I wrote this at my old blog a year ago. I stand by it.

It looks like some conservatives are keeping a weather eye on Australia’s territorial waters, as they prepare for an influx of illegal immigrants in the wake of changes to the mandatory detention policy. Apparently we are up to three boats bringing unauthorised arrivals since the new policy was announced.

Instead of comparing this year’s rate to previous years (e.g., five boats arrived during 2007), here is my reaction: so what? Even if there is an increase in the number of boats carrying unauthorised arrivals to Australian waters, why should I be so concerned about that?

In particular, why should I think it is better to have a policy with mandatory detention for all – even kids – that reduces the number of arrivals than to have a policy that treats people reasonably and humanely, even if it did mean that some more people might attempt to come here illegally?

For any unauthorised arrivals who have a legitimate claim to asylum, then I am happy if they find safety, security and prosperity in Australia. For unauthorised arrivals who do not have a legitimate claim, then they will be returned to their place of origin. For unauthorised arrivals who are a genuine security risk, they should be detained while their claims are assessed. I would prefer a system that achieves these appropriate outcomes over one that achieves the absolute minimal number of unauthorised arrivals.

My primary concern about the number of boats that attempt to bring people to Australia illegally is the safety of the passage – I would imagine that the last thing anyone wants to see is another SIEV-X. But attempting to prevent it by adopting a policy of locking up every man, woman and child who survives the trip makes no sense to me.

Toaf points out that, relative to other, less well-resourced parts of the world, our “burden” in terms of providing support to those in need of asylum is pretty minimal. I would rather see us consider how we can best identify and support those people who need it than argue about how to reduce the number of people who reach our shores.

I also think this from Jason Whittaker (whose whole post on Kevin Rudd is worth reading) captures where things stand:

They part with their life savings and crowd on leaky boats to escape unimaginable horror. They come in greater numbers not through domestic policy failure but as economic collapse and bloody war devastates more of the developed world. From the state-sanctioned brutality of Burma, or caught in the still simmering civil wars in Sri Lanka. They come from Afghanistan and Iraq, wars Australian troops participate in.

They set sail for Australia – the tired, the poor; these huddled masses yearning to breathe free – only to face further persecution if they get anywhere near our shores. We lock them up if they’re lucky enough to make the trip, or wipe our hands of them entirely if they fall short.

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