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Six issues missing from the asylum seeker debate

When asylum seekers die at sea there are too many things we don’t want to talk about. Following the news of another asylum boat capsizing yesterday, at 2pm the federal Parliament began with a sombre and…

While politicians debated a bill in Canberra, 150 asylum seekers' lives were at risk. AAP/Australian Maritime Safety Authority

When asylum seekers die at sea there are too many things we don’t want to talk about.

Following the news of another asylum boat capsizing yesterday, at 2pm the federal Parliament began with a sombre and measured tone purportedly seeking to leave behind political partisanship and move forward with common resolve to stop the boats from coming and hence prevent future deaths.

But by 6pm the performance had well and truly returned to type – the commentary had swiftly divided along party lines, and partisan combat opened out into blatant and breathtaking hypocrisy.

And finally, just before 8pm, Julia Gillard scored a “victory” for her government by pushing legislation through the lower house that will allow for offshore processing of asylum seekers.

Despite various amendments, new deals and a range of other measures being countenanced, it was clear that what we saw yesterday had little to do with what MP Tony Windsor had suggested earlier in the week – wiping the policy and legislative slate clean and genuinely starting afresh – and everything to do with which side could look more like a “government” by landing a deal.

Not to underestimate the valiant efforts of longstanding campaigners for legal and just solutions, what most in the parliament sought was the appearance that something was being done.

Effectively what they sought was the physical relocation of “the problem” rather than the more terrifying option – a fundamental shift in approach. The urgency was arguably about avoiding the outcomes of a genuinely different, far-reaching set of options. With a focus on the physical relocation of the problem, a clear disconnect emerged between what was being said in Parliament and the core issues that yet again were not being discussed.

What have we been missing?

  1. No one is talking about the UNHCR having such a small number of officers processing asylum claims in Indonesia. It is impossible for this tiny cohort to process any reasonable number of applications. According to the International Organisation for Migration, from January 1 to May 31 this year, 24 refugees were resettled from Indonesia to Australia. That’s from a pool of 5732 asylum seekers and refugees.

  2. No one is talking about the relationship of people smuggling (as an illicit activity) to the licit regulation of entry into Australia. Australia’s universal visa system deems entire groups “high-risk”. For example, those from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka are routinely denied visas that would enable them to arrive legitimately by air. These groups are not considered risky because they represent a significant security threat (for, say, terrorism or serious crime), but because they may engage Australia’s protection obligations. No one is talking about changing these risk profiles and visa issuing practices.

  3. No one is talking about what happens to those who are prevented from coming to Australia (subject to disruption or deterrence regimes) or whether this is a desirable objective for a nation such as Australia. Preventing or deterring people from coming to Australia does not mean persecution stops. Instead, those being persecuted become some other country’s problem. This surely is an unsustainable contribution to regional (let alone) global relations.

  4. No one is talking about the role parliament and politicians have played in fuelling the high-octane political debate that has seen Australia engage in a race to lead the world in some of the most punitive and demonising arrangements for asylum seekers. While we need to grieve for the lives lost and seek to prevent future loss we should do so by keeping in perspective the scale of Australia’s asylum seeker “problem” and enable less reactionary approaches to refugee protection and irregular border crossing.

  5. No one is talking about decoupling the zero-sum game between refugees settled from offshore, and onshore arrival numbers (in which as arrivals increase, offshore resettlement places go down). This is a policy change that could end the mindless pitching of one group of refugees against another.

  6. No one is talking about the invisibility of border-related deaths in Australia. There is no official cumulative record of who has died en route and post-entry into Australia and why. Both the EU and the US have records of border related deaths. The Border Observatory database of Australian border-related deaths is the only cumulative record that enables us to robustly analyse these deaths and consider issues of accountability that go beyond the simplistic refrains regarding “evil people smugglers”. A glance at this database shows the deaths of asylum seekers at sea are but one kind of death among many others, which also need to be recognised. For example, deaths in Australian immigration detention centres are not considered deaths “in custody” for the purpose of the monitoring program run by the Australian Institute of Criminology.

The desperate, frantic efforts of politicians clambering for a tidy solution – one where they can say “we just got something done” - is simply insufficient.

Complex, far-reaching arrangements and relationships, which are capable of effectively responding to those in need of protection are required.

All of this means we need a discussion of many things that were not on the table yesterday, and show no sign of being raised in future.

Join the conversation

162 Comments sorted by

  1. Mat Hardy

    Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University

    Nobody is talking about the fact that people come here because they're desperate. They put their 13 yo on a leaky ship because it's a better option than her remaining at home. The debate is couched in terms of opposing people smuggling, but really that's just a veneer over their xenophobia.

    All we need to do is solve world peace and inequality and then no-one will want to come here.

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    1. Diana Brown

      Parent; language student

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      All six points are well made, but the finest of all is Mat Hardy's: 'people come here because they're desperate.'
      That is the critical locus of the matter. Everything that has been said by both sides of Govt is just so much filibustering, underpinned by Australia's ubiquitous racism. It's a shameful situation, particularly for a country that no doubt 'proudly' considers itself a beacon of cultural integration (yes, self-deception is the most sinister of the vices), the whole made the more nauseating by scenes such as the self-justifying sentimental display we all saw last night.

      And meanwhile those people remain desperate enough to try to cast their lot in with us.

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    2. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      Mat said: "All we need to do is solve world peace and inequality and then no-one will want to come here."

      Not really, they'll just fly in or come by cruise ship. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

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    3. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      The simple question is there are millions of refugees in the world and many more who can spin a good story to come to an industrialized country with good social security. How many do you want us to take and which ones?

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    4. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      "Nobody is talking about the fact that people come here because they're desperate"

      Possibly because it isn't a fact?

      If you are able to raise enough money to afford a people-smuggler in Afghanistan you may be a lot of things, but desperate is not one of them.

      By all means lets take boat people if you like, but lets to blind ourselves to their motivations. We could empty Afghanistan and Iran if we followed Dr Hardy's line of reasoning to its logical conclusion.

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    5. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Oh dear we can see from these comments, can't we, how many people (even on The Conversation) rely, for their 'information', on Talk Radio.

      This point is typical of those which, removed from that dank space and exposed to the light, shatter at a single touch.

      If you're desperate, you are willing to sell all your belongings to get out. That is how people can afford to pay travel agents (politicians here call them 'people smugglers').

      Again, this kind of bilge is cleared up by a simple application of the facts - over 90% of boat people, when they finally get a chance to have their cases heard via due process, they are found to be fleeing a genuine fear of persecution.

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    6. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      People drowning en route to Australia, not desperate enough for Sean Lamb?

      The issue of refugees arriving by boat remains Australia's shame. Have tweeted Sharon Pickering's article as it sets out succinctly the issues of this overwrought topic.

      When governments and oppositions adopt an ideology of appearing tough - nothing is achieved but pain.

      1. Process on shore. Far cheaper than off-shore processing: http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/A-rickety-busted-up-vessel-called-political-compromise/
      2. Withdraw Australian military from Middle East - send doctors, teachers, architects, engineers.

      Of course the above 2 points require a backbone something the Government and Opposition clearly lack.

