Saturday, 20 July 2013

The new "boat people" policy

outlined by Kevin Rudd won't work. It is illegal, immoral, dangerous and ridiculous.
It is illegal because it contravenes the United Nations Refugee Convention. Australia is a signatory to that. If the government wishes to withdraw from the convention then the matter has to go before parliament. It is not something the current Prime Minister can merely announce.
Withdrawing from the UNRC is unlikely. It would complicate international relations to an unacceptable degree and would not solve any other problem.
I imagine the legal eagles are already working on proposals for a High Court challenge.
The proposal is immoral. If people are in desperate need of assistance then we have a moral duty to help them. Even if people are not in desperate need of assistance then we have a moral duty not to send them into danger.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an often dangerous country. It is poor. Corruption is rife. Unemployment is very high. It lacks infrastructure. The geography (much of terrain is mountainous) and the linguistics (there are still around 800 languages spoken at local levels) are such that much of it remains isolated. It already has a problem with people seeking refuge from West Papua. 
PNG depends heavily on aid from Australia and I have little doubt that Mr Rudd was quick to point that out when he put his proposal to the PNG Prime Minister Mr O'Neill. 
The proposal is also dangerous. It could exacerbate an already existing problem. Mr Rudd has said, "If you come by boat without a valid visa you will not be resettled here." What happens if you come that way, get sent to PNG and then escape detention (which will not be hard to do). You then contact the new breed of PNG people smugglers and they slip you across the Torres Strait on another boat or fly you in on a light aircraft. Suddenly you have an entire new industry in a country which already has that problem with corruption. Local sectors of the economy could quickly become dependent on human trafficking. We will also have people entering the country illegally. They may disappear into the community but they will be forever at risk of discovery and exploitation.
The proposal is also ridiculous. Mr Rudd knows it is not likely to be fully implemented - although it might be played with for a time. Certainly he will continue to tell Australians it is a good thing until he manages to win an election. After that there will be excuses as to why it cannot be done. People will be left in limbo - and more of them will die at sea because the boats will not stop. PNG will be seen as a detour.
In the end this proposal will damage Australia. It will damage relations with PNG as well as Indonesia. It will not solve the problem of people risking their lives in order to reach their preferred destination.
Is there an answer to the situation? I think there might be but that will have to wait until tomorrow.  

No comments: