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Illegal migration demands surge with Rudd Government policy failure

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. 

27 comments to Illegal migration demands surge with Rudd Government policy failure

  • Mark U


    Only 4% of illegal immigrants arrived by boat last year. The vast majority arrived “legally” by air and then sought asylum – this group presumably lied to the authorities about their intentions as they entered the country. It is debatable whether the latter group should have any more priority than the former.

    Also, Howard’s Pacific solution did not apply to those asylum seekers who flew in.

    The increase in numbers could be due to a range of factors, of which perceptions of Government policy towards asylum seekers would be just one. As you, yourself, state the global financial crisis could be a factor. To which I would add the increased instability in countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where there have been substantial increases in the number of displaced people.

    This article has it pretty right in my view:,25197,25339551-5013457,00.html

  • “There is no doubt that Labor policy ending the Pacific Solution on queue-jumping migrants has encouraged illegal migration to Australia.”

    Is there evidence for this Harry? Or is this your opinion based on four boatloads of asylum seekers arriving in a fortnight. Aren’t they all being locked up on Christmas Island as per Howard’s program? History has shown that the 4% arriving by boat are far more likely to have a case for refugee status than the 96% who fly in on visas.

    Maybe there are other reasons. Correlation does not make causality.

    Be afraid of the ‘boat people’. Be very afraid.

  • hc


    ‘Be afraid of ‘boat people’. Be very afraid.’

    It is this type of foolish remark that motivated the post. Dealing with illegal immigrants effectively is regarded as a ‘fear’ response rather than having an immigration policy. Because that’s what it is – regulating who shall become a citizen of this country rather than accepting anyone who turns up.

    Only four boatloads in a fortnight? For most of the last part of the Howard years it was less than this per year.

    Most of the illegals in Australia who are not boatpeople are visa overstayers. They were originally admitted to Australia on a legal visa. Quite different issue – visas can be designed or refused with the experience of overstaying kept in mind.

  • So no evidence of policy failure, then?

    It is telling that you persist with the Howardian/Orwellian unspeak of calling asylum seekers ‘illegal immigrants’ thus spinning the issue as one of immigration policy rather than refugee policy.

    Apparently the ‘boat people’ are Afghans – the very people people we are sacrificing our soldiers for, so there is every likelihood that they are genuine asylum seekers rather than opportunistic illegal immigrants. Rather like the Iraqi boat people Howard and Ruddock so bravely repelled our shores.

    Maybe the best way to deter these ‘queue jumpers’ is to refrain from engaging in foreign wars at the behest of our great and powerful friend, the US. Not surprisingly, the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan seemed to think that if Australia is fighting to free them from tyranny, then equally, Australia will be sympathetic when they arrive seeking asylum.

    The concern is out of all proportion to the actual numbers. All in all – a storm in a teacup.

  • conrad

    “The concern is out of all proportion to the actual numbers. All in all – a storm in a teacup”
    I agree. Australians have paranoia in this regard. More people turn up to Italy some days than turn up to Australia in a year. No doubt a similar story exists for those trying to cross from France to the UK.

  • hc

    Slim, These people are seeking permanent resident status in Australia. They are illegally attempting to migrate.

    Those unfortunates leaving Iraq and Afghanistan are fleeing Muslim fanatics not the Americans. Ands what does this have to do with the post anyway?

    The numbers are small partly because we are surrounded by ocean and partly because the deterrence policy has been effective.

    Which of the 10 million would you select Slim? Or would you take them all? Or would you take those automatically who charge to the head of the queue?

  • There are two distinct legal issues here. Whether or not the Afghans are seeking permanent resident status, they are primarily exercising their human right to seek political asylum. Are you saying that breaking an immigration law cancels out any legitimate claim to asylum? An immigration law of Howard’s making, by the way – that to seek asylum in Australia is illegal unless the proper paperwork is done first.

    What would you do with these people? Suggest they form an orderly queue at the Australian Embassy in Kabul and submit paperwork seeking asylum?? Lock them up for five years once they get here for breaking our immigration laws and then pay the cost of mental illness and social dysfunction resulting therefrom?