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    7. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to John Coochey

      Seems this touched a nerve, the chattering classes having to actually do something and maybe reach into their own pocket by the way I have the figures on the Pacific Solution

      A total of 1637 people were detained in the Nauru and Manus facilities known as the Pacific Solution. 484(30%) were deported, and 705 (43%) were resettled in Australia.

      And the boats stopped coming.

      And Australia quietly went about allocating our scarce humanitarian palces to those most in need.

      http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2008/ce08014.htm

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    8. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to John Coochey

      Mmm, so including those who ended up in other countries, about three-quarters were found to be genuine refugees.

      As SBS revealed (in a 2008 documentary, see more details here: http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/afghans-sent-home-to-die/2008/10/26/1224955853319.html), those who were sent back to Afghanistan, in some cases, met with a sticky end - which means the determination of their cases was wrong.

      It's impossible to tell in those particular instances but everyone familiar with the system speaks about the generalised political pressure to 'send people back' on the slightest pretext, and how that can lead to genuine cases being wrongly refused.

      In other words, the wrongful decisions to refuse their applications for refugee status were most likely influenced by the prevalence of the kind of prejudice we've seen from this and some other contributors to this page - and as a result they ended up dead.

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    9. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      Jake, you seem a sort of 'shock and awe' Abbot type disciple … grandiose observations but light-on in solving department … what would you do ?

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    10. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      Consult the large number of organisations who actually know what they are talking about, but who never (for some reason) seem to figure in public debate, at least as represented by mainstream media.

      Begin with the Refugee Council 'submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into Australia's Agreement with Malaysia in relation to Asylum Seekers', download pdf from:

      http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/r/sub.php

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    11. David Whittle

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      I've read 120 comments and in all there are very few comments about what other countries are doing well, beyond comparing numbers.

      What countries are doing this well and what can we learn from them?

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    12. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      You are of course free to sponsor any would be migrant including refugees

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  2. Charles Pragnell

    Freelance Social Commentator

    There is no need for Australia to be involved in this issue of asylum seekers. There is no need for politicians to vacillate and procrastinate on policies which have no chance of success, even if they survive challenges in the Courts.
    The primary responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees lies with the UNHCR. It is the UNHCR which must make provision for them. If the UNHCR lacks the resources and finance then it must return to the UN for those resources to be increased, with the support of Australia…

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    1. Mat Hardy

      Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      "by Australia which is struggling alone to deal with this mass migration of individuals and families from the Middle East and Africa."

      Are you kidding?

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    2. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      "Nobody is talking about the fact that people come here because they're desperate".

      Are you kidding?.

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    3. John Lamp
      John Lamp is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Senior Lecturer, School of Information and Business Analytics at Deakin University

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      No, he's not kidding. The whole debate is couched in terms of queue jumpers and other derogatory terms. Most of these people face a very simple but horrifying choice -- stay and be killed or worse, or leave with whatever you can carry and risk everything on the good nature of your fellow human beings.

      The fact that you are making this choice because of the absence of any good nature in the fellow human beings you currently share space with makes it even more horrifying.

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    4. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      I don't know who Charles Pragnell is but he is obviously an intelligent person. What is shocking is that intelligent people in Australia do, in many cases, hold a genuine belief that Australia is somehow put-upon, doing more than its fair share etc etc.

      Look around the Asia-Pacific region and one country sticks out a mile, as having a colossal amount of empty territory, a population of negligible size and outlandish amounts of cash.

      (Perhaps what we need is a Gina Rinehart resettlement program…

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    5. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to John Lamp

      That is simply not true, even the Times of England ran a story on how the document creators (eg Taliban Death Threats) favor Australia as a soft touch. The reason we take so few from Indonesia is because they do not originate from Indonesia. They have already left the area of threat if it existed at all. There was one asylum seeker who had settled in Australia who had previously settled in the USA. Another Afghan who was rejected had previously lived in Iran, Greece, the UK, Eire and had applied…

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    6. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to John Coochey

      'Even the Times of England...'???? It's a long time since the Times was considered a beacon of journalistic excellence.

      And this is the most mendacious of argumentative methods, to seize on outliers and use them to attempt to discredit the whole.

      Salient fact: asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat, when they have their cases heard via due process, are overwhelmingly successful - that is, they have indeed fled out of a genuine fear of persecution.

      This typifies the pollution of the debate that almost immediately takes place here, as soon as the issue is raised. The question is, why? How has it come to pass that such obvious furphies are in common currency? It's an indictment of the standard of both political discourse and media reporting.

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    7. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      Distraction ... when my kids were growing up, I reminded them of when I took them to Lang Park, when an opposing player was to convert a try, certain patrons banged their hands on metal signs and yelled out to put the player off ...

      Politicians have kicked money in the tin for - to my mind - compulsory religion ... marginalization is the key, polarizing people gets them / keeps them off balance / distracted while they make and pass policy to feather their own nests for the inevitable Depression …

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    8. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      I don't know who Jake Lynch is but he obviously derides any intelligence which does not conform to his perceived notions.

      The `collosal amount of empty territory' is largely uninhabitable and in consequence large tracts of bushland, paddocks, and farmland are already disappearing under concrete and tarmac due to urban sprawl. Native vegetation destroyed forever due to the unrestricted and unlimited population growth. Of similar concern are th thousands of native animals (kangaroos, wallabies…

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    9. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      Exactly, Mr Pragnell.

      There is awful lot of narcissism in this debate. People preening in their own personal ideological mirror, so overwhelmed at their fineness of their humanitarianism. And yet the same people will with great happiness endorse bombing Libya. Go figure. It seems drowning is terrible, but burning people alive is just fine.

      Unfortunately, the people in the UNHCR camps have to languish there for years because resettlement places are snapped up by people who have found a fast track.

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    10. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      Corrigenda it was the Guardian, you are of course free to sponsor a refugee if you wish

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    11. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to John Coochey

      More complete nonsense. Sponsoring is not the issue - Australia's legal obligations is the issue. Please keep this talkback-radio garbage out of this space.

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    12. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      The notion that Australians 'struggle each day to make ends meet' is every bit as misleading as the rest of the contributions from this author. Any authoritative data (otherwise known as 'facts') show that Australian living standards have risen across the board in recent years. The 'struggle street' trope is another dead giveaway of the baleful influence of trash media that pollutes public debate in this country.

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    13. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      Of course from your lofty perch at the Uni.S you would have complete knowledge of how low income families have to struglle and how you despise them so much for giving their views on TalkBack radio, their only means of communicating their concerns. You speak from a very privileged position and with more than a little contempt for those who daily experience difficulties in their lives which are not of their own causation.

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    14. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      There are inequalities in Australian society and they need to be remedied by redistributive measures. Those measures cannot find a place on the political agenda because they are crowded out by red herrings like 'border security', manipulating people's fears. Talkback radio is a vehicle for that exploitative political process.

      Remedy would be multi-faceted, certainly including empowering ACMA (or a stronger, successor body) to enforce fairness and balance, and the clear separation of news and comment, in commercial broadcast media, as in the UK.

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    15. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      A total of 1637 people were detained in the Nauru and Manus facilities known as the Pacific Solution. 484(30%) were deported, and 705 (43%) were resettled in Australia.

      And the boats stopped coming.

