Asylum seekers: a solution at last?
It’d be fascinating to hold a focus group on the topic of asylum seekers.
Let’s say you're the moderator of the group. You invite all the participants to sit down and then announce in a loud voice: “asylum seekers” and watch the room flicker.
I reckon you’d get a veritable smorgasbord of reactions. There’d be some who’d immediately whine about Australia’s lack of moral compass. Others would yell something similar to “queue jumpers”. Still others would say “I have no opinion.” And there’d probably be a few like me who’d leap to their feet and, doing their best Superman voice, say, “where?”
You see, this is an issue that seems to be vexing Australia in a similar way to something like privatisation, climate change, scripture classes in schools and N'Sync vs Backstreet. It’s highly emotive and any semblance of rational discussions on it are often checked at the door.
In my experience, the only so-called ‘good natured’ discussions on asylum seekers are when every person of the discussion is in furious agreement with each other. If you throw in one person with an alternative opinion, within two minutes they’ll be calling each other names, describing the opposing side as evil and throwing insults at Lindsay Lohan.
The problem, in my opinion, is that both sides are right. People making terrifyingly unsafe journeys at sea in rickety boats at the hands of people smugglers is a terrible thing. Seriously, it’s got to stop.
At the same time, these are PEOPLE we’re talking about here. This may seem outlandish but I reckon we need to look after other people. Protect them. Care for them.
To reduce the argument to mere statistics, as some are in the habit of doing, is not cool.
This is why I’m a fan of the report released earlier this week from the ‘expert panel on asylum seekers’. To its credit, it seems the panel has thought long and hard about trying to stop people dying at sea.
Offshore processing, it seems, to the uninformed soul like myself, is a good solution. 1: It’s worked before. And 2: It stops the people smugglers selling a solution. I.e. They can’t promise passage to Australia anymore, so therefore their trade is compromised. It’s a simple but logical argument.
The other good idea the panel put forth is increasing our intake of asylum seekers through so-called legal means. Currently, Australia takes about 13,000 asylum seekers a year. In other words, 0.06% of our population.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say: that could probably come up a bit.
Of course, that doesn’t tell the whole story. According to the UNHCR, around 112,000 refugees are resettled around the world each year. So, Australia actually resettles around 10% of the total number resettled each year.
That actually sounds pretty good!
Back to the panel though, they recommend increasing this intake to 20,000 in the short term and 27,000 in the medium term. In other words, increasing it to 0.12% of our population each year. I reckon that’s a damn good idea.
These are people in serious need of assistance and, quite frankly, I reckon we have enough here to help them. Our debt-to-GDP-ratio is pretty good compared to the rest of the world.1
Also, the ABS reckon the domestic economy needs to create around 20,000 jobs each month just to keep up with demand and new people entering the workforce. Now, our unemployment is seriously low and we need more workers. So surely bringing in more labour will help?
One of the main criticisms I hear against asylum seeker intake increases is that they’ll consume power, the economy and take people’s jobs.
That annoys me. Like I said before, these are people in need with no quality of life. Call me crazy but helping people is almost always a good thing.
So increasing intakes and stopping people smugglers (and therefore people dying) seems to be the panel’s recommendations.
Sounds pretty good to me! What do you guys think?
1: Even when you consider projects that cost way too much money and probably won’t deliver that big a benefit like the NBN – ooooh, controversy alert!