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In defence of Kevin Rudd's Papua New Guinea solution

Stephen JonesSTEPHEN JONES MP | The Guardian

FOR THE 12 YEARS that refugee policy has been kicked into the forefront of political contest, the left has said our approach should be driven by compassion.

We should open our hearts and our community to those fleeing persecution. And we should not keep those seeking safe haven interned in Australia or anywhere else.

We understood that our political posturing would have little impact on boat arrivals as it was not our domestic policy but international conflict that drove people to come to Australia.

This remained our position through opposition and into government. The belief in compassion as a cornerstone has not changed – but for some of us, the view about how that can be achieved has.

This didn't start with the prime minister’s announcement 10 days ago. That announcement – of a regional resettlement arrangement with Papua New Guinea  – was dramatic in every respect. No less for the timing.

It came 12 months from the date when, in full public gaze, another boat capsized off Christmas Island. Nothing had better highlighted the political impotence of parliament on this issue: as bodies floated in the water, parliament debated policy without resolution.

Amid the acrimony of the failed debate on the Malaysia Agreement, something was missed or forgotten: many in the left had changed their mind. I was one of them. And last week, we were accused of abandoning the good fight.

Many have characterised this shift as political morality being mugged by populist political expedience. They are wrong. This is genuine ethical dilemma being mugged by practical experience.

There are around 43 million displaced people in the world including 15.2 million refugees.

Australia is clearly better placed than most of the countries that carry the heaviest burden of displaced people. Countries like Pakistan for example, have 1.7 million refugees and 22% of the population living below the poverty line.

Nobody seriously suggests that that we can take every asylum seeker who wants to come to Australia. Some do seriously suggest – including the Greens party – that we should take everyone who can afford to get here. This is not tenable for many reasons.

The first reason is that the passage to Australia has now developed into a sophisticated million-dollar product – marketed by agents in source countries, facilitated by graft and corruption in transit countries along the way and extremely flexible in adapting to new border protection measures.

Current intelligence estimates that if left unchecked, people smugglers could succeed in landing over 50,000 asylum seekers in Australia next year alone. This is nearly twice the current humanitarian program and, to put it into perspective, nearly half our net immigration intake.

The second reason we should reject this is that the left in Australia has long argued that we have an obligation to ensure that when we provide refuge to asylum seekers, we help them settle and make a new life in Australia.

This means assisting with education, English language, housing, health and employment. It costs money that has to be budgeted for – but it is money well spent. It is the reason we are one of the most successful multicultural nation on earth. If we had an uncapped refugee intake, these programs would not be affordable.

The third and more frequently stated reason is the consequence of a perilous journey. We know of over 800 people drowned in the last 12 months. As the number of boats increases, so do the deaths at sea. I do not accept that we are morally culpable for this tragedy – as some hysterical contributors have suggested.

I know desperate people will go to great lengths for the chance of a better future. That does not mean that we should not do everything that is morally acceptable to reduce and dissuade those making dangerous journeys.

For me, as a member of the Labor left, the cornerstone of a progressive policy should be to maximise the number of people we can lift out of misery and persecution at the same time as we build support for regional and international cooperation to respond to this situation. This has to be the main game.

Adherence to the 1951 Refugee Convention should be assumed. The core of that convention is that no signatory shall return a refugee to the place they fled if that leads to their continued persecution. We can be proud of our record.

Australia is one of only a handful of nations that takes refugees out of camps and resettles them here. Of that group, we have the third highest intake behind the US and Canada.

When I entered parliament in 2010 our annual intake was around 13,800. We have nearly doubled it in the three years since, the largest increase in our humanitarian intake in 30 years.

Finally, we cannot be selective in our compassion – those who fall within our gaze because they arrive on our shores by boat (or plane) shall be afforded our compassion but those who languish in refugee camps around the world, the orphans, the poor and disconnected – they get none of it because they are unable to afford a ticket to the back door.

Assuming we cannot give refuge to all, we should act equitably in assessing the vying groups from around the world.

The regional resettlement arrangement is about providing refugees with genuine opportunities for settlement, balanced with the need to reduce incentives to undertake dangerous sea voyages to Australia. The agreement will ensure that those transferred to Papua New Guinea will be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with human rights standards.

Our capacity to give refuge, like our capacity to increase the foreign aid budget is built on continued community support. This can only be achieved by providing confidence in the integrity of the system and that the underlying humanitarian principle does not lead to perverse results


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Peter Kranz

Eh! What 'happen't young Thistlethwaite? 'E were doing right gradely 'till Rudd shat in 'is pocket.

The retiring senator was just pre-selected for Peter Garrett's lower house seat and will be kept busy trying to win it for the foreseeable future - KJ

Paul Oates

And to add insult to injury, when the media actually located a people smuggler who had loaded paying asylum seekers on an Indonesian boat, departed Indonesia with them, sabotaged the boat, telephoned the Australian authorities to rescue everyone, then threw the mobile telephone away and finally accepted a temporary job in an Australian supermarket collecting trolleys, what did the Mr Rudd's government do?

They let him get away and fly out of the country through what was clearly inept security procedures.

Now that's compassion for you, isn't it?

Francis Sina Nii

If it is the compassion of the likes of Steven Jones and Kevin Rudds to open their hearts and community to people fleeing persection then why discriminately reject the boat people seeking your compassion and forcefully dumped them in PNG against their will?

What kind of a compassion is this?

I agree with Peter Kranz and Paul Oates. Australia must respect PNG's sovereignty and stop being bully with their financial power.

It is only breeding contempt and souring our friendship.