    We have a tough immigration regime, as you are tacitly acknowledging, so where is the evidence for a softening, such as it will encourage asylum seekers? People on whose behalf we are fighting a war risk everything – property, family, imprisonment – to get to Australia, undertaking a tortuous and clandestine journey across Asia to finally sail in a leaky boat to Ashmore reef. I’d suggest we have to seriously consider that they are in fact refugees seeking political asylum! Hell, people with such grit and determination should at least be given a chance to put their case. And if their cause is genuine, then let them add to our common wealth. I’m sure they’ll do well, just like the rest of us immigrants have.

    Tell us Harry. How would you make it tougher? How would you deal with the current wave of asylum seekers? How would you turn all this around? Or how would Malcolm Turnbull, for that matter. The ‘get tough’ message might have a treat for Howard, but these are different times. I suspect the masses recognise the moral hypocrisy of fighting and dying in a war for Iraqis/Afghans and then branding as criminals of suspect character those Iraqi/Afghan refugees who have the temerity to risk everything, including life itself, to turn up on our doorstep seeking compassion.

  • hc

    Slim, This is pure cant and hypocrisy. Come on: ‘turn up on our doorstep seeking compassion’. Some of the arrivals had spent two months in a hotel in Indonesia.

    I am happy to debate issues but not this irrelevance.
    You don’t answer the question of who will gain entry.

  • […] of my favourite conservative bloggers is arguing that “Illegal migration demands surge with Rudd Government policy failure.” […]

  • Was that the Hilton? Or a roadside shanty? How do you know this? The issue of asylum is an irrelevance? Who will gain entrance? Our immigration policies determine that. But given that they are Afghanis who we are fighting a war for we can hardly send any of them back can we? It is not merely a ‘legal’ issue.

  • Mark U

    Harry, I fail to see any substantive difference between those people (4%)who arrive by air and lie to Customs about their intentions and those (96%)that arrive in Australian waters by boat. If Afghan refugees were to try to keep to all the legalities, they would probably be shot before they got a chance to leave Kabul. And I have never heard that possessing sufficient wealth to stay in an Indonesian hotel was a criterion for denying political asylum.

    A higher percentage of boat people seeking asylum are subsequently accepted as genuine refugees than those arriving by air. So on a cost-benefit basis, it makes more sense for a government to clamp down on air arivals who overstay their visas than boat people.

  • David Charles

    Harry Clarke said:

    “Slim, These people are seeking permanent resident status in Australia. They are illegally attempting to migrate.”

    This statement is a non-sequiteur. By defintion, seeking permanent resident status is done through legal channels. Australia asseses individually any claims of arrivals. Those who do not meet the criteria are deported.

    If the boat people simply ran into the bush, rather than claiming asylum upon arrival, then, yes, this would indeed be illegal.

    Claiming asylum is not “illegal”, as you should well know, Harry. Indeed, Australia has the legal obligation to assess the status of any arrivals under the relevant UN convention.


  • hc

    Please become informed,

    One can read about overstayers here.

    Thanks David for the semantics.

    Australia does assess the status of ‘any’ arrivals though we would prefer not to face the prospect of screening thousands of queue jumpers.

  • David Charles


    What you regard as a semantic detail only – use of the word “illegal” – I regard as an important qualifier.

    As someone who often laudibly criticises emotionalistic responses to public policy questions I would trust that you would stick to essentials in this issue as well.


  • Oztrian

    Slim, your comparison of arrivals by boat vs overstaying tourist visas is misleading for another reason. What about the risk of the journey via ricketty boat maintained (or not) by organised criminals vs plane (run by companies with legal obligations for safety of their passengers, etc.)? The tough love approach as advocated by Harry (and myself) aims to stop people undertaking this kind of journey. Do you have no regard for the safety of the people undertaking the journey, or would you encourage more people to try this method? You ask what would Harry do with these people…How about not encouraging them to put themeselves and their families at risk by putting their lives in the hands of organised criminals?

  • I see another people-smuggling boat has been scuttled. Lefty E blames Howard, of course.

  • An attempt to stir up community fears of refugees is inaccurate? A bit of a reactionary conservative hobby horse it seems to me. Stock in trade.

  • Ros

    “illegal’ UN reports also use that terminology.

    That Australia has increased its pull for unlawful immigrants is supported by the UNHCR report on the increase in CLAIMS for asylum in industrialised countries over the last 2 years and by the UNHCR report to the follow up session on the Bali Forum for senior officers in Brisbane in February. That report also has the following to say

    “Preliminary data collected by UNHCR on those registered since mid-2008 indicates that Afghans are increasingly on the move and may comprise the largest group of onward movers. Other groups include onward movers from Myanmar, Iraq and Sri Lanka.”

