A Better Way to ‘Stop the Boats’


The problem with the current debate on refugees and the Government’s policy that no boat arrival will be settled in Australia is that it sees the problem as how to prevent people making the trip to Australia by boat.

As I listen to the rhetoric it seems that boat arrivals are considered problematic on four counts: 1) safety – some of the boats sink and their passengers drown; 2) equity – those who arrive by boat gain an advantage over those in camps around the world; 3) fear – a sense that our societal well-being is threatened by boat arrivals; 4) sovereignty – boat arrivals violate the principle that we should control our migration program.

It is difficult not to be cynical about most of these. Most years we have just as many asylum seekers arriving by plane as by boat, yet no-one is proposing policies that penalise them. This renders invalid the logic of reasons two and four, reducing them to emotive rationales. Likewise reason three, fear, is a visceral rather than rational response as there is no empirical evidence to back it up – in fact the 2011 Hugo report found that refugees add to our economy.

So we are left with only one valid rationale for the rash of political announcements concerning boat arrivals – deaths at sea. The best estimate of these comes from the Monash Australian Border Deaths Database which estimates that since 2000 there were 1575 deaths at sea. With 28,209 boat arrivals in this same period (Australian Parliament House Library) this means 5% of those making the journey to Australia are drowning at sea. This surely is a real concern and something our policy should seek to mitigate.

But by making this the driving policy challenge we have developed a perverse solution. We are exporting asylum seekers to impoverished nations and then selecting the refugees we want from where we want to be part of our humanitarian immigration intake. We have dealt with the first and last policy challenges – ie preventing deaths at sea and providing refuge to a portion of the 14 million of the world’s refugees, but we have abdicated responsibility for the middle portion – ie welcoming asylum seekers, processing their claims and ensuring they find safety.

Moreover we are exploiting PNG. Here is a country ranked right near the bottom of the Human Developed Index. One of two outcomes is likely: 1) asylum seekers sent to PNG will be subject to inadequate food, shelter and safety; 2) asylum seekers will receive adequate food, shelter, job opportunities, etc which will create resentment among locals.

So is there a way we can meet all our obligations and avoid deaths at sea? Yes there is. The vast majority of boats depart from Indonesia, yet we take virtually no refugees from there – between 2001 and 2010 Australia accepted only 560 UNHCR referred refugees from Indonesia (APH library). Given Indonesia has only 3,000 [correction: 8000] or so asylum seekers and refugees (APH library [correction: UNHCR]) we could simply agree to take them all and fly them to Australia for processing and resettlement.

Would this see an influx of asylum seekers to Indonesia? The tyranny of distance makes this unlikely. The vast bulk of the world’s refugees stay in countries bordering their own. Contrary to popular misconception, most do not want to come to Australia, the US or the UK.

This approach may not work, but nothing anyone’s tried so far has, so it’s worth a crack. It allows us to achieve all policy objectives…it just needs a courageous political leader to champion it.





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16 Comments on "A Better Way to ‘Stop the Boats’"

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Scott, making sense as usual.

The UNHCR suggests the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia is closer to 8000, but your logic still absolutely applies.


I agree totally, the only thing I would add is that if they can’t find enough aircraft we have several large troop ship carriers at the navy’s disposal, one very new as of last year . I did suggest to the special Government think – tank that they run a publicized ferry service to Australia on a monthly basis thereby putting the smugglers out of business and making travel both free and safe.

Nerida Cuddy

great idea!

Andy Sparkes
Having worked with asylum seekers and UNHCR reconized refugees in Malaysia, the majority from Burma, over the past nine years I cringe at the rhetoric of our politicians expressing their major concern is preventing asylum seekers risking their lives by getting on boats. Then punishing them when they do. The majority of those who flee Burma risk their lives in the jungles of Thailand and Malaysia and on fishing boats travelling down the west coast of Thailand and Malaysia. Many of those boats sink. It’s much the same for the asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia. Your suggestion would, I… Read more »
Peter Dixon

Hear! Hear! This is the only answer.

Trojan Horse Phenomenon
Trojan Horse Phenomenon
The real problem with boat asylum seekers that the Government does not wish to share with the public, which causes more confusion amongst ‘Asylum Seekers Supporters in Australia” is that the question of are we really and truly getting genuine refugees on our shores? Or are we allowing the Trojan Horse into our Utopia (Democracy) The unspoken and hidden facts about Asylum Seekers is that many, if not all of them have enough financial resources within their reach not only to meet hefty monetary demands of the illegal smugglers, not only for themselves but in some instances for family members… Read more »

Brilliant! Simple! Achievable! Humane!

Trojan Horse Phenomenon
Trojan Horse Phenomenon
Scott, my insider insight does not add up simply because your subjectivity is blinding you and not giving an option of persuasion through communicative discourse and dialogue which require and open mind in order for it to take place. Yes, Asylum Seekers as presented on our shores today either have brand new identities or in some instances have no papers to prove their identities. In this case, we rely on them providing us with contacts in their home land to investigate their stories. Of course, as in the event of a potential employee being asked for reference contact details, naturally… Read more »
Trojan Horse Phenomenon
Trojan Horse Phenomenon
Scott, if you do have particular/specific questions in relation to my insider insight that you believe further clarifications are needed, by all means please ask me. If I know the answer, I will provide it. If I do not know, then I will research it in an attempt to find the answers if I could. I think this may be a better way to keep the debate going and indeed keeping me honest by scrutinizing the statements I make in my posts. Sometimes, due to many restrictions, constraints and assumptions, I write my statements thinking that I have given satisfactory… Read more »
Trojan Horse Phenomenon
Trojan Horse Phenomenon

Hi Scott, thank you for your response and I do appreciate the reasons for your skepticism. I believe they are valid in this context. I believe I explained the reasons for this. I am happy to share my identity with you personally through email so that you can check my details on the NSW Law Society web site (Find a Lawyer section). If this would help somewhat, then please let me know. Cheers, Me 🙂

Anna Lee

Scott, an opinion is an opinion and no matter whether it is anonymous. I think your view is completely out of touch with reality and if I want to be brutally honest, stupid.
Among all the absurd things you said, I just couldn’t believe seeing you arguing we should fly all the refugees from Indonesia over to here. See the mounting number in the past few weeks. I’m sure you are not paying much tax as you are so aloof and generous with other people’s money, just like the academics and the government, none in real productive sectors.

By Scott


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