My dislike and hatred of mandatory detention for refugees seeking asylum is well known for both humanitairan and economic reasons.
John Howard made asylum seekers (specifically those arriving by boat) a swing issue to win an election. The fact that Rudd and Gillard followed suite just proves my point.
He was losing and got a spike in the polls after he said the following words “we decide who comes to our country and on what terms” and, unfortunately for thousands of people since, every time he employed that rhetoric people listened and reassessed voting for him.
It was a polling tactic that they adopted from the US where Bush used border protection and people’s xenophobia (now I hope you know the meaning of that word since it was explained to Australia’s highest profile racist) to his advantage to get elected.
Howard was able to portray himself as “strong” on border protection measures and opponents as “weak”, eventually going on to win with an increased majority.
There’s not a political historian in this country who would argue that the “children overboard” scandal didn’t get him re-elected or at least contributed significantly to his win. The fact that it was later proven by a Senate enquiry that he lied about the incident (or at least that the incident was lied about) became irrelevant. You might remember at the 2004 election Howard was rorted, not only losing power in the largest landslide in Australian history, but for the only the second time, his own seat as well.
Before mandatory detention (actually instituted by the Keating government in 1992 – also a political ploy), Australia was getting about 2,000 to 3,000 people a year arrive by boat, and about 30,000 to 50,000 people applying for asylum arriving by plane.
All those people were settled into the community, issued with temporary Visas, were allowed to start their new lives in Australia, get jobs, work, be with their families and live a relatively normal life. This made sense, after all 97% of them were eventually granted permanent residency.
It was a system created in the 1970’s to handle the influx of Vietnamese and Cambodian boat people, 137,000 of them who would be eventually accepted as refugees and Australian citizens.
The plight of the boat people became an international humanitarian crisis. There were untold miseries, rapes and murders on the South China Sea committed by Thai pirates who preyed on the refugees who had sold all their possessions and carried gold with them on the trips. The UNHCR, under the auspices of the United Nations, set up refugee camps in neighbouring countries to process the “boat people”. They received the 1981 Nobel Peace Prize for this.
These people, like the European’s and British before them went on to be largely highly productive members of Australian society and have contributed richly to our way of life.
This system cost the tax payer an average of just $3,000 per person to process them or a total of $411million for everybody. Sounds like a lot hey? Not even.
Remember, these folk were allowed to work and most of them became very industrious right away, contributing taxes and economic revenue to our system.
When Howard instituted the new off shore processing system refuges were denied the opportunity of work, have to be fed and housed, provided education, health care and security and so on. Australian law also required us to pay them a stipend (the equivalent of the dole) for the entire time they are detained (which is now averaging over five years). This alone cost us $132 million last year.
This is at a time when we are importing temporary workers from the Philippines and other 3rd world countries to work in our mines, farms, and manufacturing. Australian’s have become so well off few of us want to work in those hard, dirty and dangerous roles anymore – nobody “took our jobs”, they were sitting there desperately wanting to be given away! And we now have over 20,000 people in detention all of whom could have been put to work building our country.
This new system costs the tax payers $71,000 per person per annum! $355,000 per person to process them. One hundred times more than it used to!
Even supporting almost 13,000 asylum seekers in the community whose asylum claims haven’t been processed has cost $318 million this year.
The Red Cross has been paid $603 million for 26 months’ work helping asylum seekers in the Australian community.
Almost $75 million has been given to the Salvation Army for welfare and support services in Nauru and Manus Island and $8 million has gone to Save the Children.
The asylum budget is almost $2.9 billion next financial year. That’s seven times in one year what it cost to process all 137,000 Vietnamese refugees over a decade!
It’s not taking refugees that is costing us so much money, it’s mandatory detention!
And we cannot close our doors.
They come, in ever increasing numbers, despite the fact that we treat them like criminals, because things are SO bad where they come from it’s worth risking their lives, liberty, health and sanity just to get away.
The Refugee Council of Australia says, “most people do not wish to leave their homes, families, friends and everything they know and hold dear. They do so as a last resort, to escape persecution and find safety and security for themselves and their families”.
Australia’s asylum seeker numbers, remain numerically small. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says Australia receives about three per cent of the total asylum claims made in industrialised countries around the world and, “by comparison, asylum levels in Australia continue to remain below those recorded by many other industrialised and non-industrialised countries”.
Nearly half a million – 493,000 – asylum claims were lodged in industrialised countries last year, the second highest number on record after 2003, as war, civil strife, political repression and sectarian violence continue to force movements of populations across borders.
Europe received 355,000 asylum seeker claims, while North America had 103,000. In particular, conflict in Syria has prompted a new mass wave of refugees fleeing that country. Afghanistan (a situation we helped create) alone has a diaspora of more than 2.7 million refugees across 71 countries, but more than 95 per cent are in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.
And forget about turning them back. The RAN operates 74 vessels of all sizes, including frigates, submarines, patrol boats and auxiliary ships.
We deploy our frigates and patrol boats almost constantly on this task. The RAN is one of the most modern navies in the Pacific. The RAAF has two maritime patrol squadrons and one airborne early warning squadron devoted to this mission. And still almost everybody that sets out for Australia in rickety wooden boats makes it to our territorial waters. It’s a waste of time, resources and energy.
And Australia not only can afford to take them all, economically we need them!
Australia is a tiny country population wise and yet we have come to expect an extraordinarily high standard of living.
Forget the “trickle down effect”, our wealth comes from the “trickle up effect” – our nation creates wealth trough agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and tourism. And with respect, to the workers in those industries they are still largely unskilled employees who fill the tough jobs, mostly manual labour, and dirty, difficult and dangerous.
For the economy to work (ie: for us ALL to live in higher than average national wealth leading to excellent public education, health care and social services) most people (97% ideally) need to be gainfully employed.
Fact is not everybody can be in service industries.
Not everybody can be, nor indeed desires to be, white collar workers.
We need unskilled workers because we need manufacturing capability, food self sufficiency and the balance of trade benefits resources and tourism bring to the country and we need the jobs those companies create, and the tax dollars they generate.
We also need a constant influx of new immigrants to take up lower skilled labour roles to keep the nation’s population upwardly mobile.
Think of it this way – most people working on the floor at (for example) Holden for a long time probably didn’t graduate high school. They went straight from Junior to an apprenticeship in return for the promise of a life time job. But they worked hard, earned well and promised their kids a better life, and they delivered.
As the children of these hard working blue collar workers graduate high school, indeed Uni, they don’t want to go “work in the plant” so there’s nobody to replace their mum or dad unless we get a net population increase from immigration.
Look at the influx of Italians and Greeks, British on the ten pounds passage and later Asians as refugees and then immigrants. They have established themselves, integrated, worked hard and done well in “the lucky country” and their kids are doing even better.
They have all contributed to our wealth!
After surviving perilous journeys by their courage and strength, these people epitomise the qualities admired and rewarded in Australian society.
Historically, refugees have contributed to the economic, civil and social fabric of Australian life and their success can be found in all fields of endeavour and marked by their presence on the New Year and Queen’s birthday honours lists.
And here’s the thing – that massive influx you are worried about – also a myth.
According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the number of settlers – people entitled to permanent residence, including people arriving in Australia on humanitarian programs – between July 2010 and June 2011 came from more than 200 countries and totalled 127,460.
Most were born in one of the following four countries:
- New Zealand (20.2 per cent)
- China (11.5 per cent)
- United Kingdom (8.6 per cent)
- India (8.3 per cent)
So I say “let them come”.
Let’s settle them in the country communities, and cities that are quickly becoming wastelands as our wealthy children move to the city. Let them take up the jobs on the farms, factories, and mines that are going wanting.
And yes, let those of them who are Doctors, Engineers, Butcher’s, Bakers and Candlestick makers use their professional skill as well.
Let them work. Let them contribute. Let them bring their families, and settle, as we did 200 years ago, or 50 years ago, or 20 years ago.
Let them live free and as proud Australians.
History of Mandatory Detention in Australia
Current and Previous Government Policy and Alternatives
Children Overboard Scandal
Asylum Seeker Statistics and Issues
Asylum Seeker Myths
Australian Defence Forces