There is no doubt that Labor policy ending the Pacific Solution on queue-jumping migrants has encouraged illegal migration to Australia. Labor is seen as ‘softer’ on border control than was the previous Howard Government despite the stench of hypocrisy amid talk of ‘toughness’ from the Labor faithful. Whatever people may claim about the Howard policy it did stop illegal migration to Australia at the same time that the humanitarian component of the immigration intake and the immigration intake as a whole were liberalised substantially. Prior to these initiatives illegal immigrants numbered in their thousands.
One can assume there is a substantial latent demand for resettlement in Australia but that actual demands for illegal entry vary with the perceived strength of government policy opposing such actions.
We have now had our fourth boatload of queue-jumpers in a fortnight – 200 people have been detained – and the 13th since September when Rudd announced a softening of policy. With the global financial crisis and intensified concerns about the longer-term implications of climate change we face a possible wave of illegal international migration in the future.
The Pacific Solution – refusing illegal entrants from going to the front of the immigration queue by refusing to allow them to settle in Australian territory was derided on the grounds of its cost and the comparatively few boatpeople who came. But few came because illegal entry became so difficult and the cost was expensive only if one failed to account for a growing larger potential problem that was prevented. The Pacific Solution was also criticised on the grounds of its immorality. Amongst those prevented from entering Australia were genuine refugees it was claimed. But this is not true – genuine refugees could claim for resettlement under the policy. There are around 10 million internationally-displaced refugees annually and no government will accept them all. The practical humane response is to accept a quota of the most needy and that is what Australian Government policy should be. The suggestion that the Howard Government’s policy was an attempt to stir up community fears of refugees is inaccurate – it was a policy which worked and which should be reinstated.
Update: The post above was written before the 3 deaths and 46 injuries occurred on board an asylum-seeking boat. The Rudd Government bears some responsibility for these deaths and injuries.