There is something distinctly
off-putting about the reaction
to the Rudd Government's new
boat people policy, and not just from Tony Abbott's Coalition - that much was a given. Since the announcement that refugees who come by boat to Australia will be detained at Manus Island and then resettled in Papua New Guinea, there has been a holier than thou outcry from the morally righteous Left and a cynical dismissal of it as a temporary political fix from those on the Right. In their predictable indignation many on both sides of the political divide have shown a serious lack of objectivity on this matter.
The new policy, ratified in a joint agreement between Prime Minister Rudd and PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, is not a failure of compassion, humanitarianism, anti-discrminination or an abdication of Australia's obligations under the UN Refugee Convention. It is a determined attempt to redress a serious imbalance that is growing exponentially. It is about stopping a deadly illegal trade perpetrated by people smugglers who earn between $5,000 to $10,0000 per head to shunt people on rickety wooden boats from Indonesia to Australia. Already an estimated 1,100 people have drowned making the voyage. But even when taking deaths at sea out of the equation the problem still remains profound. Whereas only a few years ago the number of boat people arriving was manageable, today it has become a torrent as the smugglers take advantage of Australia's predicament. And yes the new policy may be a handy vote winner for Kevin Rudd but that is of secondary importance to what it is aiming to do.
To those who parrot the same old lines about compassion for our fellow man and 'we are all diminished as a people' etc etc, perhaps they should question their own advocacy of a status quo that would condemn thousands more to a watery grave - many of whom having sold everything to pay the smugglers' price only to die at sea in the attempt. Compassion? Humanitarian? Perhaps they should ask exactly how many boat people should be allowed to come by boat: 50,000 per year? 100,000 per year? What is the cut off point? Further exacerbating the problem it is now evident that, mixed in with the genuine refugees, there is an influx of middle class Iranians who have left their country because international sanctions against the Iranian government’s nuclear development policy has played havoc with the economy. As a result these 'economic refugees' are corrupting the system in collusion with the people smugglers.
Right now there are an estimated 45 million refugees around the world looking for resettlement - Australia currently has the third highest intake behind only the United States and Canada. When genuine refugees leave their home countries they do so mainly because their lives are in danger. If their aim is to settle in Australia they end up in the transit country - Indonesia - where they are no longer in danger. In fact there they can register with the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement. Some couldn't be bothered with the wait and so they pay smugglers to circumvent the system. Compassion? What about the millions still stuck in camps who have been awaiting resettlement for years? Shouldn't they be given preference?
The cold hard fact of the new Rudd policy is that it breaks the people smuggler's business model - shatters it in fact. No one with an eye for Australia is going to shell out thousands of dollars for a boat trip to Oz only to end up in Papua New Guinea. Once the word gets around the trade will dry up. It may at first look harsh but when viewed objectively it's a winner that saves many lives, billions in tax payer funds, and allows Australia to focus on refugees still stuck in camps for years around the world. It will work. The only thing that could make it fail is if the Opposition, the media and activists set out to destroy it. The new policy needs bipartisan support, not knee jerk reactions.