      And Australia quietly went about allocating our scarce humanitarian palces to those most in need.

      http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2008/ce08014.htm

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    16. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      Security of the Australian people is far from being a `Red Herring'. It is a factor which is studiously ignored by those advocating for the rights of `asylum' seekers. The Australian people have the right to be protected from contagious diseases, criminal behaviours, and on occasions from possible terrorist activities as have occurred in Europe as a consequence of `Multiculturalism'.
      When the voice of the people is silenced or censored regarding their reasonable concerns, as you seem to favour, then TalkBack radio and the Internet are the few channels where they can have their opinions heard, above the pseudo-intellectual offerings of academia and the vested interests of representative bodies of asylum seekers and refugees.

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    17. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      There again with the "contagious diseases"!

      Spare us the drama, Charles Pragnell, and explain what you are really afraid of? That you will be forced to speak Pashtun? That beer will be banned? That "pseudo-intellectuals" will move in next door?

      Or that Talk-Back radio might start censoring calls? ...<cough>... heaven forbid!

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    18. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      No, the UNHCR has a role of making sure signatory nations uphold the conventions and stepping in during emergencies. In law it is signatory nations like us who assess and protect, the UNHCR does not have a country and cannot enter or work in any country without permission.

      With the information available now it astonishes me that you can write such ignorant and moronic crap.

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  3. Melinda McPherson

    Consultant

    Readers might also want to look at Frank Brennan's 'Tampering with Asylum'. Incarceration of asylum seekers for anything but administrative reasons in order to conduct health and character checks is not permitted under international law. In particular, detention is not allowed to be utilised by government as a deterrent measure. Health and character checks are expected to be undertaken within a short and reasonable period of time - a few weeks or months.

    The mainstream idea that locking up refugees is necessary in their 'best interests' to deter them from arriving by boat is ill conceived, but more to the point, illegal.

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    1. Stephen Riden

      Research and Information Manager, DSICA

      In reply to Melinda McPherson

      So under a proper legal interpretation of international law on refugees, Australia has no right to control its boarders and no way to control the number of water-borne asylum seekers or reduce the strength of the pull-factors other than bringing about world peace, because as other posters have noted, the great majority of claiments are granted refugee status so it is always worth a crack - apart form the risk of drowning?

      What is the ratio of drowned to successful claiments? Has anyone tabulated that very grim calculation?

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    2. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Stephen Riden

      'Boarders'? Much of the mendacity in this debate in Australia stems from the creeping 'securitisation' of the issue. This is about humanitarian protection.

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    3. Stephen Riden

      Research and Information Manager, DSICA

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      It was sovereign nations that signed the Refugee Convention; it is sovereign nations that offer protection and citizenship, and sovereign nations that feed, clothe and house refugees until they can support themselves.

      So yes, it is about borders as well.

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    4. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Stephen Riden

      No it is not about borders, it is about not allowing borders to prevent protection.

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  4. Pamela Curr

    campaign coordinator

    Spot on- Yesterdays debate was pitiful in its narrowness
    Politicians not briefed? politicians blinded by political party imperatives? who knows?
    UNPLEASANT FACTS
    Australia has reduced the number of settlement places available to refugees in Indonesia this year to 300.
    It was a piddling 500 each year for the past 2 years.

    There is no transparency re the funding Australia gives to UNHCR in Indonesia and Canberra. no doubt they need more resources but we have to see core refugee work achieved…

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  5. Daniel Boon

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Mat Hardy's of people coming here ‘because they're desperate' is but stating the obvious and his ‘all we need to do is solve world peace and inequality and then no-one will want to come here’ as tongue in cheek as you can get.

    Refugees have been a constant long before the mythical Joseph (coat with many colours) became a displaced person. It’s an issue that is replicated in every family, as a child grows up and out.

    Refugees are a handy political football for Tony Abbot and were it possible…

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    1. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      More rubbish here - 'Australia is a net importer of food'.

      Good piece of journalism from Fairfax, both exposing this lie, and nailing its origin in a piece of self-serving corporate propaganda:

      http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/food-figures-overcooked-20101102-17cez.html

      Immediate response to the stress on Australia's water supply: rescind abstraction licences in the Murray-Darling basin. Trouble is, that's another debate polluted by this kind of rubbish.

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    2. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      Jake, so you say its media rubbish and then cite an article to support your statement ?

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    3. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      Well you can consult the Department for Agriculture's own figures if you so wish. The point is to discriminate between media outputs so we can value the good and throw out the bad.

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  6. Norm Stone

    Farmer

    The other things not, or hardly ever being talked about are;
    1. The plain stupid notion of the pull factor. The entire nonsense in parliament relied not only on astonishing hypocrisy but on believing that these "hordes" are coming here because Australia is so fabulous. Believing that removal of the "pull" factor will solve the problem is almost too stupid for our glorious leaders. NB I said "almost"

    2. Most "illegals" come by air and huge numbers are WESPs (white english speaking persons)

    If you want to learn the depths that out parliamentary democracy has sunk to just listen in for an hour, any time, not just when the "big" issues are on. These loons are the worst debaters, worst public speakers and the most adversarial, hubristic mob anywhere!

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    1. Iain Wicking

      Director

      In reply to Norm Stone

      The so called 'WESP's' you mention enter the country legally and have been approved and vetted prior to applying for a Visa so the authorities should know who they are. What they do after that is to work illegally and/or overstay their Visa.

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  7. Jess Lyons

    Student

    If the majority of asylum seekers come from the Middle East or Africa, they must pass through several countries in Asia and Southeast Asia before taking a boat to Australia. Many of these people have nothing, but surely once removed from their dire situation, any country along the way would seem great...

    Does this mean those that want to come to Australia are a small minority?

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    1. Adam Fletcher

      PhD Candidate at Monash University

      In reply to Jess Lyons

      Yes they are actually - the vast majority are in countries like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon (or in our region Malaysia and Thailand).

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  8. imogen birley

    logged in via Twitter

    This is an excellent article, and does a fine job of showing how a complex and difficult issue has been reduced to simplistic framing that at best avoids the real issues and at worst deliberately muddies them.

    I have only one quibble, which is to point out that the Greens have in fact been raising many of these issues over the years, and in the context of the current bill, particularly the first point about a lack of properly resourced regional assessment in transit countries like Indonesia.

    This is being lost at the moment in the emotional debate about "compromise" to "save lives" which is so far gone that the fact that this bill offers nothing in the way of evidence-based decisions that will save lives, is lost.

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  9. Anthony Cox

    logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

    The author says:

    "For example, those from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka are routinely denied visas that would enable them to arrive legitimately by air. These groups are not considered risky because they represent a significant security threat (for, say, terrorism or serious crime), but because they may engage Australia’s protection obligations."

    How does the author know this? Is she saying there are no terrorist risks amongst the boat-people? If so, how does she know?

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  10. Adam Fletcher

    PhD Candidate at Monash University

    #2 in particular needs serious attention - how many people got on boats because our visa policies prevented them from coming by more regular channels?
    Trying to 'stop the boats' via offshore processing or people swapping seems awfully like trying to stick a finger in the dam and ignoring what's upstream entirely....

