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Want to stop the boats? Make refuge accessible off-shore

Last week Australia’s politicians determined to “do something” to stop people risking their lives at sea on asylum boats headed for Australia. The government wanted a bill from independent MP Rob Oakeshott…

Rohingya asylum seekers from Burma in a temporary shelter at Aceh, Indonesia. EPA/Hotli Simanjuntak

Last week Australia’s politicians determined to “do something” to stop people risking their lives at sea on asylum boats headed for Australia.

The government wanted a bill from independent MP Rob Oakeshott to pass because its ministers desperately want the boats to stop coming. Each new arrival is another nail in their political coffin. The opposition wanted the bill to fail because its members desperately want the boats to keep coming. Each new arrival is ammunition for them to fire at the government.

Both sides couched their arguments in humanitarian language: grief for those who died at sea last week and care for those contemplating the journey.

Both major parties have demonstrated their specific brands of “care and compassion” for boat people over the years.

The ALP introduced mandatory detention in 1991, amending legislation in 1992 to ensure a meddling judiciary didn’t set any time limits on how long someone could be detained. The coalition extended the care to include three year Temporary Protection Visas, the Pacific Solution and excision.

Out of sight, out of mind

Debate last week rested upon the “Stop the Boats” mantra. All eyes were on the domestic political prize. The proposed bill might have stopped the boats and “solved” the government’s political problem. But it would do nothing to solve the problems of the people getting on the boats. Instead, their problems would be pushed out of our sight and they would be left to fend for themselves without status in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan or Iran.

The people getting on boats know the crossing is dangerous. But all their options carry danger. They face danger in their home countries, in border towns and refugee camps, and in transit countries. At least the danger on the high seas holds the hope of safety ahead.

The solutions being discussed in Australia all focus on removing the enticement of safety ahead as a deterrent. None offer a realistic chance of safety at any step prior to the boat journey.

The Afghan situation

The largest group of people arriving in Australia by boat is from Afghanistan. Afghans are the world’s largest refugee population and have been for more than three decades; 96% of Afghan refugees are in Iran (1 million) and Pakistan (1.9 million).

Last year, a record high number of resettlement places were made available to Afghan refugees in Iran – just 1,350 visas. That’s a slightly better than 1 in 1000 chance of resettlement. Numbers of Afghans in Pakistan offered resettlement are not provided by the UNHCR. The focus there is on voluntary repatriation, although the security situation in Afghanistan makes this difficult to sustain as returnees quickly become refugees again.

Although the UNHCR considers Afghan refugees to be among the “largest and most protracted refugee situations in the world”, the reality is that resettlement through the UNHCR is effectively unavailable to Afghans. This leaves two ways for Afghan refugees to access permanent resettlement: enter a UN Refugees Convention signatory country and seek asylum, or be sponsored by a relative in a safe country. The second option often only becomes available after someone succeeds in the first.

Afghans are considered a “high risk” of seeking asylum by most signatory countries and are rarely granted tourist or other temporary visas. This means that Afghans wanting to seek asylum must enter without proper papers (a lawful right in Australia’s Migration Act as well as under the Refugee Convention).

No solutions, but better policy helps

Australia alone cannot solve the problems of all refugees. But there are policies that could be implemented quickly that would make a difference.

Increasing Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program to 20,000 would make 6,000 additional visas available immediately. If the government wants to stop the boats, it should look at who is getting on them and target the additional visas to those groups.

Perhaps 1,500 visas could be made available for asylum seekers in Indonesia and Malaysia – asylum seekers already in transit would see the “queue” moving and the expensive dangerous boat journey would immediately look less appealing. To avoid this becoming a “pull factor” into the region, the remaining visas could be allocated to refugees in Iran and Pakistan.

Working with the UNHCR

There are several precedents of nations working together and alongside the UNHCR to determine priority groups and end the protracted limbo of life in border regions. The Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indo-Chinese Refugees from 1989 to 1997 is an oft cited historical example. The resettlement of 100,000 Bhutanese refugees since 2007 has received little attention.

The UNHCR estimates that 786,000 refugees globally are in urgent need of resettlement, around a quarter of who are Afghan.

If Australia worked with the UNHCR to make resettlement through the “proper” channels a real enough possibility, it could reduce the need for refugees to get on boats in the first place. Then Australia’s politicians would really be doing something about deaths at sea.

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59 Comments sorted by

  1. Marilyn Shepherd

    pensioner

    How about we stop pretending that we can legally do anything at all and stop pretending that ""taking"" 20,000 of the wórld's 42 million displaced people in some deluded lottery will make a jot of difference.

