Abbott is right just for once

Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Nauru detention in 2007

Why doesn’t the Gillard Labor government swallow its pride and simply accept the Coalition’s latest compromise proposal on asylum seeker policy? (which is to enact legislation allowing asylum seekers to be sent for processing to any country that is a signatory to the Refugee Convention).

Leaving aside the self-evident hypocrisy of the Coalition’s claim to be horrified by the very idea of sending them back to Malaysia because it isn’t a signatory to the Convention while simultaneously espousing a policy of towing their boats back to Indonesia which also isn’t a signatory, this new Abbott/Morrison proposal actually makes sense.

The Gillard government should grit its teeth and re-open a processing centre on Nauru, but also open negotiations for a similar deal with Papua New Guinea as soon as it has something vaguely resembling a stable (if inevitably corrupt) government in the wake of the current general election.

That message could be reinforced by making it clear that jumping on a boat and ending up in PNG or Nauru will confer no priority whatsoever over those waiting patiently in Indonesia or Malaysia.

At the same time it could embrace part of the Greens’ position and increase Australia’s annual refugee and humanitarian migrant intake from 13,500 to 20,000 and focus it entirely on refugees in our immediate region. That would provide a realistic hope for asylum seekers still in Indonesia or Malaysia that their best bet is to stay there and apply for an Australian humanitarian visa instead of signing up with the people smugglers.

That message could be reinforced by making it clear that jumping on a boat and ending up in PNG or Nauru will confer no priority whatsoever over those waiting patiently in Indonesia or Malaysia. They can pay $10K to people smugglers, get processed and wait in a camp in Nauru or PNG (if they survive the boat trip), or safeguard their own lives and save their money by waiting.  Surely that would smash the people smuggglers’ business model?

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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jennifer
jennifer
9 years ago

It isn’t a matter of pride swallowing. It is a matter of having to listen to the Opposition carp on endlessly about their moral superiority if Malaysia was dropped.

The moral high ground is easy to get in this debate – just produce the Refugee Convention as proof positive that your position is the best and the fairest. Christine Milne was as silly tonight on 7.30 as Abbott has ever been, about the humanitarian status the Convention confers on the countries that are signatory.

It might even be time to take another look at the Refugee Convention given the changes in the world’s demography since 1951.

steve from brisbane
9 years ago

You seem to be overlooking several points:

a. Nauru is in no condition to be opened immediately. The most optimistic plan (of the Coalition) is said to have 350 beds ready in 3 months, with another 1000 beds in about 6 months. How many people have arrived in the last month? If in three months time the boats are still coming at current rates, Nauru will be full within a few weeks of opening.

b. The point of the Malaysian deal is that if it is going to work, it should work fast.
If it works well, you don’t even fill the 800 positions. Given that they were gearing up to send a boat load to Malayasia before the court case, there appears to be no waiting at all to start implementing it.

c. Metcalfe, who worked for Howard, has explained in detail why the Department does not think Nauru would work well anyway. It is, by his advice, a second class solution, which will not work as it did the first time, and will take months to get going, and will be very expensive to run.

d. All on going off shore detention is very expensive. If the Malaysia solution works, you save those costs, as well as mental anguish of people sitting bored in a hot place with crap facilities for 12 months.

e. As Bowen argued tonight after the legislation got through: even if you think Malaysia won’t work, how can anyone really argue that a combination of the Malaysia deal and re-opening Nauru will not work? They are the key components of what both sides want.

f. Coalition criticisms of Malaysia are hypocritical (as you noted) and do not acknowledge that the UNHRC will be involved in monitoring it, and that the Malaysians have strong reason to live up to the protections promised, because it is a good net deal for them.

For all of these reasons, it is the Malaysian deal which should be allowed to proceed, not abandoned. Going to back to Nauru virtually guarantees several more months of boats departing Indonesia, at least. (In fact, there might be a rush to get here before Nauru opens!)

PS, I hate the new sideways scroll of the blog.

