Saturday, August 20, 2011

The problem of asylum seekers

Australia has a problem with asylum seekers. Now the troll has a great aversion to people that don’t think or behave the way he does. He likes his life simple, predictable and unchanging. And if these people look any different to what he is accustomed to, well all the more reason to prevent them coming across the seas and affecting his life (but at least, should they make landfall, it will easier to point out who they are).

There is a plan in place to curb the tide of asylum seekers (currently contested in our courts as to its legality*). And that is to send them back overseas for processing outside of Australian jurisdiction.
There appear to be four problems with asylum seekers. They come from a torn land or a land with torn ideologies. They cost taxpayers money. They can take our jobs. And they can cause even greater pressures on the already ridiculous cost of housing in Australia.
On the first point, those people that come from areas of conflict can bring that conflict to a relatively placid community like Australia. However, there’s already a measure in place to curb community conflict. It’s called the law. And we have a bunch of guys with big sticks to go chasing those that openly violate it. They’re called the police. If asylum seekers break the law, they go to jail or, even better, they get sent back to where they came.
The second point is that they cost taxpayers money. But once a person enters Australian territorial waters (or airspace for that matter) they are under Australian law and governance. For better or worse that means they can or will cost the Australian taxpayer (regardless of how unsavoury one finds the trade of people smuggling). Sending them off for processing in a distant country to remove Australia’s obligations does not remove the costs (I’m not sure if it is even any cheaper) but it does take away the one benefit of immigration (if one can flip the coin, ignore the illegality, and call it that) - that is: the immigrant. That’s not to say that an asylum seeker, on the Australian mainland, would not place an additional burden on the Australian taxpayer (and he will - teaching and integrating him into the community costs money). But should he be fortunate enough to stay then he and his children could become productive workers and Australian taxpayers to boot. Paying now for a future return is called an investment. There are risks but it is a game worth playing.
That brings us to the next point. They will take our jobs. There’s another way of looking at that. It’s called competition. The last time I looked, that was regarded as a good thing. Nobody really wants to be at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. So if you feel strongly enough about it then get educated, get skilled, look for opportunities, and get out there.
The last point is that they will place pressures on housing and resources. Well, the prices of Australian property, insane as it is, is currently flat and predicted to fall in most capital cities. Property prices in any case is a governance and taxation issue and not directly an immigration problem (although it does play a big role). A big country with limited resources (albeit with decent infrastructure) is, arguably, the real issue. There are proponents for a "Big Australia" (a big vibrant population with the encouragement of skilled immigrants as proposed by our previous prime minister, Kevin Rudd) and there are those that are against this (Julia Gillard, our current prime minister). The argument revolves around the concept of a “sustainable” Australia. How one determines with confidence the population size that is “sustainable” at any particular time given that we live in “a land of drought and flooding rains” is far beyond me and thankfully one we can leave to the Australian government (and just as thankfully they will never always be right so we will have some margin to complain about their policies).
The problem with asylum seekers then comes down to immigration policy and our views on this. Skilled workers are really what Australia wants for growth and competitiveness. This is tempered by the current vogue for a sustainable, or if you will, a “little” Australia. Whether we should be allowing an illegal immigrant who faces persecution in their home country to take the spot of a legal immigrant who flies in with the appropriate papers (and probably more likely to possess the appropriate skills Australia wants) is an argument that has no correct answer. I accept that Australia has an immigration quota and certainly those immigrants that don’t qualify will have to wait their turn or be returned to their home country. But, leaving aside the argument of whether it is "right" or "wrong", sending asylum seekers back overseas for processing just does not make any sense.
Australians, as a rule, are notoriously egalitarian. Except, it seems, when it comes to the problem of asylum seekers.

On the 31 August, Australia's High Court ruled the policy of overseas processing as illegal (albeit only in countries where laws are not in place to ensure the protection of asylum seekers). 
The looming question is what now for Australia's border protection policy? How can a prosperous, democratic country discourage the unpleasant trade of people smuggling? Bring back temporary protection visas? Continue with mandatory detention and overseas processing albeit in a more "agreeable" setting? Or change the legislation so that we can send asylum seekers/ unauthorised immigrants anywhere we choose (a theoretical proposition as it will be impossible to pass through the current senate)? 
My opinion:
Democracy and prosperity has its price. Despite its shortcomings, the temporary protection visa (or some version of it) should be resurrected. And the bleeding hearts out there should harden up and face reality.

1 comment:

Andre said...

Interesting read. As a person on the other side of the fence(a skilled one thankfully), I see Australia as a country of opportunity where hard work gets rewarded.

The laws you mention and the men carrying big sticks is also very appealing. While some may find it tending towards a nanny state, the flipside is living in fear of crime, like I do now in my own country. So to me the choice is a no brainer.

Something that my family and I discussed about emigrating to Australia is to embrace the Australian culture and become Australians. I am sure there is nothing worse than a bitter and twisted ex (South African in my case), that is doing Australia a favour by selecting them as a host country.

And lastly, but most importantly, when I do finally arrive in Australia, I will be bringing my stash of Campagnolo goodies including my two sets of delta brakes. Now that should more than make up for any reservations one might have about my impending invasion of your land. :-)