Paralysed and helpless

IT’S rare that I can’t see a point in an argument, even if it is an insignificant or silly point. I suppose an argument without a point is no argument at all.

But I’m yet to see a point in the argument that Australia should not discourage people from travelling in unseaworthy boats in dangerous seas to claim asylum in Australia.

In fact, I don’t know how they argue for that proposition other than citing law and the High Court’s disallowing last August of the Gillard government’s so-called Malaysia solution. But the law may be very different from morality, from what we should and shouldn’t do.

Perhaps these people who argue against discouraging asylum seekers from undertaking the perilous voyage would say that we should discourage people from setting out in leaky boats but we shouldn’t do it by way of the Malaysia deal. If they say that I’ve not heard them advocate an alternative and effective means of discouragement.

And when another boatload of asylum seekers drown I am angry. The tragedy last week was typical of pretty well all the other mass drownings of asylum seekers – an unseaworthy boat crammed with fare-paying asylum seekers capsizes and the sea and sharks do the rest.

Two months after the court’s rejection of the Malaysia solution, which would have swapped asylum seekers arriving by boat for five times more refugees in Malaysian camps, up to 20 people drowned when their boat capsized off Java, and three months later more than 200 are believed to have drowned when their boat capsized off Indonesia. And late last week the 100 or so believed lost when their boat capsized north of Christmas Island.

I’m angry about that. I’m angry that the Coalition and the Greens use people’s lives as political fodder, that they see the number of asylum seekers who arrive by boat and who drown on the way as a score against the government. I am angry that the courts seem to have a greater say over government policy than the government.

I am angry that we are constantly beaten by our own laws, that people smugglers can operate in Australia while police watch, that a known people smuggler can flee the country while police watch helplessly, that people smugglers can get around our law by using underage teenage youth as boat crew, that we have to fly these teenagers home quickly so they can crew the next boat, that if we’ve jailed them because we had their age wrong we will probably have to send them home with compensation.

I am angry that we have so bound ourselves with laws and politics that we are helpless.

So now we have asylum seekers phoning Australia to come and get them, even from within Indonesian waters, and we’ve had Australian Navy ships take the asylum seekers on board because the Navy deemed the boat unseaworthy. It is a fair bet that every asylum seeker boat is unseaworthy.

We seem to have a continuous inquiry into whether Australia did enough to try to rescue or to ensure the safety of asylum seekers on these unseaworthy boats, and I expect that where it is found Australia could have done more, as Australia will surely find, Australia will pay compensation to those who survived the perils of the voyage and to the family of those who did not survive.

And all the while they arrive in increasing numbers, filling the courts with appeals and challenges, and the annual bill for managing them is set to reach $1billion in the next 12 months. And they drown in increasing numbers.

They come because their chances of, one, being given refugee status and, two, being accepted for permanent residency in Australia are many times higher here than overseas. And what is referred to as offshore processing, on islands off the Australian mainland, is not overseas for these purposes. They come because they have the money to pay people smugglers and we don’t have the nous to stop them.

Surely our self-induced paralysis makes us responsible.

Should Australia refuse to accept asylum seekers who arrive by boat, for their own sake?

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