    There are a range of reasons for the increase in asylum seeker arrivals in industrialised countries and their claims as a result, other than the claim by the current government that it is all about increased strife in the source countries. While Australia has increased its pull by its change in policies and actions, a number of other industrialised countries have reduced their pull, (UNHCR). Hence Australia becomes more attractive for the people smugglers. Also there has been an increase in the push of countries such as Pakistan. The asylum seekers themselves the UNHCR report as becoming increasingly frustrated at the conditions in their countries of first asylum. Australia now offers access to good welfare and the opportunity to work with its PPV, plus of course family reunion. And Organised Crime is becoming increasingly sophisticated and efficient in its operations, people smuggling is a rapidly growing and extremely lucrative business for them. It is very obvious that the numbers arriving in Australia are going to increase markedly. So what should we be considering.

    As the UNHRC says the arrivals are a mixture of refugees and economic migrants. The question now is whether the increased pull by Australia and its consequent numbers arriving here, (fueled by our new policies plus the reduction in asylum space plus the increased push on asylum seekers) is what we can or want to live with. I can’t believe that Rudd, or at least his smarter Ministers don’t understand this. The honest approach would be for them to put that to the Australian people.

  • “The question now is whether the increased pull by Australia and its consequent numbers arriving here, (fueled by our new policies plus the reduction in asylum space plus the increased push on asylum seekers) is what we can or want to live with.”

    Indeed. One would hope for an honest approach to that question by Rudd and co. It would also be bold – they are up against the likes of Andrew Bolt the conservative and tabloid commentariat and talk-back hucksters portraying the issue as threatening to our way life.

    There’s a kind of ‘karma’ here. We engage in wars of ‘liberation’ and then we wonder why refugees see us as a desirable place to be. We have the Liberals running around saying it’s Rudd’s fault, and then that it isn’t, or that they blew themselves up. The conservatives are happy to bang a gong when we’re off to war, but fearful of receiving refugees that might result. Can’t have it both ways.

  • BTW Harry, your WP timezone is wrong – unless you’ve moved 🙂

  • Ros

    Slim it is extremely unlikely that the Afghan asylum seekers arriving here would have been able to join a queue in Kabul because it is extremely unlikely that they have recently been in Afghanistan. How could we make it tougher, how about adopting South Korea’s policies and practices, eg to apply for asylum have to pay a huge fine, can’t work no services, long term detention. Or do as Canada is choosing to do and the UK already does, introduce a 2 tier system in which those originating from certain countries have lesser rights of appeal etc. Thanks to Rudd the only industrialised country in this part of the world that they can get into and expect to stay is Australia, and we now provide far better conditions for asylum seekers or to those who get recognition than do our industrialised neighbours. Our pull grows.

    And whether you like it or not it is credible that a considerable percentage are indeed economic refugees, whatever the security situation in there countries of origin. The remittances from Iran and Russia for example have been very important to Afghanistan. Now Pakistan, Iran and Russia are amongst those nations forcing them to leave. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes says that poverty, lack of opportunities, high unemployment, and high birthrates push thousands of young Afghans into making dangerous and sometime fatal journeys to seek jobs and security in other countries.

    The 2 million increase in refugees has not been caused by Afghan refugees, (July 2008 the primary reasons for the increase are the continued presence of Afghan refugees plus new Iraqi refugees who have fled to Jordan and Syria). The basis for the rhetoric of Rudd and co about causes is the increase in asylum claims in the industrialised nations as the result of both choice and the escalating push. Plus in our case the increase in pull.

    So what is your solution. There are 3 million Afghan refugees around the world, and the push is on. Would you be of the view that if those 3 million can get here they should have the right to stay and assume all of the rights of citizenship. Even if you achieved a borderless world the outcome would be closed better off communites forming within those borderless states. Maybe you think we should take more rather than all. How many, and still what do we do about those delivered here by organised crime, and surely this is a positive feedback scenario. I am sorry for them but I am also very sorry for all of the Afghan women they leave behind to cope alone in anti-women nations like Pakistan and Iran.

  • I don’t know what the solution is either, Ros. But I do think the boat people (90% of whom have genuine cause for asylum cf economic refugees who tend to fly in) are a symptom. Politicising and scare-mongering will not solve the problem.