    The yarn is always that we help the most needy yet 47,000 of the most needy were referred by the UNHCR last year through 36 different embassies and we still only accepted 6,000 in total. That means the other 41,000 of those we claim are the most needy were left to die.

    We simply have…

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    1. James Walker

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Everything you've said is true: yet we can't just accept all 42 million people either.
      Back in 80s, Geoffrey Blainey suggested that the solution was to take in a few thousand of the brightest refugees, train them up in appropriate skills and then send them back to build their countries/camps into places that would be worth living in - and for that he was pilloried as racist. Given it's the only intelligent idea that anyone has had for dealing with the problem, maybe it's time to give it a shot?

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    2. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to James Walker

      And precisely what would be the point of that? Blainey was and is an old fool.

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    3. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to James Walker

      The problem is that this in a short term perspective only will make those people migrate from their homes to those Countries/places that can give them and their families the life 'their education deserves', so to speak. It's only when a not to corrupted state, and a working infra structure exist that you should expect those people to come back, as we can see them move back to East Asia, China particularly, today.

      But I agree that the idea is a step forward, because most of us do feel more connected…

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  2. Gary Murphy

    Independent Thinker

    We obviously can't accept all of the refugees - so which ones do we accept?

    The ones who are determined most needy by the UNHCR IMHO.

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  3. Zvyozdochka

    logged in via Twitter

    Perhaps Carribean or P&O can make a business out of it? Not luxury liners or anything like that, or even heavily staffed, a real budget operation. The UNHCR can be aboard, so to Australian Immigration.

    The tickets sold could be called "steerage" and maybe two or three liners could compete for a Blue Riband. Rottnest Island (off Fremantle) could be renamed New-Ellis Island.

    Sound familiar?

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  4. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    Excellent. Sense. Practical and humane.

    How pathetic that we find ourselves shadow-boxing with the Malaysian "Solutions" and Nauru as our only options for offshore processing - both designed as "deterrents" - both "sending messages".

    Offshore processing - adjacent to source countries - and a real moving queue makes sense. It has worked before. It is the only system that does work. Short of an outbreak of world peace and tolerance.

    God knows what we do when serious numbers of people start moving. There won't be enough razor wire to go round in this the world's largest gated community.

    Keep hammering.

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  5. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    Captain Emad confirmed the rumour that the theme song for DIMIA is "Tell me lies. Tell me sweet little lies".

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  6. Peter Heffernan

    Chartered Accountant and Employer

    Interesting to read the comments stimulated by Lucy's article, and it is a discussion we need to continue until solutions emerge.
    But one thing that angers myself and many Australians (and not often referred to), is the fact that so many refugees are young single men. They are equipped to survive in their country and indeed take a role in resolving their conflicts.
    I'm all for showing humanity towards genuine families including children, but what are young single men, (and I refer in particular…

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    1. Tony P Grant

      Neo-Mort

      In reply to Peter Heffernan

      Your argument could be levelled at Tony Abbott and his "father/grandfather"...why they didn't commit to Britain at (her hour of need)? WW11?

      "
      Abbott was born in London, England on 4 November 1957 to expatriate Australian parents. On 7 September 1960, his family moved to Australia on the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme ship Oronsay. His mother was an Australian citizen and his father had lived in Australia since 1940 when he arrived as a 16 year old to get away from the dangers of wartime Britain. His father trained in dentistry and then returned to England, well after the war." Source Wikipedia.

      Your argument is that these Afghans are "unpatriotic" and should serve their nation (as you have?)

      Abbott male side of family...couldn't get away fast enough!

      The question is...is this the act of “patriotic family”...yes/no?
      How many 17/18/19/20/21 year olds died fighting for country, and the 30/40/50 year olds?

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    2. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Peter Heffernan

      Why it is young men instead of old? Why there isn't boatloads with children trying for a better life? The answer should give itself away, shouldn't it? How about Australia? How many generations of the current peoples mix have existed, ignoring aborigines for this? Who had the best chance to survive the travels, infants? old people? Or young men and women?

      There is no place on Earth that has been sacred to only one culture, we all keep mixing with each other under man-kinds history. And to allow people a life, same as we allow you yours, shouldn't be confused with being a bleeding heart

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  7. John Coochey

    Mr

    This is rather like the ravings of SHY! No matter how many we take there will be more making their way to Indonesia as a staging post to move to Australia via boats. The Bhutanese referred to were mostly in Nepal and after they were there for ten years the UNHCR put the hard word on Australia to take some. I know the person charged with facilitating this. They were ethnically cleansed from the Himalayan paradise because of their race. No matter which way you cut it and how many we take there will still be those who will queue jump to get to Australia unless we make it clear that getting on a boat will not help them. By the way what qualifications do I need to be come a lecturer on Human Rights? Is that like Office Management?

