Manne is wrong on refugee policy

Last Saturday, 13 August 2016, Robert Manne published an article in The Age entitled “Restore Howard Policy”. The same article in the Sydney Morning Herald is linked below.

The piece dealt with the arguments for and against our offshore detention policy. The supporters of the policy argue that the present policy discourages people smugglers. It also protects against any surge of asylum seekers. Manne reminds us that when Rudd relaxed the policy between 2009 and 2013, some 50,000 “boat people” arrived in Australia. About 1,200 drowned before arriving.

Manne postulates there is a practical compromise to avoid drownings and that is to revert to the Howard policy. With the help of the Navy he turned back boats and asylum seekers were processed on Nauru and Manus Island. Many were later resettled in Australia and New Zealand.

This disruption to the people smuggling trade meant that numbers seeking entry to Australia by boat dropped significantly such that between 2002 and 2007 no naval intervention was required at all.

Manne submits that the government has a mandate to stop the boats. He asserts that those opposed to the offshore detention camps have some soul searching to do.

Opponents of the current policy must face that their unwillingness to compromise their principles make it less likely that the lives of the 1750 people (in detention) they desperately care about will be saved.

The article was co-authored by Frank Brennan, Tim Costello and John Menadue.

I was taken aback by the piece. I was forced to ask if my views were not in step with mainstream liberal thinking Australians. I consider myself a liberal thinker. Why do I feel a certain revulsion at Manne’s views?

Let’s break it down.

Is the influx of 50,000 boat people over a 4–5 year period, something we wish to avoid? In the next week or two I will be writing about the Fraser government’s success in managing the influx of refugees after the Vietnam War. The numbers were greater than those currently confronting Australia.

The much feared influx of refugees referred to by Manne translates to 8,000 to 12,000 a year? What is the concern? The only concern identified in the article is the risk of drownings. There was also contempt expressed for the people smugglers.

How do we resolve the drownings? Is it appropriate that we place these wards, these asylum seekers in indefinite detention to avoid the drownings?

There are other ways to prevent the drownings. Under the Fraser government, genuine refugees were flown to Australia.

70,000 refugees were resettled in this manner. There was no talk of protecting our borders. There was no fear of encouraging a large influx of asylum seekers to our shores. There was no talk of “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.

Even if we didn’t have the Fraser experience is this not the humane and appropriate way to deal with the increasing tide of refugees in the world?

What has changed?

Attitudes have changed. We seem to be more fearful. Fear clouds our thinking. I cannot accept that Australian humanitarians like Costello and Brennan believe it is more appropriate to turn back boats filled with genuine refugees than process them off or onshore and then resettle them.

Let me leave you with the example of Malta. It is a Commonwealth country located in the Mediterranean between Africa and Italy. It is 320 square kilometres in size and boasts a population of 445,000. This is 1.8% of Australia’s population and less than 1,000th of 1% of our land mass.

Between 2007 and 2015 the Maltese processed between 1,500 and 1,700 boat arrivals each year. In one year it was as high as 2,700. This is in addition to non boat arrivals.

Each boat person’s application was processed on average within 65 days.

If resources are measured by population size and Malta processes (say 1,600 boat people per year) then on a pro rata basis Australia should be processing 83,000 boat people a year.

Even 8,000 to 12,000 boat people a year would be well below the number processed by Malta in comparative terms.

If a tiny nation like Malta can do it why can’t we?

Presently we process and resettle no boat people, so Malta is 1,600% ahead of us. We spend $1 billion each year to process no boat people.

Restore the Fraser policy not the Howard policy.

Wake up Manne. Wake up Australia.