Brian Whelan
Brian Whelan
9 years ago

There seems little doubt that politics is obstructing any form of solution. If this is the case, perhaps the Government’s best response would be to adopt the Coalitions policy in total. If it doesn’t work, and there is plenty of expert opinion to suggest that it won’t, then the Coalition would have little choice but to negotiate on the Government’s terms. If it did work, then apart from losing perhaps a minor amount of political skin, the issue would cease to be such a diabolical problem for the Government

Yobbo
Yobbo
9 years ago
Reply to  Brian Whelan

Adopting the coalition’s policy would be an admission that the last 4 years of deaths are the government’s fault alone. They won’t do it, and in case you are wondering, the Labor party would much rather another 10000 people drowned than admit that John Howard was right all along.

JB Cairns
JB Cairns
9 years ago

Steve nails the major points.
Uncle Milton at Harry’s place makes a innovative idea.
give Christmas island to the Indonesians.

The other major problem for the Western world to overcome is the corruption at the processing centres.Until this is overcome you will always get boats coming here.

First Don and now Ken I hope whatever is infecting people at Troppo doesn’t get near Nick.

how come comments do not go in order of time anymore?

Yobbo
Yobbo
9 years ago
Reply to  Ken Parish

Why then does Steve unquestioningly embrace the proposition that the Malaysia Solution will stop the boats

Because Steve in his entire commenting history has done nothing except regurgitate ALP talking points.

steve from brisbane
9 years ago
Reply to  Yobbo

Yobbo, I want this Labor government to survive primarily because I do not want to see an immediate undoing of carbon pricing, or the minerals tax.

As Howard was on side with carbon pricing before he lost the election (apparently) and I always considered Rudd to be a fake, I did not want Rudd to win the election.

I find Metcalfe’s arguments and evidence to the Senate committee on the Malaysian deal to be convincing. It is no sign of being a Labor shill just for believing the same guy who helped Howard for years and has been praised by Vanstone as a top public servant.

Yobbo
Yobbo
9 years ago

You aren’t fooling anyone Steve.

JB Cairns
JB Cairns
9 years ago

okay Ken I accept that.

The only problem is you hit what appears to be the latest comment and you end up in the middle of the scrum sometimes.

steve from brisbane
9 years ago

Ken, what are you talking about?

The point of the Malaysian deal is that it is ready to go now: they were lining up people to go before the Court stopped them.

The Malaysia deal allows up to 800, but if the first three boats carry the (quite common number) of 100 or less, you may end up with only a few hundred carted off to Malaysia – immediately from getting off the boat – before it stops boats because the next people lined up to go can see the immediate results take them further from Australia, and a long, long wait to get here if they ever can.

I only mentioned the numbers of beds available on Nauru to indicate how the place is not ready – if what you propose is that people going to Nauru are going to just stay there for years, well, yes, that might work as a deterrent with low numbers as well – but there is nothing for them to do there. In Malaysia they are released into the community with a right to work and the kids go to school.

But of course people aren’t going to be left on Nauru forever, and if they are going to come here in 6 -12 months time, well that is why Metcalfe is saying it won’t work as well as it did the first time around.

So what you are ignoring is my key point: we’ve got a flurry of boats right now, and the only deal ready to go now, and not in 3 – 6 months time, is Malaysia.

Yes and thanks for the snarky Labor soldier comment: as far as I can tell, you’re the one not appreciating how the Malaysian deal is meant to work. People smugglers need, after the first couple of boats arrive (assuming there are some at sea when you introduce the policy), several hundred more people to agree to go to Malaysia via boat heading to Australia, so that future boatloads can get to Australia.

Metcalfe doesn’t think this will happen – and I trust him more than I do you.

steve from brisbane
9 years ago
Reply to  Ken Parish

Well, before this goes further, it would be good to know how many Christmas Island can accommodate and is accommodating already. Even assuming several hundred more can be kept there for the necessary 3 – 6 months, that does not give the opportunity for the necessary PR of videoing people getting on the plane to Malaysia as soon as they get off the boat.