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    1. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      I would refer you to the graph which I believe is in the politically correct SMH. For a period under a certain government using certain policies the flow dropped to a trickle. Move them offshore and then do not process them at all. Hand if over to the UNHCR with suitable reimbursement, perhaps. It is not rocket science and please not that truthoid that ninety per cent under the Pacific Solution ended up in Australia because it is not true!

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    2. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      So for once not be infantile and tell us what your solution is!

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    3. Tony P Grant

      Neo-Mort

      In reply to John Coochey

      Are you saying/thinking cultural/religious borders maybe part the answer... European refugees from financial destroyed nations?

      I almost gave NZ as an example (% population in Oz). Included many thousands of Pacific Islanders.

      Still many isolated areas in this country that these people could occupy...Little Afghanistan/Iraq and maybe the billionaire miners could pay for the layout; in return work under remote visa system? Five years to citizenship... part of their (refugee pay deal) could be a flat tax of say 20% direct into federal/state "future infrastructure for these folk"?

      I have accepted that these folk will be coming here...in greater numbers within the decade, so let's put the framework together and not leave it to "inaction"...Abbott is short term thinking...pure self-interest it's pretty rich coming from a migrant himself (assisted passage)!

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    4. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to John Coochey

      Actually my solution is the Malaysian solution without the cap. We know from SHY, having just returned from Malaysia, no doubt at our expense, that the asylum seekers do not have a clue about Australian politics so that must be true! Therefore it would be easy for People Smugglers to recruit them, charge them and then fill up the Malaysian quota and then back to business as usual. The people it is proposed to return to Malaysia would be dealt with by UNHCR. When Rudd opened his big mouth we had four people in detention.

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    5. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      The ex head of Qantas, the worst airline in the world? Yes, he seems to have problems with basic facts, cherry picks data not in evidence and does not answer the real question "How many and which ones? And then how do we stop those who miss out?

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    6. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to John Coochey

      Which of his articles did you read John?

      Or more precisely, which of his cherry picked data and problematic basic facts do you dispute?

      The first time I've ever encountered an "ad hominem via airline" argument.

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    7. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      We could start with the proportion of Nauru detainees who got asylum in Australia. It was 43 per cent. And that is after proper coaxing, at one stage interviews of asylum shoppers were filmed, I understand that this was stopped when copies started turning up in the bazaars of Peshawar as training videos.

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    8. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      I am not your research assistant, look it up and prove it if you can find different data.

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    9. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to John Coochey

      Looks like you're just making crap up John. You are the one making assertions and claiming superior knowledge to Menadue - let's see your stuff.

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    10. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      As you seem to be functionally illiterate I would suggest you start with the Dept Immigration web site which shows clearly 27 per cent of those who went to Nauru were repatriated leaving 73 per cent, 43 of the total were allowed to enter Australia and most of the remainder went to NZ. Of course before Kevin 07 went onto motormouth there were four people left in detention. It seems that I have to spell out the fact that my solution is much the same as the ex head of Immigration except mine cannot be rorted by filling the quota by unsuspecting asylum shoppers So whatever the percentage moved from Nauru it was obviously sufficient to stop the boats. Once again answer the question of how many of the 42 million (or whatever) do we accept and which ones?

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    11. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to John Coochey

      I agree that the question of how many will come needs to be addressed by the author.
      This idea that by taking more refugees, it will reduce the numbers making the dangerous boat journey is built on a fairy tale. It assumes that taking comparatively small numbers ( 20,000 out of several million) will reduce the demand.
      After the author suggests that a tiny increase in the refugee quota will make a difference when there are "..Afghan refugees are in Iran (1 million) and Pakistan (1.9 million)."
      This assumption just doesn't make sense.

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    12. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      So am I perhaps you would like me to photocopy them and post it to you. It took me precisely fifteen seconds by Google. But in any case as I have stated whatever the figures were they stopped the boats.

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    13. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to John Coochey

      In any case here are a couple of references to keep you going

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Solution
      The number of genuine refugees who were put through the Pacific Solution process was much lower than those who are currently seeking asylum. Only around 40% of Pacific Solution refugees were granted Australian Visas, another 30% went to other countries such as New Zealand (who have the right to settle in Australia) and another 30% were sent home

      http://www.aph.gov.au/binaries/library/pubs/bn/sp/asylumfacts.pdf

      • under the ‘Pacific Solution’ a total of 1637 unauthorised arrivals were detained in the Nauru and
      Manus facilities between September 2001 and February 2008.