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  11. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    and what eveybody seems to want to ignore; certainly in the case of Iraqi and Afganistani refugees; is that
    Australia is directly, in part, responsible for the devastation in their countries, creating the disasters from which they are attempting to escape. No compassion, no sense of responsibility, ignoring the fact that all of us, excepting only the Aborigines arrived hear within a very few generations, a great many indignant that others may want to come to 'our' country!
    Where it not so sad, it would be laughable!

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    1. Tessa Dharmendra

      Project Manager & Research Assistant

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Thank you Peter, for raising a fundamental point in this whole debate which is rarely raised: that Australia is responsible for the people who come here by boat, since we are directly involved in conflict in their countries.

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    2. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Tessa Dharmendra

      Seriously Tessa, how many refugees go to the old USSR to live (given the occupation by them that sent them broke and now - fortunately - also sending the Yanks broke) ... the vast majority of Australians didn't want to be / don't want to be in Iraq or Afganastan ...

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    3. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Tessa Dharmendra

      Tessa, are you suggesting that the ethnic cleansing of the Hazara by the Taliban would not have occurred if Australia was not involved in the Afghanistan conflict?

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    4. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      There were options for engaging with the Taliban, other than by war. Taliban spokespersons engaged with western governments and media over aid to the population affected by a devastating earthquake - that could have been built upon. The decision to overthrow them violently was always likely to lead to violence in other places, and Australia was - and remains - complicit in that and partly responsible for the consequences.

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    5. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      I disagree. Considering the ideology of the Taliban and Bin Laden et al, there was nothing to negotiate. I take it that you were also content to see women executed publicly in sports grounds? Would that be up for negotiation? What about the Hazara?

      And that did not answer my questions, which was: ". . . are you suggesting that the ethnic cleansing of the Hazara by the Taliban would not have occurred if Australia was not involved in the Afghanistan conflict?"

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    6. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      Mr Lynch, regarding the Hazara (http://www.hazarapeople.com/), are you suggesting that your compassion ends at the Indian Ocean and applies only to refugees who have already suffered the ongoing ethnic cleansing or genocide (depending on the definition you choose) in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

      Do you or do you not accept the UN Responsibility to Protect (RPT) initiative? Australian involvement in Afghanistan is tailored to help people just like the Hazara, and the Hazara should be fast-tracked when they arrive here as their circumstances are well established.

      Although I applaud your peace objectives, I do not accept your methodology.

      Military action is fraught with unforeseen events, some of which are tragic, but I am suggesting that you do not deserve the sanctimonious high ground here. You would not be willing to assist and protect these people in their homelands.

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    7. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Tessa Dharmendra

      Tessa wrote: "Australia is responsible for the people who come here by boat, since we are directly involved in conflict in their countries."

      I should also remind readers that Bin Laden and JI warned Australia over our involvement in East Timor in 2001, and that Australia's (humanitarian) role in East Timor was given as a reason for the Bali bombings.

      Considering that the Bali bombers Hambali, Muchlas, Ali Imron and Samudra trained and probably fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, our involvement there is not at some whim of the US.

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    8. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      The Bali bombers were not in Afghanistan or Pakistan though, they were local people who just wanted to kill other Indonesians and we got in the way.

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    9. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Keep readin' Marylin. The Bali bombers were trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

      And no, Australians and other westerners were targeted deliberately.

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  12. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    There was an interesting moment in the last election campaign when Tony Abbott was on Qanda.
    A question came from a very well spoken Sudanese refugee, who had arrived in the early 2000s, had completed a librarian course and found work in that field, become a citizen and was voting for the first time. He asked a reasonable, if hostile, question about the Coalition's migration policy. Tony Abbott, being Tony Abbott, hummed and hawed but failed to cut through in his reply.

    There was a very simple line that he could have said: "The only reason you managed to come to Australia and achieve what you have was because John Howard stopped the boats.:

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    1. Adam Fletcher

      PhD Candidate at Monash University

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      See Professor Pickering's point #5 - the only reason the boat arrivals are reducing the number of resettlement places is because the Government has decided to trade one group against the other.

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    2. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Entirely nonsensical - plenty of former boat people make equally successful lives here in Australia. What stops many of them doing so is the trauma they underwent during mandatory detention, and the mental illness they develop as as a result.

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    3. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Adam Fletcher

      You appear to have forgotten that Gillard increased the number of `Humanitarian' places from 12,000 per annum to 20,000. and in her new proposals will be increasing the numbers very considerably by taking 4,000 for every 800 returned to Malaysia. She has no mandate from the Australian people to make such increases and if she wishes to have one, then there is an honourable thing to do - its called holding an election - we'll then see what Australia thinks of her gerrymandering..

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    4. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      The lesson to the ALP should be that you cannot tiptoe around racism - it has to be exposed and confronted.

      Gillard should make the humanitarian case, for accepting asylum seekers and refugees, in public - not divert the conversation on to silly and misleading platitudes about 'people smugglers' as she is wont to do.

      She should comply with legal obligations that Australia has already taken on, and abolish mandatory detention. And she should make a few public appearances with successful refugees as they celebrate their achievements, like the launch of Ahn Do's book.

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    5. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      I would have thought, Charles Pragnell, that a "Freelance Social Commentator " would know what the gerrymander is. Please let's have more information on which seats are currently gerrymandered.

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    6. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      How do you know they were not mentally ill before arriving in detention?. Were they all psychiatrically assessed on arrival?.

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    7. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      Aah the classic `racist' slur, when all intelligent responses are exhausted and beaten. This is not about `racism', it is about protecting current Australian resident, including you, from the dangers of contagious diseases, criminal behaviours, and possibly even terrorism which has been seen several times in Europe after those countries adopted a similar Open Door policy.
      Don't throw the racism slur around when you don't even know the racial origins of people contributing to this column and would be very surprised if you did..

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    8. Adam Fletcher

      PhD Candidate at Monash University

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      Actually, a more humane refugee policy was in the ALP platform before the last two elections, so she does have such a mandate. Democracy doesn't mean having an election every time you disagree with a Government policy decision.

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    9. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Adam Fletcher

      Nor does democracy mean having to vote every three years for a Party which suddenly produces a hidden agenda and proceeds to implement it. There is often good cause for a plebiscite on major issues which substantially affect the population and their standard of living and addresses their concern. But of course, Vox Populae is despised by those in academia, because they consider they have a monopoly of knowledge and wisdom in such matters.

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    10. Stephen Riden

      Research and Information Manager, DSICA

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      I am sure the Liberal Party would welcome her doing just that. And especially confronting Australians via the media why most Australian voters are fearful racists, during an election campaign.

      And she should mention repeatedly that international obligations completely trump the concerns of Australian voters, and that any government she leads will expedite the processing of refugees into permanent residents and then family re-unification.

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    11. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Adam Fletcher

      So does living in overcrowded cities with poor mental health services, so does unemployment (the major factor in suicides), so does living in an unhappy marriage, so does a lot of things in everyday life. Illicit immigrants don't have a monopoly on mental disintegration.

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    12. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      Perhaps this poster has never spoken to a person who leaves their home under uncertain conditions to come to a place of realtive peace. Free health care? Employment? AIbility to leave an unhappy marriage? These are luxuries in comparison to fundamental lack of freedom and the daily threat to life that people in war-torn dictatorships experience.

