Asylum seeker boat arrivals – fairly inconsequential in real terms – are a major political problem.
Last night on QandA a Labor minister indicated that the “journey” would not be “re-opened” for asylum seekers, indicating a maniacal desire to “stop the boats” is a bipartisan ambition.
The racist pandering to Western Sydney inherent in “stopping the boats” was always called out as the bullshit it was. Until the video of the drownings of asylum seekers on the coast of Christmas Island in 2010. Suddenly it was possible to say preventing asylum seekers from arriving in Australia by boat was a moral imperative.
That’s an extreme idea, requiring the sort of broad view of morality that would also support fencing off Australia’s surf beaches to prevent drownings. Most people would say imperative #1 is to not harm people with your actions.
One year ago I wrote about how powerless and ineffective I feel when faced with asylum seeker policy. What’s changed is that the extreme nature of the “solution” – including laws preventing reporting of child abuse – permits a broader range of alternatives that might previously also have been seen as “extreme.”
So is it possible to solve the boat arrivals “problem” without spending billions and becoming a police state? It must be. Lets think outside the box.
1. Make a queue
People are always fighting about queue jumpers, and whether there is a queue. What if we made an actual queue on the shores of Indonesia, where the boats are leaving from?
Asylum seekers get on a boat because that’s how they imagine they can get into Australia. What if we let them get into Australia without getting on a boat?
Could we rent some space from the Indonesians, bring it inside the migration exclusion zone and process refugee claims up there?
Budget impact score: 9/10. No more detention centres, less need to police the seas for boat arrivals, etc.
Political acceptability score: 5/10. Should diminish boat arrivals so long as the applications are processed swiftly.
Direct morality score: 8/10. Assuming they are able to live in the community in Indonesia, there need be no imprisonment.
Indirect morality score: 9/10. No more drownings between Indonesia and Christmas Island.
2. Open slather.
Embrace boat arrivals. Stop turnbacks, Close off-shore detention; close on-shore detention; visas to live in the community while refugee applications processed.
This is about stopping boat arrivals from being a political problem. If you wanted to change the narrative on boat arrivals, you’d have to own the arrival of each boat. Get a video crew, translators and a government minister onto each boat as it arrives, so we can see them shaking hands with the asylum seekers, chatting and smiling. Interview the people, find out their stories and their names. Publish lists of asylum seekers, their smiling photos, and key quotes from them. Humanise not dehumanise. Let’s hear about their desire to live in Australia, their interest in what they’ve heard about us, their qualifications and jobs in their home countries, what they’re fleeing, what skills they bring, etc. This would absolutely freak everyone out for a while but the rate of repetition and the volume of boat arrival footage might eventually make boat arrivals very very boring.
(I think this approach could be helped along by some sort of non-government work to try to humanise asylum seekers. Greenpeace made us care about whales by having little inflatable boats out there and video cameras showing what was happening. Can we do the same with Asylum seekers? Could Sea Shepherd open up a northern Australia branch, for caring about humans? )
Budget impact score: 10/10. This is cheap.
Political acceptability score: 2/10 in the short-term as boat arrivals will go up up up.
Direct morality score: 10/10 (No more taxpayer-funded imprisoning of innocent people)
Indirect morality score: 5/10. (Some drownings still likely).
I’d be very interested to hear any other crazy ideas people have. Please share them below!