Your idea of negotiating for people to be able to live in the community in PNG strikes me as a tad laughable – and illustrates Oakeshott’s point that merely being a signatory to the convention is no solid indication of the state of the place you want to take refugees to. Maybe you know some happy, friendly corner of PNG that doesn’t have a reputation for being dangerous, broke and corrupt; but my impression is that it would be a far, far worse thing for any asylum seeker to end up trying to eke out an existence there than in Malaysia, despite the convention.

Malaysia has self interest to live up to the deal with Australia: the 4000 we take in return are going to be coming gradually. The UNHRC sees this deal as a way of encouraging Malaysia to give greater rights to all asylum seekers, and will be monitoring the treatment of the (up to) 800. I think your fears are exaggerated.

steve from brisbane
9 years ago

Ken, I thought that it was only unaccompanied minors that the government has indicated they would not send, but Frank Brennan in an article in Eureka Street this week said that even that was not unequivocal.

In fact, on Radio National this morning, Gillard did not take the opportunity to say that a 13 yr old unaccompanied girl would not be sent to Malaysia, and only referred to not wanting such a girl to drown.

I agree that automatically allowing both mothers and their children to stay in Australia would be a considerable weakening of the deterrent effect of Malaysia.

As for Nauru: you simply can’t leave people – even a few hundred – to go to the back of the queue there, if that means years. It’ll drive them nuts.

steve from brisbane
9 years ago

OK, I’ll correct myself: I also mentioned the number of beds because Nauru could fill very quickly if you open it ASAP but with only a few hundred beds. It is entirely possible that the first few of boats hoping to get in just before it opens fill it up, and then it is useless for the next few months til the next set of beds are available. Find another off shore centre then? As you note, New Guinea is a bit of a basket case, and there just aren’t many choices around.

You aren’t going to fill the Malaysian quota of 800 as quickly, if at all.

And I did mention before the unintended consequence of the threat of re-opening Nauru leading to a rush of boats to get here before it does.

JB Cairns
JB Cairns
9 years ago

Nauru is a dead dodo. it would a lot of time to get it up and running.

If you do it will encourage more people as with no corruption you merely wait until you come here as we saw in the dying days of the last Administration here.

People know how to answer questions now and the law has been changed as it should have been.

Only the ignorant can believe Nauru is part of the solution.

The solution is to find a country to have the processing centre on and get rid of the corruption.

That takes time. Until then you need a temporary solution and Ken’s solution simply has no legs.

JB Cairns
JB Cairns
9 years ago

I do note no-one who wants Nauru to re-open even if in 6 months to a year , have not demanded Rod Metcalfe resignation because of incompetent advice even though they have yet to show how it is wrong!

Anderson
Anderson
9 years ago
Reply to  Ken Parish

40 million official UNHCR refugees in various camps around the world.

There’s no inherent difference to a refugee in a Nauru camp going ‘nuts’ to a refugee in a Pakistani or Malaysia camp also waiting for years.

Anderson
Anderson
9 years ago

(1) No one is talking about the UNHCR having such a small number of officers processing asylum claims in Indonesia. It is impossible for this tiny cohort to process any reasonable number of applications. According to the International Organisation for Migration, from January 1 to May 31 this year, 24 refugees were resettled from Indonesia to Australia. That’s from a pool of 5732 asylum seekers and refugees.

I don’t agree that 24 is necessarily the wrong figure that is resettled from Indonesia. Especially the reasoning that the lack of processing officers is the sole cause.

24 out of 5732 is 0.5% resettled into Australia alone (presumably others are resettled to other countries).

On a worldwide refugee basis, a similar percentage is resettled in any given year. It sounds to me like a fairly consistent and fair worlwide approach to the refugee situation.

If we increase the percentage in Indonesia, Indonesia would serve as a direct pull factor in itself from other locations, it doesn’t solve the problem. There needs to be an approach more than just a focus on a regional solution as the problem is very much global in nature. Having different processing arrangements based on asylum seeker location, whether they’re in Pakistan, Indonesia, Nauru or Australia is what causes refugees to move (and die) in the first place.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
9 years ago

Well JB, I’m afraid I’m infected too. I think the Government should accept the offer of the coalition – both because it’s the best result we can get given the lie of the land and, after a bit of breast beating by the Opposition would take the issue largely off the table for the next election. In other words it looks like yet more spin-driven political ineptitude from the government. If you spend your time managing the news cycle, opportunities to offload a major liability at the cost of some good publicity for your opponents are completely invisible to you. Yet every long lived PM we’ve ever had built their career on pinching ideas from their opponents whenever it seemed like a good idea.

kymbos
kymbos
9 years ago

While I think it’s far from a good idea, and the thought of the Libs scuttling a compromise for their own political gain at the expense of human lives makes me sick, this Government has certainly proven that it doesn’t know how to win an argument or convince anyone that it’s right on principle. On that basis, agreeing to the Lib’s approach might:

a) improve the situation for refugees (unlikely); or
b) take the issue off the table going forward.

hammygar
hammygar
9 years ago

It’s about time Australia forgot about imposing number limits on the refugees we will accept. We can easily accommodate many times the current limit if need be.

We should commission obsolete cruise liners or container ships, send them to Indonesian ports, and allow refugees who have made it to that country to board and have a safe journey to Australia. This would be much more humanitarian than the present method of forcing them to get onto dangerous leaking boats.

This method would stop the boats immediately as there would be no more need to travel that way. It would certainly put people smugglers of of business, and save many hundreds of lives.

Let the new arrivals enter the community straight away and do away with detention centres. so few aren’t accepted as refugees, what does it matter if a few non-genuine arrivals get away with it.

Tel
Tel
9 years ago
Reply to  hammygar

You policy is basically the same as the Liberty and Democracy party, except that the LDP plan to change a fee for passage which would (obviously) be a bit lower than the fee the smugglers charge. Since the smugglers have bribes to pay, and lack state support, they will be driven out of business.

The LDP policy has all of the advantages of yours, but also makes money for the country, and allows us some control over the people we take.

hammygar
hammygar
9 years ago
Reply to  Tel

The IPA is an appalling far right organisation. You wouldn’t trust them to anything besides look after their own self-interest.

Tel
Tel
9 years ago

I think that Tony Abbott stuffed this one up, both politically and socially.

Look the Malaysian solution isn’t perfect, but people who are going on about Malaysia’s bad human rights record, should take the trouble to think about the fact that we are proposing to take a lot more people OUT of that situation than the people we are putting INTO it. If we do nothing, Malaysia’s human rights record won’t get any better, and those refugees sitting over there just stay out of sight and out of mind. Over time, a regular flow of refugees through Malaysia will probably bring more attention to the conditions they are experiencing, maybe bring political pressure to improve matters, and (hopefully) the numbers will come down over time.

Mind you, the Iraq war created another 2 million or so refugees, the recent Afghan war created about as many again, so we could achieve a lot more by just NOT going to war all the time (and if I remember rightly “Bomber” Beazley didn’t so much as lift a finger to stop us going into those wars, wanton killing being a bi-partisan policy and all). Beyond that, the Malaysia solution at least IS a solution, and better than sitting on our hands like we are.

On the political front, Tony Abbott has plenty of other more worthy chest beating issues such as the continuous unravelling of the HSU, well over $200 billion gross debt (and some questionable assets pretending to back that debt), the rather poor voluntary uptake of NBN fiber connections, the Carbon Tax (that secretly isn’t a Carbon Tax) is about to kick in and probably others. He doesn’t need to get on his high horse over the Malaysian solution, especially when the Liberal’s policy isn’t exactly perfect either (and I doubt that there every will be a policy that keeps every refugee advocate happy).

I kind of think it’s time to move on and at least give the Malaysian idea a try.

Tel
Tel
9 years ago
Reply to  Tel

Just to continue my rant unabated… the Liberal Party seem to be trying their best not to face up to the very real possibility that they might actually win the next election, and it’s only about a year away.

If they let the Malaysian solution go ahead (after a great deal of debate and theatrical hand wringing) and then it somehow works; then they get to claim at least partial credit and find their own lives much easier in government, got concentrate on more useful stuff.