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    13. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      You have no way of knowing who I speak with. And don't distort and misrepresent my words - the reference was to causes of mental illness.
      How do you know they have a `"fundamental lack of freedom" and a "daily Threat to life". Because they say so?. DUH. Or do they bring a sworn statement from their persecutors?. Or just how do they prove their claims?. Or is it left to immigration officials to carry the burden of proof of disproving their claims knowing they will be dragged through the Courts by hostile lawyers acting for the claimants?. How are their medical and criminal records checked when they have destroyed all ID documents and adopted another name?. It seems to me that the asylum claimants will be given the huge benefit of doubt in most cases and that is the reason for the 90% acceptance rate.

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    14. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Stephen Riden

      Yes indeed Stephen. I look forward to seeing those very words in the Labor Party manifesto next year. And of course their plans to double, triple, quadruple etc the annual asylum seeker intake (and of course their multiple family members after admission), if they are elected.
      But then. honesty and integrity are not notable features of the ALP.

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    15. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      Gee Charles, anyone would think it is not documented all over the world what is happening to some groups of people.

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    16. Pamela Curr

      campaign coordinator

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      Charles - There is an exhaustive process in applying for a refugee visa.A person has to prove that they personally are subject to persecution on Refugee Convention grounds- five listed - you might like to check these out.
      It is no easy give away process. Interviews are held over and over to clarify details, names , places etc. Country information from reputable sources is researched quoted and checked.
      Unfortunately the process in Australia has become politicised so that we see acceptance rates…

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    17. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      She has not increased a thing. And for the record, the idea that we can quota our so-called compassion is beyond deranged.

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    18. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      Well Charles how about you go to Afghanistan or Pakistan and find out how safe it is.

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    19. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Why don't you go Marilyn; they think highly of women in those places.

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    20. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      Unfortunately gender discrimination is not one of the five grounds on which a claim for asylum can be based. Perhaps it should be added.

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    21. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      What about transsexual discrimination?

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    22. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      True, Sean Lamb?

      So a re-settled Sudanese refugee who HAD come by boat but had still re-trained and become a librarian is a less valuable mamber of the community?

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    23. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      Charles Pragnell, PLEASE tell us which are these contagious diseases you are so obsessed about...

      Allegations of "contagious diseases" and "criminal behaviour" are well known the the anti-immigration movements - being used against the Chinese and Jewish in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, then the post-war europeans.

      Are you seriously claiming that it is not racist to label migrants as disease-ridden criminals?

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  13. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    A tidy and astringent account of the problems Sharon. I'd add that the real unaddressed issue is that we all know the current situation is a mere rehearsal for what is to come as global ecological collapse really kicks in. The issue then will be "lifeboat ethics" on a global scale. Those timorous voices already quibbling about how hard and unfair it all is for Australia to be expected to lend a hand to those in need, and to care for those in peril on the sea as well, represent the mean and scared streak within our national history. These voices are not new; they are old Australia, white Australia, the active agents of the dispossession. This issue is a watershed in Australian social life. Such a pity, then, that our Federal Parliament shows no recognition of this.

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  14. Alice Gorman

    Lecturer at Flinders University

    Great article. There is a very interesting historic parallel relating to the movement of people by boats. It was extremely common for Britain and the US to shift the blame for the slave trade onto "Arab" slave traders based in Africa, while conveniently ignoring the fact that the colonial plantation economy was driving the market. The rhetoric around "people smugglers" is so similar in how it is used to deflect critique of the real issues.

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    1. Michael Ekin Smyth

      Investor

      In reply to Alice Gorman

      While some may have used the Arab traders as an excuse there is no doubt that the Arab slave trade existed for far longer than either US or British slavery.
      The slave trade from (mainly black) Africa, from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, to and through the countries we now call Arab persisted for nearly 2000 years and pre-dated Islam. In the 7th & 8th centuries they mainly traded East Europeans. Then it was the Spanish and Portugese.
      Slavers raided the West European coast and made off with…

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  15. Graeme Jay

    logged in via Facebook

    My preference is for Australia to take a far higher number of refugees. I also want to see our Govt take action to dramatically reduce the opportunites for people smugglers to further their trade.
    I can see no likelyhood of the Greens getting their first preferences through parliament and implore them to negotiate with the Gillard Govt to get a Win:Win outcome in the Senate today.
    I do not know if the opportunity exists to negotiate but I suggest if the Govt included IMMEDIATE increase in refugee acceptances (normal intake system) & greater than wnat the Coalition offered, then maybe an outcome could result.
    PLEASE TRY FOR CHANGE FROM THE STATUS QUO!

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    1. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Graeme Jay

      It is not a people smuggling trade, it is refugees paying for transport. Why do you think there is only one country in the world who thinks it is right to jail people over transport while we pretend the human were being bought and sold?

      Because we are lying. Änd Abbott is out again today already whining because some women and babies and old people have arrived.

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  16. J. Mansfield

    logged in via Facebook

    Why do Australians today have such a hostile attitude to asylum seekers? I think this nation is still very afraid. Historians have long argued that Australians have always been terrified of invasion. We were previously scared of the ''yellow peril'' and now following the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the Bali bombings Australians are frightened of an Islamic invasion. Another key reason Australians are opposed to accepting refugees is the fear of multiculturalism. The fact that the media represents…

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    1. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to J. Mansfield

      This is on the right track. The 'debate' over asylum seekers is a classic political spectacle, in the sense conceived by the political communications scholar, Murray Edelman. Simply put - a distraction, causing political attention to be focused on fear and/or resentment towards an 'out-group', in order to exert political control and divert people from more fundamental issues of fairness and justice in a profoundly unequal society.

      Essential to the construction of such a spectacle is, Edelman argues, 'psychological distancing' - and a key element of that is that we do not engage with the members of the out-group as human beings.

      This is where journalism is unwittingly complicit: look in the papers today, look on TV, and find the asylum seeker or refugee speaking in his or her own right. Their habitual non-appearance enables them to be dehumanised, empty of their own meanings and (therefore) a vessel into which fears and resentments can be decanted.

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  17. Anthony Cox

    logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

    The author says this:

    "3.No one is talking about what happens to those who are prevented from coming to Australia (subject to disruption or deterrence regimes) or whether this is a desirable objective for a nation such as Australia. Preventing or deterring people from coming to Australia does not mean persecution stops. Instead, those being persecuted become some other country’s problem. This surely is an unsustainable contribution to regional (let alone) global relations."

    According to the International Organisation for Migration there are 15.4 million refugees waiting for placement in the world today:

    http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/about-migration/facts-and-figures/lang/en

    Is the author advocating NO limits to refugee intake; if she is not what limits would she think reasonable to refugee intake by Australia.

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    1. Adam Fletcher

      PhD Candidate at Monash University

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      Thanks for raising this point.

      According to the UNHCR stats from 2009 (http://www.unhcr.org/4c11f0be9.html), Australia ranks 68th as host to refugees on a per capita basis, or 91st relative to GDP.

      Sweden, which has a population of less than 10 million, plays host to four times as many refugees as we do. Canada, with 1.5x the population and similar wealth, plays host to roughly 8x as many.

      Compared with developing countries which can least afford it such as Pakistan and the DRC, we have a tiny number.

      Handy SBS Summary: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1294102/At-a-glance-Who-takes-the-most-asylum-claims

      Don't kid yourselves that we are pulling our weight.

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    2. Adam Fletcher

      PhD Candidate at Monash University

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      It would be ridiculous to come up with a number for a public forum - there are whole Branches of the Immigration Department devoted to doing such work based on huge amounts of evidence. My point is an increase (size to be determined) is appropriate when we consider what other nations are doing.

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    3. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Adam Fletcher

      Ok, so you would concede a limit, albeit increased over the current one; whatever the limit is it not the case that boat-people jump the queue and subvert the process by which other refugees can be brought here?

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    4. Adam Fletcher

      PhD Candidate at Monash University

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      I see it as choosing the least unbearable option. If you were in pain and could afford to pay for urgent medical care, but suspected it would "subvert" the public health system, would you forgo treatment?

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    5. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Adam Fletcher

      I agree we could take more, but Mr Cox probably has a fair point. When we reach our "allocation" what do we do when the boats keep coming?

      There are several billion people just above us, and within 50 years we will undoubtedly be very mixed. How do we control the pace? How do we ensure those who come here have a commitment to the rule of law, human rights (and women's rights)?

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    6. Iain Wicking

      Director

      In reply to Adam Fletcher

      Any stats or feedback as to whether the Swedish are happy with this situation. Perhaps not as the media is filled with numerous articles as to the unintended consequences of large scale immigration to Sweden.

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    7. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      We can't agree to limits because everyone has the right to seek asylum so if the 13 million people who came here last year all decided to apply and were all refugees we would have to assess and protect them.

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    8. Christopher Bertoli

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Adam Fletcher

      While I think we could do more to accept refugees, I also think that there's a whole mess of systems which need updating. Public transport in Melbourne for instance can be nigh on overflowing during peak hour, and that hasn't had an update in a while except which private company rakes in the money.

      Or even what laws and penalties should be applicable to refugees. Does Islamic law count in our justice system? Are religious beliefs able to trump local law, the headdress debate that was going strong for a while for instance. Allowing more people in and subjecting them to makeshift rulings and systems which are designed for half the amount of people isn't doing them any favours. Halting refugee influx doesn't either, but the topic seems to encompass more than just "how many".

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  18. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

    Sharon Pickering's article shows why Australia is in such a mess.

    By "No one" she means Liberal and Labor. She totally ignores The Greens.

    She feels good because she has written a compassionate and intelligent article on asylum seekers. But by pretending that the only response of voters is to gnash their teeth in frustration and to continue to vote Labor/Liberal, it is not surprising that the policies implemented by parliament are those of the right.

    Note that the same can be said for most…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Am I in the land of ivory towers?

      It seems that all those who oppose both the Labor and Liberal solutions think that a post on The Conversation will change things. Or perhaps it enables then to not feel guilty even though the politicians they voted for are being true to the 'values' they took to the last election.

      In the Arab Spring people didn't just post on-line that dictatorships are wrong. They took to the streets, and some died, to get political change.

      We are fortunate that in Australia…

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    2. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Politics. The Greens voted against Oakeshott's, really Gillard's bill. More than any other party the Greens are responsible for the deaths of the boatpeople. They are not compassionate. Political enough for you.

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      Thanks for your reply Anthony.

      It is understandable that those who support the views of either Labor or Liberal will not support the Greens view. That is democracy.

      What I find puzzling is that those who are against both the Labor and Liberal view, which is about half of those who have commented, have failed to move the discussion from theory into political reality.

      I don't think that either the Liberal or Labor solutions will stop the boats, and I don't think that it is moral to punish…

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    4. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      "I don't think that it is the end of life as we know it if we allow a few thousand more asylum seekers into the country."

      Neither do I; but I want the decision to be this country's not a process controlled by another country or criminal consortium.

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    5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      I'm sure that the Indonesian and Malaysian governments would be happy to allow Australia officials into their countries to interview asylum seekers.

      So it could still be Australian official's who decide who gets accepted.

      Perhaps in a few lines we have done a better job of finding a compromise than those in parliament :-)

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  19. Tessa Dharmendra

    Project Manager & Research Assistant

    Some very interesting comments from readers. It is both deeply concerning and encouraging to me to read through the range of responses.

    This is obviously a complex issue and by no means do I feel informed enough to propose a way forward. However, having spent time working in the detention centre on Christmas Island, and having direct contact with asylum seekers, I only wish that people would show a little more compassion. Within this whole debate we seem to forget that we are talking about people!! People with families, some of whom have been killed... People with life aspirations. Let's all take a moment to be grateful for all that we have, and extend a hand for those in need...

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    1. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Tessa Dharmendra

      Indeed, we forget we are talking about people because they - the people, that is - have so little power to appear in their own right. Take a look around the accounts in today's media of the 'debate over asylum seekers' and see if you can find any actual asylum seekers - including those who have settled successfully as refugees - quoted or asked for their perspective, their experience or their opinion.

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  20. Graeme Jay

    logged in via Facebook

    This "conversation" certainly provides evdience that the Australian Parliament really reflects the Australian people. I see far too many people defending their political beliefs and few looking for a negotiated outcome.
    Negotiation as described to me by a NSW Fair Trading Tribunal Member is finding an outcome that does not meet ones ideals but what one "can live with".

    While well-meaning people put their heads in the clouds and spruke their political virtue while not considering other's views, less fortunate people scratch their heads and wonder why? Australia cannot fix everyone's situations but we can certianly fix more that we do now!

    Look for a "win:win" outcome, people! "Win:loss" outcomes rarely occur and where they do, the "winner" will be attacked with greater venom at some later time.

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  21. Ian Donald Lowe

    Seeker of Truth

    Four more things missing:
    1. Compassion
    2. Acceptance
    3. Reasoned debate
    4. Empathy

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    1. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      I agree ... reasoned debate, compassion, empathy and acceptance ... of the impact on the Australian environment ...

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    2. Charles Pragnell

      Freelance Social Commentator

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      They are not missing.
      1. Compassion - for fellow Australians who may be infected with contagious diseases brought into this country.
      2. Acceptance - that fellow Australians have reasonable cause to expect even further deteriorations in health, education, housing, transport etc and even greater difficulties in gaining access to those services as the population expands.
      3. Reasoned debate - Yes it tends to deteriorate into accusations of racism, lack of compassion by others, and emotive pleas begin to replace rational argu,ments and concerns.
      4. Empathy - Yes there are some of us who feel with fellow Australians and the deteriroartions in their quality of life brought about by an increasing population.
      That is what you were meaning, wasn't it?.

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    3. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      Which Australian environment would that be Daniel?
      The urban environment, where most of our population lives and works, the rural environment, where some of us live and work, or the outback environment, where no-one goes except the mining companies? (there are many more Australian environments but I won't go into that)

      It seems to me that we are doing a pretty good job of stuffing all of them up without any assistance anyway.

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    4. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      The site rules won't allow me to state my honest opinion on your comment.

      You must be a true patriot. (of the Samuel Johnson variety)

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    5. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      Well, Seeker of Truth, if everything is stuffed, how will increasing the refugee intake undo the stuff-up?

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    6. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      Ian, your last sentance answered it ... even with 3 levels of - self-serving - government, we can't get it right ...
      When I was in Cuba and they spoke of the state of affairs, I suggested that they look at another similar country 'under the umbrella of protection of the USA' ... Haiti ...

