17 August 2011

There is a simple solution

19 years have passed since Australia "led" the world with mandatory detention of asylum seekers. There are now people on the electoral roll who have known no other way of dealing with the issue.

Some indication of the massive cost of this policy can be gleaned from the evidence given to the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Immigration Detention Network, reported on the front page of today's Sydney Morning Herald. Details of the Committee can be found on the Australian Parliament House website and the DIAC website.

The cost of the policy is measured in human lives and suffering, hundreds of millions of dollars, and irreparable damage to our country's reputation. And in return for this cost, the policy has been a total failure.

Secretary of the Department of Immigration Andrew Metcalfe stated in his address to the Committee yesterday that "these issues often defy simple solutions". Mr Metcalfe is wrong. One factual observation proves this: more asylum seekers arrive in Australia every year by plane than arrive by boat. They are allowed to live and work in the community while their applications are processed through the system. Statistically they are far less likely to be found to be genuine refugees than the boat arrivals, but nobody pays any attention to them. To get the facts, read this Briefing Paper from the Parliamentary Library.

In the type of free society which we Australians, for the most part rightly, believe we live in, people are only locked up if they are bad or dangerous. For 19 years governments from both sides have put out the message that asylum seekers arriving by boat are bad and dangerous, while those who come by plane are not.

The simple solution, Mr Metcalfe, is to recognise that the policy of mandatory detention is a failure, a costly, inhumane and miserable failure. Put an end to it now, treat all asylum seekers equally, and try to recover some national dignity.

No comments: