The flawed logic of Australia’s asylum seeker policy

The Turnbull government is digging in over the plight of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was talking tough in question time yesterday about the need for a “robust” border protection system.

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 Australia’s robust border protection system

The problem for the government now is that any change to a more humane policy would constitute a massive political background and invite a massive backlash from the right wing of the Liberal party who clearly have the Prime Minister very worried about their influence.

The justification for offshore detention is that it deters the people smugglers. This may or may not be the case. It is far more likely that the highly efficient system of border protection and tow-back, which is costing Australian taxpayers an arm and a leg, is the more effective element of Australian policy.

It’s worth taking a step back and examining the logic behind the other arm of the government’s policies: offshore detention.

The argument is that offshore detention deters people smugglers. The logic is that if Australia places refugees in detention centres, this will deter the people who own and operate the boats. It may have the effect of deterring demand for that particular service but it’s a second-order effect.

The more effective policy would be to put the people smugglers in detention on Nauru and Manus Island then confiscate and burn their boats.

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It could work like this. A full of refugees arrives in Australia. Australia processes and gives them asylum. It arrests the boat’s crew and sends them to an offshore detention centre for an indefinite period.

This policy would have an immediate deterrent effect on the people smugglers. One strike and you’re out (or in, as the case may be).

The advantage is that it doesn’t penalise and victimise the people who desperate to find sanctuary in Australia. It penalises the people who exploit them and take their money.

The problem is that every time Malcolm Turnbull or Peter Dutton speak on asylum seekers they harden community and political attitudes took point the compromise becomes impossible.

The other problem is that Bill Shorten is demonstrating his complete lack of political leadership by remaining in thrall to the government’s policies

 

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