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    7. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Charles Pragnell

      Charles Pragnell - we've been down this way before - during WWII, post-war, post-Vietnam. Migrants were screened, treated for infectious diseases, integrated into the community.

      During this time there have been no outbreaks of "contagious diseases" (other than flu travelling by plane with returning travellers), and continued GROWTH in school retention rates, public housing, tansport networks.

      Show us that data that proves your assertion that our standard of living is falling, as you allege.

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    8. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      I never said everything is stuffed up, I said we do a pretty good job of it already. There is a difference.

      It's not up to refugees to do anything, except try and survive (basic human instinct) and find a safe place to be (It's almost impossible to imagine what it's like, having to leave home and family and everything you know, normally not out of choice.)

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    9. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      I will say it for you - he is a cretinous selfish bogan

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  22. David Boxall

    logged in via Facebook

    I begin with Nuremberg Principle IV: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility ..."
    broaden it to cover excuses like:-
    - doing my job;
    - defending my rights and
    - obeying the law,
    to end up with:
    No matter how we rationalise our behaviour, we remain responsible for the consequences of our actions and of our failures to act.

    Regarding those who arrive illegally by boat, we're responsible for putting children…

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  23. Sue Ieraci

    Public hospital clinician

    During and post WWII, many people crossed borders illegally, hid in attics and falsified their douments in order to save their families. Someof the people who aided them, like Schindler, are now hailed as heroes.

    Some of those so-called "reffos", and their children and grandchildren, are now leading sitizens of this country. Some had money, others didn't. Some sold everything they had, or were given everything their families had so that one could be saved. What they did have in common was the initiative to improve their lives.

    Isn't this exactly the type of person who can make a good citizen? It worked before - why not now?

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  24. Jake Lynch

    Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

    This article has done a considerable service, in two ways.

    First, by succinctly pointing up the missing perspectives from this debate in Australia.

    Second, by 'drawing the poison' - exposing the kind of half-baked and/or wrongheaded notions that people will send, in apparent confidence, into the public sphere.

    That testifies to the inadequacies of Australian media, especially the narrowness of newspaper ownership and the lack of effective regulation governing commercial broadcasters.

    Time to redouble our support, in fact, for initiatives to change that picture, like The Conversation!

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    1. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      So, you'll be buying a few shares in Fairfax will you Jake?

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    2. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      Absolutely agree, I spend most of my time reading anything but the MSM these days.

      They don't even have a single clue what was actually being debated and defeated over the last few days - it was law breaking and a human rights catastrophe outlined by Frank Brennan on the Eureka Street website and would have killed more and more people.

      The media are still so cretinous they think the Bali conference meant something beyond Australia demanding the source countries we invited make sure the refugees…

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  25. helen stream

    teacher

    They’re not so desperate that they don’t pass through and reject for their purposes a country that is recognised by UNHCR as a safe enough country for our government to send them back to.

    In doing so, they show that they’re not refugees , but destination-shoppers, who demand to be accepted ahead of law-abiding others who might be more deserving and desperate.

    When they arrive at Christmas Island, almost all , or maybe all, have ‘lost’ their documentation.

    They had to have had that documentation…

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to helen stream

      "The fact that such a large number manage to be given the right to stay, owes more to the absence of documentation, and Leftist activism within the processing, "

      No - it owes more to the fact that intensive investigation has shown that they were truly persecuted in the country they escaped.

      And as far as staying in the countries they traversed:

      Indonesia: Popn density 123.7 per sq km, Australia 2.7
      Indonesia GDP per capita ($US) $4,200 ,Australia 41,000.

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    2. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to helen stream

      This is complete and utter crap Helen and it has all been debunked so many times in books and papers that you should be ashamed of writing it.

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    3. helen stream

      teacher

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Which part is crap Marilyn, and exactly in what way?
      Specify, please.
      Eg--
      Do they not pass through Malaysia, and is it not considered safe enough [ by Labor] to send them back to?

      Is it not true that the Convention requires that they remain in the first safe haven, or they're not regarded as refugees?

      Is it not true that most arrive without documentation?

      Do you believe they flew into Indonesia without documents?

      Do you believe they all just inadvertently 'lost' their documents…

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    4. helen stream

      teacher

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue:
      How are these intensive investigations carried out , without certainty as to who these people really are---since they have no documents.

      There have been many and varied reports of the corruption of the assessment process, and of orders to the public servants to some how or another raise the percentage of those accepted as refugees.

      How can the process be trusted with such corruption involved?

      Your criteria for acceptance , if applied, would require Australia to accept all comers.

      Is that your hope?

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    5. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to helen stream

      Helen,
      I can't answer your question from person experience, as I have never held the job of investigating the credentials of asylum-seekers. I do know, however, that there are more sophisticated methods of identfying people than just their "documents". For example, a lawyer representing under-age Indonesians who had been incarcerated in Australian jails was able to establish the person's age by travelling to the home village and collecting documentary evidence.

      You talk of my "criteria for acceptance…

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    6. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to helen stream

      Afghans are not registered at birth and have to pay for dodgy documents or be returned home.

      Grow up.

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    1. Jake Lynch

      Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Samuel McCracken

      Thank you. And let it be emphasised - using the phrase, 'studies have shown' does not mean you speak as a member of an 'intellectual elite', whatever that implies - it means you argue from an evidential basis, unlike some of the contributors on here who are spouting unexamined prejudices.

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  26. Marilyn Shepherd

    pensioner

    What is also forgotten and not talked about is the arrogant belief that we have any legal right to push away anyone.

    The stupidity of the Australian pollies and media is beyond me.

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    1. Christopher Bertoli

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Did you know: The 9/11 hijackers had flight training in the USA? An open borders policy would never pass. It may not be couched as "bad guys are gonna get us" since it's been a few years since a significant attack and out of s sight is out of mind but I can't see any security minded organisations letting that slide.

      I'm not defending pollies mind, the last election demonstrated they have absolutely no concern for the democratic process and they're out for their own. I'm simply pointing out that there are reasons why an open borders policy will never get through.

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    2. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Christopher Bertoli

      Well, operating on the principle that 'everyone is out to get you' you better keep your doors closed, have a lot of food inside, and never open them again :)

      Does that make sense?

      People are people everywhere

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  27. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    Since WWII Australia has settled more than 700,000 refugees from war torn countries... they come with little or no financial resources and their skills are probably not recognised ... but their situation rapidly improves. -- Hieu van Le, the Lieutenant -Governor of South Australia
    Professor in an address at Old Parliament House, September 2011.

    Professor Graeme Hugo, ARC, Australian Professorial Fellow, in his study 'Economic, social & Civic Contributions of First & Second Generation Humanitarian…

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    1. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Peter, when you emotively got to the ' when Australians invade, along with their allies, pillage, destruction, rape, torture, murder and such are inevitable' part, you lost most ... you have pretty much practiced what preached against ...

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    2. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      700,000 in 65 years compared to the 800,000 Jordan and Lebanon took in during the months of ethnic cleansing in Palestine in one year you mean.

      Yeah generous us.
      Most of them were brought here for slave labour.

