It is hard to believe there has been so much energy expended on this topic. The approach should be relatively straight forward. It comes down to two questions.
- How many refugees do we take each year?
- How do we select those people?
Many people talk about asylum seekers arriving by boat, and what happens to them afterwards. Unfortunately they ignore the first question and gloss over the second.
Australia can probably take somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 per year. If you think this is too many, look at historical intake. We have been able to take people in the order of 15,000 in the past with minimal disruption. If you think it is not enough, then mount an argument. People will challenge an increase and point to other countries that have taken larger numbers and had significant integration issues.
Also remember that there is a difference between’ taking in refugees’ and ‘resettling refugees’. Right now in somewhere like Syria, there is a mass exodus. Bordering countries may be taking in tens of thousands of refugees but are not resettling them. At best they are providing the means to keep them alive. In Australia we are talking about resettling. About helping them make their home in this country. About integrating them into our culture. About providing them with the health and welfare benefits available to all Australians. The money and effort required is just not there if we start taking in hundreds and thousands of refugees.
So assuming, after some debate we settle on a figure. How do we select them. This is where the hard decisions have to be made. Some factors that need to be considered are:
- The risk they face in their own country
- The level of destitution of the person or family
- The age of the person
- The location and nationality of the person
- Their grasp of English
- What financial means they might have
- How long they have been waiting
- Do they have an existing family or support network in Australia
- Their general health
- Their educational level
The points above can be considered both positively and negatively. For example if a person has financial means does that mean it would be a good thing to bring them to Australia as they can support themselves? Is it better to bring a person with no financial means as the person who has money is in a better position to hang on longer waiting for a country to accept them? I don’t profess to know the answer.
One factor that I definitely do not see in the equation is this. Did they have the money to pay a people smuggler to get them to Christmas Island? What sort of country would we be if we set up a de facto standard that you had to have survived a boat trip from Indonesia to Christmas Island? Even to say all things being equal between two asylum seekers, we will give a visa to the person off the boat. It is inviting people to risk their life doing something illegal to get a visa.
That is why we need a deterrent. Indonesia has neither the resources nor the will to stop people smugglers. The only way to beat the game is to take away the rewards. Having been to PNG, I would certainly rather live in Australia. We cannot provide a substitute of equal value to boat arrivals and expect it to work. You will never settle in Australia, however we will relocate you to the USA or Canada where you can take up citizenship. Is that a deterrent? Of course not. I was a supporter of the Malaysian solution, and the PNG solution goes down the same path.
I said there were two questions. The level of immigration is one we need to have first. There will always be people at the fringes who want no immigration, and others they want numbers in the hundreds of thousands. I would expect most people’s expectations fall in the boundaries of 15 to 25 thousand. Once we agree the number, we need to look at the selection process. My view is that we need to take a mix of applicants from a range of countries. All the points above and a few more will decide the lucky few. I am perfectly happy to leave it to those more skilled than you or I to make those decisions.
What I do not want it to be, is a survival course where the winner becomes an Australian citizen.