Probing the nadir of punditry

Troppo readers who have followed my meanderings about asylum seeker policy over the years will realise that I have some fairly basic differences with the Greens on that issue1.

However, I am utterly repulsed by Tory media pundits like Andrew Bolt and Ben Fordham who advance the proposition that Labor and the Greens should be blamed for the one thousand or more asylum seekers who have drowned at sea over the last few years trying to reach Australia. An interview by Fordham yesterday with Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is a particularly odious example of the genre:

Tension mounted after Mr Fordham asked if Ms Hanson-Young took responsibility for the deaths that have occurred at sea since the Rudd Government dismantled John Howard’s immigration policies. …

“You supported a policy which has led to 50,000 people arriving here ever since and 1000 plus people drowning to the bottom of the ocean and dying,” Mr Fordham said. “They’re not on the earth anymore.”

In reality, asylum seekers have full agency in their own decisions.   They are making difficult choices in situations that are sometimes close to impossible. If Australian laws are effectively changed in the ways that Rudd and Abbott are promising, all that will happen is that most asylum seekers will turn their attentions to other first world country targets that now look like a better bet. Moreover, irregular entry to many of those countries is also dangerous. Lots of asylum seekers drown while trying to get from North Africa to Italy or Spain, even more while trying to get from Cuba or South America to the United States, and some even suffocate while being smuggled overland into Europe in shipping containers.

Government authorities are not responsible  per se for asylum seeker deaths any more than police are responsible for the actions of murderers and rapists just because they don’t stop all of them.

  1. although not on the fundamental fact that many if not most of them need our compassion and support – it’s a matter of how best to deliver  it and that’s where I think the Greens are both naive and self-indulgent. ~ KP []

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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Nicholas Hills
Nicholas Hills
8 years ago

Mr Parish, I welcome your sympathy for people who, as you say, are making difficult choices in near impossible situations. And I agree with your point that refugees have agency, albeit limited by their circumstances.

But I would not have made a comparison with rapists and murderers. A better analogy might have been between police and motorists; or lifesavers and surfers.

whyisitso
whyisitso
8 years ago

The suppository of all centrist wisdom since 2002

What a smart arse load of crap! What holier than thou shit!

whyisitso
whyisitso
8 years ago
Reply to  whyisitso

This nastiness is of course quite acceptable as it comes from the left, which can do no wrong.

David Walker
David Walker
8 years ago
Reply to  whyisitso

whyisitso, a large part of the Troppo crew would be happy to bag Carlton for that nasty little column. Sign me up. Sign Ken up, from the looks of it.

But can you explain why you think Ken’s comments are “a smart-arse load of crap”?

steve from brisbane
8 years ago

I’ve always found it pretty hilarious that at the (allegedly) “centre right and libertarian” Catallaxy, many of the participants in comments threads have used the “Labor is responsible for these deaths” line. Yes, for every thing else, it’s a matter of people needing to stand on their feet and not rely on the nanny state and be able to take their safety into their own hands by being able to arm themselves with guns like Americans; but when an opportunity comes up to blame Labor, let’s just grab that no matter the massive philosophical inconsistency.

In fact, recently, some of them have even started claiming that Rudd did not go to the election in 2007 on a platform of undoing the Pacific Solution, which is absolute rubbish. How easily people forget the circumstances of only 6 years ago – the Pacific Solution had a bunch of bad publicity against it, and it was (I reckon) perceived by most people to have become unnecessarily tough and in need of change.

Sinclair Davidson himself, however, has always argued against the “blame Labor” sentiment, but then his purist libertarian open borders policy puts him in the same slot as the Greens as far as impractical approaches to real problems are concerned.

Palaly
Palaly
8 years ago

One of the novel solutions suggested is to hand over Christmas islands to Indonesia! I do not know whether it is the fight for the shrinking customer base that is turning news into tabloid journalism. We should compare headlines twenty years ago to arrive at an honest opinion. One example is how Elvis Presley’s death reported by herald in small letters in a back page.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
8 years ago

I cannot agree Ken. Do you accept the following proposition? “When government policies predictably lead to horrible outcomes, those who supported the policies should take some responsibility for those outcomes.”

If so, are those who support say lax parole laws responsible for recidivist offenses? If you believe that the parole laws really are too lax, then I would have thought so. The best defense would be to argue that the parole laws are not really lax, that people are focusing only on the bad outcomes and that there are intangible countervailing external benefits.

In defending the Greens of responsibility for deaths at sea, you seem to say that the boat deaths cannot be attributed to policy because they might have died at sea somewhere else. For Sri Lankans it is hard to argue this case. Where would they go by boat except to Australia? Iranians and Iraqis would presumably travel overland to Europe. I do not see how North Africans drowning on their way to Italy is relevant. Maybe I have missed the point.

While blaming the Greens for deaths sounds harsh, it does have the virtue that it focuses attention on their inability to think through the full consequences of their actions and olicies, something that I think is the moral responsibility of any member of a democratic polity, let alone a politician. It has the second virtue that it undermines the Greens constant pretense that they alone are compassionate.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
8 years ago
Reply to  Ken Parish

Thanks for the elaboration Ken. I partly agree in the case of the ALP. Certainly, if the ALP are responsible for 1000 deaths at sea, then the 70% of people in 2007 who supported the policy change are just as responsible – in fact ultimately responsible. I do note your point that the number of boats was small at the time so that a less tough policy appeared worthy of a try. I was always of the view that this was a mistake, because of the large numbers of displaced people in the system.

On SBS news tonight, they interviewed two Vietnamese refugees (one standing for the Libs) and an African woman. Surprisingly, and rather bravely for SBS to report, all were very hostile to boat people, especially the African woman. I suspect that if Julian Burnside ever showed his sanctimonious arse in an African camp, he would not escape with his life!

