the US.

    CHRIS SMITH: Yeah.

    BOB CARR: And we can be very proud of that, and I think [indistinct] knowledge of it by the UN would go a long way to giving Australia an appropriate mark for what the Australian people have done.

    CHRIS SMITH: Some would say a tad overgenerous, but that’s a discussion for another day. Kevin Rudd will meet with Susilo Yudhoyono in Jakarta on Friday, how tough can we go in forcing Indonesia to lift its game and help us prevent the continual flow of boat people to Australia?

    BOB CARR: Indonesia is – as I pointed out on my visit there a few days ago, a victim of the people smuggling rackets.

    Indonesia says it’s a transit country, the Iranians coming through and coming on to Australia are not originating in Indonesia.

    But, nonetheless, I tried to make the point with the Indonesian leaders that it is a problem for them. There are undesirable aspects of the Iranian immigration that I don’t want to go into now, but it is a challenge for Indonesia, as for us.

    We’ve got to see this as a common problem.

  61. Möbius Ecko

    Can I just have the link to the full thing please?

    Plus I don’t know what part of my post that copy and paste of the Carr interview is in response to.

  62. Cass Silva

    Mobius in regard to your assertion that we are implicit in creating the refugee problem, the facts disagree with you. We have never been in Iran, Sri Lanka or Pakistan nor are these governments persecuting their citizens.

    And what actually are we talking about when we assert that PNG is a lawless society?

  63. Möbius Ecko

    Sorry you misunderstood as I deliberately didn’t spell it out.

    The Coalition were a pull factor when Rudd changed Howard’s asylum seeker legislation. They quite deliberately and as loudly as they could shouted that Australia had opened it’s borders and was now weak on stopping boat people because of the changes.

    The ran an intensive campaign along that line with the aid of the MSM for quite a while and it did make news in S.E. Asia. There were some articles at the time on how this would have been a pull factor for the smugglers.

    As to Iran and Sri Lanka not persecuting their citizens, I don’t know what isolated cocoon you live in.

    Do you know the religious make up of those who attempt to come here by boat and the high number of Christians amongst them?

  64. Cass Silva

    Give evidence of the so-called persecution. And what has their religion to do with anything? Religion caused the division between people of different faiths in the first place.

  65. Möbius Ecko

    There are a large number of Christians amongst the boat people because of the increase in persecution of them in Arab countries.

    Are you contending that people aren’t persecuted in those countries? If you are then you really do live in an insular world.

  66. Keith Woolsey

    Iggy648 ” And Keith, would you prefer the kids alive in PNG, or dead in the ocean?” Of course I would prefer them to be alive … in Australia. How dare you even indicate the above!!
    In the above comments, we are seeing all the true believers (in the Grand Ol’ Parties) falling into line, and unwittingly or otherwise participating in the grand game of playing politics with refugees, with view to the upcoming election.

  67. Cass Silva

    Yes Mobius, I agree that it is appalling how these minorities are treated. However this is not a recent issue, but an issue that has been going on for centuries, and no doubt has bred hatred towards each other. But do they bring this hatred towards each other with them when they resettle? Recent media events in Australia suggest they do.

  68. mikisdad

    @Cass Silva – So you believe and repeat, without checking your facts, and in an assertive way, anything that a politician says which happens to suit your agenda or argument? – Not particularly astute or rigorous, I think.

    As for Mobius needing to take anything up with Bob Carr or check his facts – you are completely wrong for your “facts” just are not and, in any case, you represented what Bob Carr said as *your* view. – So, how about you take it up with Bob Carr? Mobius pointed out what is easily evidenced by anyone willing to undertake even cursory checking – that your statements contain a multitude of errors. It is you who need to re-assess.

    What you have represented here is a myopic and prejudiced view such as does much to promote the populist drivel that comprises so-called political argument or MSM reporting today.

    You have no evidence for your discriminatory assertions about how refugees feel towards one another or how they will act if resettled in this country. Nor are your historical assertions about religion, persecution and such, little more than personal prejudice, bereft of real understanding or foundation.

    These matters are not trivial. The issue here is about humanity, about lives, about our World and its future. The refugee issue has moral, ethical, and pragmatic dimensions. It needs rational, informed and articulate debate – not ill-informed hog-wash served up as though it were valid argument.

    You would do well to do some hard listening and incisive reading, rather than continue to make a fool of yourself in public.

  69. Möbius Ecko

    “Recent media events in Australia suggest they do.”

    Wrong again Cass Silva.

    I really wish you wouldn’t use the MSM as your reliable source of information on anything, let alone on things that are this important.

    Go onto ABS and I think DFAT or other government agency sites also have the info, but those who cause the least trouble are accepted boat people, and it makes a whole lot of sense if you just took a few seconds to engage your brain and think as to why.

    The most trouble comes from the regular immigration stream but even then I think you will find a high rate of trouble with your regular Australian, usually young male and usually alcohol involved.

  70. Cass Silva

    Let’s call a spade a spade. If Carr had lied about the intake figures he would have been asked for a please explain from the Liberals. As none of us have access to government internal memos etc, all we can do is rely on what the MSM reports, as is the case in the recent allegations by a whistleblower on the state of affairs on Manas Island.
    If one wants an example of how Sunni’s and Shia’s feel about each other, one needs to look no further than, today, in Irak and Syria. I have no problem with anyone practicing their faith provided it is kept to their homes, temples, mosques, synagogues, churches, etc, but once it comes out onto the streets it is no longer a religious ideal but a political power push. One needs to look no further than London and Paris who are now dealing with protestors on their streets, defending their rights for Sharia Law.

    One would like to think that if these people were once those that were persecuted that they would embrace their new culture and leave all their bigotry behind.

  71. Möbius Ecko

    …all we can do is rely on what the MSM reports.

    No, that’s not all you can rely on, and I would go as far as to say never rely on the MSM. Time and again they have proven to have the story and facts wrong, to have an ideological agenda and thus deliberately skew, exaggerate or fabricate stories and facts, and to have headlines and opening paragraphs that don’t concord with the information at that end.

    If all you have to rely on is the MSM and you cannot find any other information on the topic, still don’t rely on or use the MSM information.

  72. Amanda

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