Should it all start to go terribly pear shaped they just say, “Oh well we only let it through under great duress because we could see no other options on the table at the time.” Then they barge on and try something else, get credit for making stuff happen, and the nation gets the best of both options.

JB Cairns
JB Cairns
9 years ago

Ken there is no queue.
The people ahead in the line in Indonesia or Malaysia are per people who have paid to get there.

Just how would you judge who goes first Nauru or Malaysia.

Nauru as we found out last time has capacity problems.

You have assumed that away.

you really haven’t thought this through very well.

What needs to happen is for the processing centres to have more people and they be from the Western world and so corruption will fall away.

That way Malaysia could work.

Unless you fly every person back there it will not work.

Metcalfe has said the ONLY solution that worked before was towing the boats.

it won’t work this time because the problems of law and asylum seekers will simply sink the boat.

JB Cairns
JB Cairns
9 years ago

I have Ken and as I have shown it makes no sense.
Thanks for your Davidson response.

Next time you might think before you write or maybe even cogitate on giving some some reasons why the departmental advisers are wrong otherwise people will think Rafe has come back to haunt us.

Deep civility as opposed to shallow civility? I didn’t know civility needed an adjective.
tautology as opposed to contradicting. wow you are poor old Rafe

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
9 years ago

Ken is Nauru still constitutionally on? I seem to remember commentary that the High court judgement also made Nauru a bit iffy.

Yobbo
Yobbo
9 years ago

Homer’s been pulling the same schtick Ken, yet you only ban him when he disagrees with you.

I don’t really care who you do or do not ban on your own blog, but please stop pretending it’s because Homer is being unusually obtuse. He’s always the same, it’s just that you usually agree with him.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
9 years ago
Reply to  Ken Parish

this has been going a long time….. why did the gov not make amendments so that Nauru could continue? was the opposition opposed?

jennifer
jennifer
9 years ago
Reply to  john r walker

Ken
Almost certainly offshore processing on Nauru would be unlawful like Malaysia.

How does that work? Nauru is a signatory – yes?

Didn’t Nauru sign up to the convention when the Malaysia bunfight started, so why under current law would off-shore processing be unlawful?

There is a mistake here – mine or yours – but probably mine.

I don’t want to go in the bin with Homer.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
9 years ago
Reply to  jennifer

Ken
When K Rudd was PM, there was a day when he was so absorbed in organisational ‘specificity’ that he completely forgot about an important meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other foreign policy types. Clearly he was so focussed on the ‘specificity’ of the Nauru problem, that he forgot that this problem (Nauru) was a solution to another bigger problem.

To me it is not surprising that many members of the coalition feel annoyed at the proposition that they should have to vote for a Pacific Solution that is not called a Pacific Solution to solve a tragic problem that is partly of this government’s making. Making mistakes is normal; everyone does it. It is how you deal with them that matters.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
9 years ago

JB Cairns

Uncle Milton at Harry’s place makes a innovative idea.
give Christmas island to the Indonesians.

Better yet, lease Christmas Island to the UN. Then the UN could treat those who reach Christmas Island in the exact same way they assess folks in any other refugee camp.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
9 years ago

Australia would lease Christmas Island to the UN for say 10 (maybe 20) years. Under the lease, the UN could establish a regional refugee settlement and processing centre. The lease itself would make few demands on the UN, except that it must apply the same rules to those who reach Christmas Island as it applies to every other refugee settlement around the globe. So, if somebody arrives on Christmas Island, and is assessed a bone fide refugee/displaced person/blah, any resettlement would follow the same procedures currently in force. That is, they could end up in Canada, Finland, La Pas, or yes, Australia. Either way, the refugee/displaced person could fell 100% secure they are away from harm and danger, and will be housed, clothed, fed, educated, and medically looked after until resettlement.

To sugar the deal, Australia could adopt any number of policies to rebalance our current humanitarian intake to favor those assessed on Christmas Island; we could increase significantly our humanitarian quota to say 30, even 50 thousand; we could even chip in a hefty chunk of the money needed to get Christmas Island running.

Basically, we do not want to continue having to overburden our military, security services, courts, and public oxygen required by monitoring our HUGE coastline for boat people.