    Of more immediate interest is what the Liberals would propose in place of what’s already happening. They are happy to try to score political points and scare the punters but what would they actually do that is different – given that they also signed off on the current regime. I expect we won’t hear much about alternative policy at all, yet their record in government indicates the general direction.

    I think the Liberals are underestimating the Australian public’s appetite for a tough on boat people campaign – people are more aware of the complexity of the issue. It wasn’t an electoral winner for the Libs in 07 and I doubt it will be in 09/10. Like all other policy areas, the Libs are divided and confused and people don’t know what they stand for (other than bring back the Howardian era and everything will be good again). They’re still in denial, I’m afraid.

  • Macondo

    (I have edited out offensive remarks that suggest my views are dishonest. HC)

    Harry, …..The ‘Pacific Solution’ did not lower the numbers so much as the defeat of the Taliban and apparent onset of more peaceful conditions in Iraq. The Taliban are back and so are small numbers of refugees arriving by boat. Your claim that the government is to ‘blame’ is a mere assertion and nothing you have said alters that. It’s also (‘wrong’, HC) …. to say Rudd is culpable for the deaths and injuries. For a start, the changes enacted were supported by the Coalition, and apparently without much outcry among the populace.

    You cast aspersions on ‘boat people’ who have stayed ‘two months in a hotel’, as if to insinuate that they cannot therefore by genuine refugees or asylum seekers. Yet you appear to exonerate the mass of those who have ‘jumped the queues’ on the grounds that they had visas:

    ‘They were originally admitted to Australia on a legal visa. Quite different issue – visas can be designed or refused with the experience of overstaying kept in mind.’

    In other words, it’s OK for them to overstay because they had the means to obtain visas and airline tickets, but not OK for those who might well fear persecution or death but who had the means to stay in an Indonesian hotel. Having the means does not preclude them from having a genuine fear of persecution any more than those who arrive by plane; your ‘logic’ is severely tainted. Cant and self-contradiction!

    The use of the perjorative term ‘illegals’ by you and some of your commenters is also wrong; in fact, only if the arrivals were to enter the country and wander there without any processing could they be deemed in any way ‘illegal’. It is only those who fail to gain offical refugee status after the process, whether they arrive by boat or plane, visa or no visa, whose presence may be termed ‘illegal’, in which case they would be deported. It was only a few weeks ago that the tragic murders of several Afghan men who were deported in this way was reported in the papers. The proportion of those who arrive by boat later granted refugee or asylum status is much higher than that amongst the visa holders.

    Your use of the term ‘queue jumpers’ is (‘questionable’, HC). Do you apply it to those who jet in with visas? There is no queue; never has been. The truth is that people who use this term don’t want refugees from the so-called ‘queue’ either! I’ve met them; they are seemingly pleasant people, but they will say eventually, if the subject comes up, under their breaths or even out loud so great is their confidence that one will agree with them, ‘We don’t want these people’. They do NOT mean that they don’t want ‘queue jumpers’. I know what you and they mean.

    I don’t condone the terrible exploitation of people by the boat owners, and would never seek to encourage people to attempt the dangerous journey to Australia. The government is maintaining strict ‘border control’ and the excision of certain offshore territories. It has made more humane the treatment of arrivals here, particularly of children, and scrapped the ridiculously expensive and inhuman ‘Pacific Solution’. I hope it doesn’t cave in to the latest moral panic and reinstate it; the coalition and the government should adopt a bipartisan approach and not foster a moral panic.

  • Ros

    Slim it seems to me that the very same people who advocate a global world for people are those who object to Starbucks and Hollywood, present company excluded. But as they organise to avoid being sullied by McDonald’s they also ensure that the world’s unwashed (and of course the local unwashed) aren’t their next door neighbours, hence for example Balmain versus Lakemba in Sydney. So Balmain resident’s live in a green and peaceful land, those in Lakemba, well they might tell you of a place where you do not walk the streets at night.

    Balmain residents, affluent and proudly left, but I have every confidence that if the state government said we have found a use for Calumn Park, a major refugee re-settlement estate, they would have a thousand reasons and a thousand people to protest that the place should remain a public space for the use of all. Of course how the great unwashed get to use this public space is not clear. Just as Ballast Point Park is going to be limited by access, parking, public transport etc to the good left folk of Balmain. Balmain even gets the police to close off all the roads from early on New Years Eve, have to get resident permit weeks before from Council.

    Was asked to participate in a multicultural survey by some nice school kids in Balmain (I visit, don’t live). Well on reflection there were a surprising number of French expats living in Balmain, white not black. In fact Balmain would seriously challenge Adelaide’s place as the whitest place in Australia. But Balmain folk are very in favour of the poor boat people, living somewhere, else of course, in Australia. Balmain is a very good example of a cosmoplitan enclave building a virtual wall around itself to keep out the provincials. Very nice folk but their moral vanity and greed is irritating.

    Why does this matter. The UN at least acknowledges that the people movement and asylum claims are not just about conflict ” refugees and internally displaced persons uprooted by conflict and human rights abuse, forced displacement does not take place in isolation from other population flows. Millions of people are compelled to move within or out of their countries by a myriad of factors. Some are driven by poverty, fleeing to survive; others
    are drawn to real or perceived opportunities to better their lives away from home” Fair enough but.

    But the voices calling for the erosion of national boundaries by making Australia a major pull country for the deprived reject the economic causes of asylum seeking out of hand. Maybe there is an understanding of where this may lead, but the pretense that all will pay the piper for this moral grandiosity is bizarre. The cosmoplitans ghettos will grow, Australian provincials will continue to wear the increasing cost, and if this leads to the partial hollowing out of industrialised nations, the virtual walls will no doubt become actual.

    People are more aware of the complexity, I don’t think so. In 1992 there were 18 million refugees (excluding Palestinians) today there are 11 million. At the same time the numbers seeking asylum in the industrialised nations has expanded at the very least by ten times. When Keating brought in his unlimited detention, asylum seeker cases could be decided on a case by case basis. As the numbers grow, and they will, in the higher pull countries the empathy might again be replaced by alarm.

  • Ros April 19th, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Was asked to participate in a multicultural survey by some nice school kids in Balmain (I visit, don’t live). Well on reflection there were a surprising number of French expats living in Balmain, white not black. In fact Balmain would seriously challenge Adelaide’s place as the whitest place in Australia. But Balmain folk are very in favour of the poor boat people, living somewhere, else of course, in Australia. Balmain is a very good example of a cosmoplitan enclave building a virtual wall around itself to keep out the provincials. Very nice folk but their moral vanity and greed is irritating.


    I have been trying for about 20 years to express the argument you so eloquently put in the above comment. But I have failed miserably. You put me to shame.

    What people like Slim do not realise is that we are a more or less populist democracy. Politicians, especially out there in marginal electorate land, must respond to the preferences of their constituents. And their constituents are uneasy about some foreigners cultural practices. And also about asylum seekers, perhaps with good reason, doing end-runs on legal processes.

    In short, there is a class issue here.

    Most private amenity is upvalued by economies of scale from population density (esp restaraunts and housing and retail trade). People in inner-suburban metro areas get all the benefits of maintaining celebrating diversity and density eg cheap ethnic restaurants, cultural festivals, nicely mannered French back packers etc.

    In fact just about any form of public amenity is devalued by population density. People in outer-suburban retro areas have to pay all the costs of diversity and density. Menacing attitudes towards scantily clothed women, drug dealing ethnic gangs and disturbing tribal customs (arranged marriage, cousin marriage, honor killings). Plus all the routine ones like shortage of housing, public hospitals, state schools, public transport, road traffic congestion, crowded green space.

    So no wonder rich people like population density and cultural diversity. It makes them richer still and they get to enjoy all the good bits.

    Whereas poor people are not so crazy about that idea. It makes them poorer still and they get to suffer all the bad bits.

    So really, the Culture War boils down to the Class War after all.


    Jack Strocchi

  • Brent Walker

    What percentage (globally)of illegal immigrants/asylum seekers etc. arrive at our shores? In other words, what percentage of the global number of asylum seekers get to Australia – which in turn makes us xenophobic. I would think about 0.05% – but I obviously do not know
    Brent Walker
    Sth Aust.

  • ian

    Seems to me the only change in Australia’s policy from Howard to Rudd has been the rhetoric. I can just see all those illegal Afghanis and Iraqis huddling around their TV set in a Jakarta hotel saying “Rudd’s gone soft, he’s dropped the Hitleresque stance about ‘we will decide who comes into this country and the conditions under which they come’. So let’s get on the first leaky boat out of here!”

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