      Of those, 1153 (70 per cent)
      were found to be refugees and ultimately resettled to Australia or OTHER COUNTRIES

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    14. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      No let us discuss the fact that the boats stopped, or we could discuss the fact that Germany won the Second World War and Japan dropped a nuclear bomb on New York.

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    15. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to John Coochey

      OK as requested
      It is true that after 2001 the Howard Government’s policy practically stopped boat arrivals. But asylum seekers continued to come by air at the rate of about 4,000 per annum. (In the last decade 76% of asylum seekers came to Australia by air.) Not surprisingly if one mode of unauthorised arrival is closed or made more difficult, desperate people fleeing persecution will make alternate arrangements. What is important is the total number of asylum seekers coming to Australia, not their…

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    16. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to John Coochey

      Have a look at the graph John - the one showing the decline in asylum seekers globally during that period - Australia was basically in line with that drop ... and a tiny teensy weensy little problem it is isn't it by comparison?.... but one that strikes at the heart of our cultural terrors.

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    17. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      So how many people are you sponsoring? You have a look at the graph about boat arrivals.

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    18. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to John Coochey

      Very weird response?

      You should instead read the link as it directly contradicts your earlier statements, at least as I read it? Then tell us where you find it to be wrong, if it is wrong?

      But you don't want to, do you :)

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  8. William Bruce

    Artist

    We are dealing with the symptoms and not the cause.

    Really want to stop the boats?

    Why not stop the military interventions? And those providing the money for them?

    ....and find out exactly what has happened to our trillions of World Bank "development money" over the past 60 yrs?....
    ...at least the money that has been spent on weapons for disastrous wars & revolutions?

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    1. Aaron Troy Small

      Student

      In reply to William Bruce

      Make it a criminal offense to attempt to enter the Country illegally and/or without a valid visa. Make it a disabling offense for the purpose of immigration, with a mandatory jail sentence followed by deportation (to the port of embarkation).

      Problem solved, remove any incentive for people to get on the boats in the first place and the time and effort used to intercept them could be used far more effectively in processing those with the decency to actually follow the prescribed procedures…

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    2. Aaron Troy Small

      Student

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      They are not ignoring Australian law? Surely you jest, they are taking advantage of an unwillingness to enforce Australian law, that is hardly the same thing. There are laws pertaining to Australian territorial waters/, there are laws pertaining to Customs and Immigration, all of which restrict entry to those complying with both legislative and regulatory enactments. These laws also provide for the detention of those in breach of the same.

      What amazes me with the academics in this debate is the…

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    3. Aaron Troy Small

      Student

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Where to start Peter? Quarantine, Customs, Immigration (including destruction of documents), Criminal Code, there are a lot of laws covering entry (and exit) from territory and territorial waters, there are also enactments supporting the universal visa system (where it is an offense not to apply for a visa), etc. The food and drink aboard these ships, so too any animals pose a major quarantine risk (the ships themselves are also a quarantine risk which is why they are burned).

      I also believe it is an offense to be within the Australian Maritime Zone without lawful justification, and the extension of Australian law to these zones would also include the need for a visa (or an application therefore). What laws any individual may have broken would come down to what they have or have not done, but there are a huge array of generally applicable laws.

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    4. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Aaron Troy Small

      Not actually correct Aaron... all the above is why why they are picked up and processed in centres. They are not just allowed to walk up on the beach and start building a town. Like we did.

      Under Australian law Aaron, folks are quite entitled to turn up in leaky boats uninvited and ask for asylum. Their claims of persecution or fear are then evaluated and they are either accepted as refugees or not.

      It is why these boat arrivals are called irregular - not "illegal" - entries, that latter…

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    5. Aaron Troy Small

      Student

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Yeah read it, but quite technically, it is an offense to destroy documents, to provide false and/or misleading information, under the Migration Act. As the current workaround involves both, then the criminality or otherwise of the arrivals is not quite so simple. I would also add the caveat that if they were processed under any of the raft of otherwise applicable laws, Fisheries Act, for example, they may face a reversed onus of proving that they entered Australia's Maritime Zone's for a lawful purpose…

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    6. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Aaron Troy Small

      Check out the legal difference between "unlawful" and "illegal"... it is unlawful to be at large in Australia without a visa - but that's not what these boat folks are doing.

      Looks like you've already determined guilt - destroying documents, telling lies and so on ....