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  28. Ivan Himmelhoch

    Academic Researcher/Writer

    I am surprised no one has (yet) referred to the exchange of correspondence released between Morrison and Bowen early this year. I am profiundly concerned that Morrison in a letter to Bowen of 12 January 2012,

    There are also matters that are disturbing - viz the stating by Morrison in a letter of 12 January 2012 to Bowen that: (QUOTE)

    "Unlike on Nauru, people sent to Malaysia will be living unprotected in the community where they

    will be exposed to significant abuse. It is already unsatisfactory…

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  29. Gil Hardwick

    anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

    What disturbs me far more is that so many Australian no longer give their own neighbours the time of day, much less legitimate immgrants or worse these so-called 'illegitimates'?

    What's happened to this country over the past 50 years?

    Or have I just been naive all this time, trusting the good in others?

    No, I think now. This business is to Australia's profound shame, to the point that successive governments are the ones being seen as illegitimate through their intractible refusal to exhibit…

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    1. Christopher Bertoli

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Gil Hardwick

      Well there's Italian mobsters and Asian gangs. But you're right, if we ignore all those then there's no record of anyone coming to this country and not contributing enormously to our lifestyle. Although heroin definitely contributes to some lifestyles so I suppose you're right there.

      Governments don't trust the masses, we're viewed as stupid and violent. Our crime statistics don't help, we're making decent inroads into things like child pornography and drug dealing and so our pollies are trusting us even less. The Port Arthur massacre should have shown you exactly how much the average citizen is trusted. Citizens being people who have been here for a while and who aren't coming from places like Iran where the Western world is despised. They must be absolutely paranoid about those Persians :P

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    2. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Christopher Bertoli

      You will find drugs everywhere, as well as gangs..
      It's not ingenious only to 'them others', it's the way we humans function, everywhere :)
      The drugs will differ, depending on availability and generation shifts, and the gangs too, but they will be there.

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  30. davidweek

    logged in via Twitter

    My solution:

    We send all the Parliamentarians, both houses, one way to Afghanistan.

    Once there:

    • if they agree on a solution, they get to fly back
    • if not, they have to come by boat.

    ;-)

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    1. In reply to davidweek

      Comment removed by moderator.

  31. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    Daniel Boon: "not emotively" simple fact. The ADF is part of the Coalition. Looting -- on a rand scale in Iraq --- rape, murder torture and such has been a well documented feature of the Coalitions activities.
    Anybody not aware of this is either deliberately obtuse, or has been living upon some other planet.

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  32. Ian Lowe

    Not Relevant

    I sometimes wonder if many of those who seem so upset by refugees coming to Australia have ever actually met and talked to a refugee? I live in a rural area which happens to attract a fair few refugees as they come here to work in the horticultural industries. I have had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with some of them and in general they are polite, quiet and very hard working. I have also worked with refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia in the past, as well as their children. There are cultural…

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    1. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Ian Lowe

      Agreed Ian, and why do we blame only the people who provide the transport? They are not the problem, the problem is the people the refugees flee from.

      this nation is so obsessed with their own lies they can't even see the simple truth that it is no more people smuggling than it is flying to the moon.

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  33. Lynne Newington

    Researcher

    My only comment is, that I appreciate former Minister of Foreign Alex Downer stating any accusation that Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the government were directly responsable was indecent.
    With pressure from the Australian Bishops Conference breathing down the neck of former prime minister Keven Rudd and the pushover he was during the papal visit, which brought with it, many pilgrims not wanting to return to their own country.
    He couldn't apply himself to addressing the horrific revelations coming to light on other issues within the Commonwealth.

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  34. Michael Ekin Smyth

    Investor

    The focus on parliamentary action or inaction seems far too narrow. How do the asylum seekers get to Indonesia in the first place? What sort of mechanisms, presumably mostly criminal, are moving them across the world?
    While in Oman a few weeks ago I had a enlightening discussion with a Kashmiri mechanic. With his time in Oman coming to an end he was seeking a new country of residence as he definitely didn't want to return to Kashmir. We discussed the various options - ruling out continental European…

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  35. Yoron Hamber

    Thinking

    I'm impressed Sharon :)

    You're quite right, and having them drown ones border can't be a happy thing. When I think of Australia it's as the home of the 'truly free', well sort of :) 'The free' belongs by lineage and old customs to USA, but to me you Aussies seems closer to those old ideals of personal integrity and, if I may say so, compassion than the, official USA doctrine, I see today. Doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of people there supporting and believing in those ideas, but it's quite hard to see that mirrored in their 'official/public' actions.

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    1. Christopher Bertoli

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      France and the USA are more free than Aus. Aus is too young to have the in-country history of tyrants and so their laws are somewhat like Ukraine. A nice attempt but needs polishing. The French and the USA have both been through several revolutions and have almost hardwired freedom into the population. Aus does an alright job considering though.

      Also keep in mind that the USA has had several terrorist attacks and widespread criminal enterprises. They're old enough to know what it's like being under tyrants, but they kept aging and now they're old enough to be jaded. Seems to be a hard line to follow

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    2. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Christopher Bertoli

      Australia and Ukraine?

      That comparison seems a joke to me? They are in no way the same, one is still a dictatorship, although under new 'democratic' pretenses as far as I can see, The other is a democracy, coming from those thrown out as well as those wanting to breath. As for that rugged Australian individualism you got where the next bloke is as good as any other.

      Keep it :)

      It's good. That and some compassion/empathy goes a long way when dealing with life.

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  36. Christopher Bertoli

    logged in via Facebook

    "6. No one is talking about the invisibility of border-related deaths in Australia. There is no official cumulative record of who has died en route and post-entry into Australia and why. "

    Keep in mind that people smugglers aren't exactly keeping records or handing them over. Or to rephrase it: If a boat goes down in Torres Strait and no-one is around to see it, did it really go down?

    Even if we know a boat has gone down doesn't mean we know how many people were on it, where they're from, or who they are. There is no point keeping records when those records are so inaccurate as to be statistically useless.

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    1. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Christopher Bertoli

      All true Christopher, but the point I think he meant to make is whether or not there are statistics it is well known that some (how many?) never reach their destination.

      They drown.
      And how to act upon that. It's about sharing or not sharing.

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  37. Ben Tehan

    logged in via Facebook

    "According to the International Organisation for Migration, from January 1 to May 31 this year, 24 refugees were resettled from Indonesia to Australia. That’s from a pool of 5732 asylum seekers and refugees."

    That puts the asylum seeker queue in Indonesia at about 100 years long.

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    1. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Ben Tehan

      Cause and effect old chap, if we did not have our refugee quota filled by boat arrivals then we could take more who come through proper channels. Did you hear the broadcast about the ex RAN who when looking at his ipod was invited by one of the asylum seekers to see his own photos of his previous years European holiday?

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  38. Bruce Gray

    logged in via Facebook

    Of course, what progressives who uphold UNHCR law as paramount, hide from the Australian electorate, is it is cheaper for asylum seekers, whether political or economic refugees, to board a plane bound for Sydney, than a people smuggler's boat. It wreaks of hypocrisy that Labor, Green, and Fairfax bleeding hearts do not touch this subject publicly. Why doesn't Gillard or Milne allow everyone seeking asylum to board planes to claim asylum in Sydney? Don't worry, it's a rhetorical question every non progressive already knows the answer to.

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