I do have ideas about key elements of a better system. In order of importance:

Refugees status should be assessed on a worthiness scale – from those fearing immediate death with no prospect of improving prospects at one end (Jews from Nazi Germany) to those fearing non-lethal forms of repression with prospect of improvement in the near future (Tamils from Sri Lanka).

Establish a quota (say 10,000) for refugees within the quota (say 20,000) for the humanitarian intake, so that those fleeing famine have a decent chance of resettlement. Distribute these 10,000 visa’s starting from the most worthy refugee. The Convention does not recognise degrees of worthiness. So this would require withdrawing from the convention, which I think is the starting point for any fair and workable system.

Allow those initially given a highly worthy assessment (say 7000) to be immediately released into the community with a TPV and work Visa. TPV becomes permanent when assessment is confirmed.

Facilitate application for refuge in Australia for people in camps and for people in transit in Malaysia and Indonesia. It is currently impossible we are told.

Negotiate a deal with India to forcibly repatriate all Tamil asylum seekers to Tamil Nadu without the need for any assessment.

Negotiate a deal with Malaysian to stop automatically giving Visa’s to everyone from the middle east, just because they are Muslim, which is what I understand their current policy to be. There are 300,000 asylum seekers in transit there currently, so surely our interests are aligned.

Terminate private contracts and have government run the detention centres, and abandon the policy of secrecy.

palaly
palaly
8 years ago
Reply to  Chris Lloyd

Your ignorance is astounding. Sri Lanka and India are two separate countries and the Tamil refugees are from Sri Lanka. As between Irishman and Australians they may have common cultural ties with Indian Tamils who themselves are a minority in India.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
8 years ago
Reply to  palaly

You must be very easy to astound Palaly. I am aware that Sri Lanka is a different country. Most of the fleeing Sri Lankan Tamils have indeed gone to Tamil Nadu. I was suggesting that we come to an arrangement with India to accept those who decide to boat to Australia and spurn the alternative to the 36km trip to India. On my recent visit to Chennai, I got the impression (admittedly from a sample of two locals who I broached the subject with) that Sri Lankan Tamiles would be warmly welcomed in Tamil Nadu.

And regarding Irish, if Australians of Irish decent were being discriminated against here in Oz then I suggest that it would make more sense to send them to Ireland than to India.

palaly
palaly
8 years ago
Reply to  Chris Lloyd

Given below is a report on Sri Lankan refugees in India. India has a much larger refugee problem than Australia with porous land borders. India is still a poor nation with GDP per capita being one tenth of Australia. I think it laughable to suggest that a poor nation such as India should handle refugees when with all our wealth are reluctant to do so.

“Sri Lankan refugees remain largely in Tamil Nadu and live in refugee camps scattered across the state. At present, more than 72,000 thousand Sri Lankan refugees live in over 120 camps in Tamil Nadu. In addition to this, a further 30,000
Sri Lankans are living outside the government camps. Those that choose to live outside must register with the local police and visit the camps on a fortnightly basis to register their attendance. Refugees living within the government camps are housed in warehouses or in temporary shelters and are subject to an evening curfew at 7 p.m. Each adult refugee receives a small monthly stipend. Though not officially permitted to work in India, the refugees worked as unskilled labour in the informal sector to supplement their incomes. The Indian Government provides basic medical care and education for school-age Sri Lankan children as well as subsidized food grain for the camps’ inhabitants. Despite these provisions, conditions in the camps are generally poor
with insufficient health and sanitary facilities available for the refugee population.”

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
8 years ago
Reply to  palaly

“I think it laughable to suggest that a poor nation such as India should handle refugees when with all our wealth are reluctant to do so.” Wealth has nothing to do with it. They are ethnic Tamils who still see themselves as such, living 36 km from India. Most will want to go home to India if they are forced to leave Sri Lanka. I am not suggesting that India should accept all our refugees – only the Tamils. Which, they already are but some do not take that option. Because the silly convention allows them to leave Tamil Nadu for a better option.

You are welcome to have the last word on this thread. I’m done.

palaly
palaly
8 years ago
Reply to  Chris Lloyd

You raise an interesting question on ethnicity. The Sri Lankan Tamils have lived in Sri Lanka for over thousand years. Secondly I think we should let the Sri Lankan Tamils decide where they want to seek asylum. Thirdly India or Australia has the right to decide whether they will entertain any such applications for asylum. I believe India is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention. Fourthly I believe the determination of whether somebody is an asylum seeker should have nothing to do with their ethnicity.

Doug
Doug
8 years ago

Ken rhetorical overkill in critique of the Brennan plan. You speak of tens of millions of refugees heading for Indonesia. Most of the 45 million refugees are waiting to go back home and will not move in response to that plan if implemented. The UNHCR rep at an event I was at suggested that the relevant number of people in urgent need of protection was probably nearer 1 million worldwide. The flows would not be anywhere near the order of magnitude you suggest.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
8 years ago
Reply to  Doug

That is really interesting Doug, not that I necessarily accept the figure. It is utterly amazing that such basic facts are not researched, agreed upon and generally known. For instance, how many displaced persons currently in Malaysia came there with the intention of getting to Australia? I have always assumed that it would be the vast majority of the 300,000 since I could not see another reasons for them going to Malaysia (if it is as much of a hell hole as Sarah Hanson Brown would have us believe).

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
8 years ago
Reply to  Chris Lloyd

Sorry – Sarah Hanson Young

Doug
Doug
8 years ago

I don’t know the figures on refugees in Malaysia, though your figure sounds a lot higher than others I have come across – the issue in principle is that Malaysia while not great may be a whole lot better than where you have come from in terms of threats to life and limb. some may simply be waiting there to see if things improve at home enough for them to go back.