Tony Flynn

All this talk about the refugees. Nothing about the root cause; leaders in the countries that supply the refugees. They are hopelessly derelict in governing their states. Indonesia is a transit state in this case, they have sufficient land to settle lots of the Muslim refugees in a culture more similar to refugees homeland. The hypocritical acceptance of such leaders do our own leaders in the West little credit. United Nations mandatory sanctions should be in place according to the human rights level in such Countries. This will not happen; States like PNG will suffer the results of the lack of such actions. It could lead to PNG restricting the rights of its own citizens in favor of resettling certain classes of refugee.
Australia accepts 20,000+ refugees with a 20mil population, how many does Indonesia accept with 10 times the population and a lot more fresh water than available in Australia. The fact that these refugees are transiting Malaysia and Indonesia might indicate that they are not chasing freedom from repression; that they are economic refugees. That when they arrive and are accepted in PNG they will be targeting economically rewarding occupations and businesses to the detriment of PNGians. Maybe what we could do is to work with Australians in assessing and accepting the refugees from Australia with needed skills for PNG at our normal salary levels; doctors, accountants and other professionals in demand. Again they should have no special benefits and should be on our local salary scale. We would very much appreciate doctors etc. in Wau and would have no objections to Ausaid building houses for them.
Tony Flynn

Robin Lillicrapp

"Australia cannot clearly accept all those who may wish to emigrate here. Clearly Australia should have a right to decide who is allowed to emigrate and settle here.

"As an island nation, we have, or should have the ability to make this decision in a well thought out and structured manner.

"We have agreed to international processes to do this. If these processes do not operate fast enough or do not suit those who want to come for whatever reason, they should take the time and effort to find this out prior to making a decision to travel......"

Posing as a well reasoned article, the author; nonetheless, gives voice to what is otherwise masked in relation to pursuing policies of national significance.

National independence asserts the inalienable right to decide upon sovereign issues.

Agreeing to international conventions inserts a circuit breaker into what is popularly viewed as a national right to decide.

It might rightly be asked, "How long are we to endure the lie that it is okay to be natively sovereign in our decision making when even our politicians, sworn to uphold those presumptions, are inescapably bound to articulate globalist diktat?"

Decades of political science and philosophy have drawn us all to a new age of reason wherein prosaic notions of statehood and defined borders have become just that:prose.

There is innate resistance to redefining borders and rights within the populous that is perniciously being worn out by dialectic attacks from political suasion by those determined to uphold the vision of a New World Order.

The scope and scale of the machinations required to achieve such a utopian goal are beyond local survey except where a recognition of the roots of local conflict (boat arrivals etc) pose obvious questions deserving answers: eg; "Rudd and O'Neill, do you stand for the pursuance of national sovereignty or are you given to the striving for and achievement of the construction of a NWO fashioned along the lines of UN supremacy?"

Paul Oates

In 1801 in a letter to the Board of Admiralty, St Vincent made the now famous remark: "I do not say, my Lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea." - Admiral of the Fleet John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent GCB, PC.

With respect to Mr Jones’ stated views, the issue here is not the relative compassion Australia may feel towards refugees and asylum seekers. The issue is plainly over the method refugees are choosing to come to Australia.

To suddenly and conveniently demonize ‘people smugglers’ and to portray Mr Rudd as the ‘white knight’ is to conveniently forget that until he assumed office and changed Australia’s policies concerning those who illegally arrived by boat, the flow had been effectively turned off.

Are we now to assume that there has been a full recognition has been made of a past mistake?

We have yet to hear anyone responsible utter the equivalent of a ‘mea culpa’ or is this and other political peccadilloes yet again to be dismissed with that familiar phase; “I make no apology for that!”

Australia cannot clearly accept all those who may wish to emigrate here. Clearly Australia should have a right to decide who is allowed to emigrate and settle here.

As an island nation, we have, or should have the ability to make this decision in a well thought out and structured manner.

We have agreed to international processes to do this. If these processes do not operate fast enough or do not suit those who want to come for whatever reason, they should take the time and effort to find this out prior to making a decision to travel.

Those who decide to try and beat the entry process by say, flying here as a tourist and then overstaying their entry visas, etc. must accept that Australia has the right to treat them as law breakers. Every other nation would accept this as a matter of course.

The decision to ‘lean’ on PNG, our next door friend and neighbour, to magnanimously provide an answer to our problems is despicable and should be recognised as being so.

When the issue was taken up with the Indonesians, they reportedly and quite rightly said: ‘That is a domestic matter for Australia’.

No amount of political ‘snow’ should allow Mr Rudd and those who support him from pulling the cotton wool over our eyes.

Peter Kranz

But Stephen - you are being selective in your compassion. Those that arrive by boat are treated differently to those that arrive by other means.

Kevin Rudd made this clear when he said those who arrive by boats will be resettled in PNG, and have no chance of reaching Australia.

You are outsourcing an Australian problem to our nearest neighbour, and bribing them to accept this.

Why this distinction? and why the choice of PNG? Is it supposed to be a deterrent? If so what does it say about your attitude towards PNG?

What it says to asylum-seekers is that if you choose to jump out of the frying pan you will be thrown into the fire. And that fire is PNG.

Thanks for throwing our reputation in PNG down the toilet.

And thanks for abrogating our international responsibilities under the UN Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It's time Australia grows up and strops passing off its problems to other countries which it feels it can bribe or bully with impunity.

Your attempted justification fails at the first test.

And I don't see much compassion - to refugees or the people of PNG if you treat them as a dumping ground for unwanted imports.

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