      These are grey and confusing areas of the law Aaron but not NOT illegal as the Press Council practice note makes quite clear. All the regulations you cite, the concerns about quarantine, health etc ... all are sorted via the processing arrangements and all such regulations are subordinate to the legal right to seek asylum.

      Here's something more horse's mouth, from DIAC: http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/61protection.htm

      Complex and confusing - but NOT illegal Aaron. You have been misled.

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    7. Aaron Troy Small

      Student

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      The difference you are looking at is standard when construing law with the normal presumptions, such as innocence, and the usual onus of proof. Some Commonwealth laws, in particular taxation but I also believe Fisheries, have a reverse onus and an effective presumption of guilt. A conspiracy to commit an unlawful (one that is not positively authorised by such laws - where one has to prove ones acts are authorised by law) act, is a crime under the Criminal Code (an example would be tax evasion - as…

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    8. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Aaron Troy Small

      Well actually the Press Council (as opposed to the press) does have a bit of a say in what's right or wrong in this regard Aaron - that's what a practice note actually is... it is advising journalists how not to get themselves into strife with an adverse ruling from the Press Council. And the legalities are as tight as a fish's bum. They have to be.

      Anyway I just thought that might help explain something legally complex in layman's terms. Apparently not. I'd assume the DIAC fact sheet won't…

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    9. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, not being an Aussie :) I won't go into this discussion but I have to admit that I enjoy reading you both. It's aways a pleasure to see two people discuss their view points in a intelligent and cool manner.

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    10. Aaron Troy Small

      Student

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Yes, with some discussion we have reached the point. The 'right' arises solely due to Australia's accession to the UN treaties and the High Court's interpretation of law in light of our accession to those treaties (thus, they are construed, where possible, on the basis that Parliament intended to give effect to it's international obligations). Thus without clear words, while the Australian Parliament maintains it's accession to those treaties, the Courts will give effect to those treaties, even to…

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  9. William Bruce

    Artist

    It is not just the boats...what about Planes?... total illegal immigration?....,.
    It can easy be stopped by large fines for hiring or educating unauthorised "Non-Nationals".

    Are not Lab & LIbs BOTH selling us out?

    And how about this dual national thing?

    I think if you have a foreign citizenship you ought loose your Australian citizenship and passport....as in other countries.

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to William Bruce

      And what worries you about all this "illegal immigration", William? How does it affect you?

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  10. Lynne Newington
    Lynne Newington is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Researcher

    Listening to former foreign minister Alex Downwer on ABC News this morning, I have to say his logic appeared to be sound.
    In part he stated: "We are sending our young soldiers over to Afghanistan to help provide stability and security", (at a cost as we know). " I can't help thinking our young people are training to go there and their young people are coming here on boats.... instead they would be best advised to do everything they can to try and support their own country".
    The Lateline transcript is available.
    I also appreciated an earlier comment he made that it was unforgivable to blame the prime minister for the recent deaths of asylum seekers, a sign, I thought of bipartisanship.

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    1. Tony P Grant

      Neo-Mort

      In reply to Lynne Newington

      We send "volunteers" not "conscripts" to areas that serve our geo-political needs (our masters)!

      One of the many issues that really piss me off in life is "limp handed/never thrown a punch or dodged a bullet telling others of their "patriotic duties" especially the "ruling elite types sometime "drag-queen types"!

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    2. Lynne Newington
      Lynne Newington is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Researcher

      In reply to Tony P Grant

      Was it something that Mr Downer said and I made mention of that 'pisses you off in life", limp handed/etc..
      Sorry for my ignorance Tony, but I would like to understand what your saying.

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  11. John Coochey

    Mr

    It appears Sri Lanka has found a way of turning the boats back, when will Indonesia follow suit?

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  12. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    I hope the illegal boats heading for Australia become more sea worthy as it looks as though they will need to be rescuing Australian sailors from their cracked boats.

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    1. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      I think you might be on to something here, we put a boat in harm's way and then send out a distress signal for the asylum boat to pick it up and take it to the nearest safe port! Problem solved.

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  13. Asef Hussain

    Consultant

    Want to stop the boats? Simple, don't provide financial benefits of any kind to arrivals by boat. Instead of welfare paradise like now, there should be only food stamps and camp accommodation provided by govt. If loudly vocal advocate groups can do more than that, let them do it using their own resources, but government shouldn't spend tax payers money on it. Then only genuine refugees who indeed flies persecution and threat of death will risk it, if any. Right now most of boat people stories are about selling everything back home and paying people smugglers to go to Australia for better future. I can understand that, but why should I be forced to pay for better future of illegal economical migrants ?

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