Most of the people arriving in Australia in leaky fishing boats are economic refugees seeking a better life. Moreover, they are from families with the means to pay for passage on a boat. They are neither the poorest nor the most vulnerable from the societies they leave behind.
The Government's current approach to stopping them is obviously not working, despite adopting most of the Howard government's methods. And apart from tough talk about turning around the boats, the Coalition has no better ideas either.
But there is a relatively simple solution - allow them legal entry to Australia upon payment of a fee.
This idea originates from Nobel Prize laureate Professor Gary Becker, who has recommended it as a solution to the problem of uncontrolled illegal immigration in America and the UK.
What he proposes is for the government to set a price determined by how many people it would like to admit, and then allow everyone to come in who could pay that price aside from obvious exceptions like terrorists.
In the Australian context the fee should be set at a level that makes it more attractive than paying a smuggler, after taking into account the risk of drowning at sea, detention upon arrival and the (admittedly small) prospect of being deported. While it is difficult to be sure exactly what that might be, a figure of around $50,000 seems about right.
Becker argues that as well as being a revenue raiser for governments, the policy would ensure that only the most productive and skilled immigrants would be attracted because they would be able to generate the highest returns from their investment in the entry fee. Having paid the fee, the immigrants would be committed to their adopted country and keen to make a go of it.
He also suggests the programme would reduce opposition to immigration by eliminating the sense that immigrants were getting "a free ride". Fees would contribute to the cost of maintaining and renewing infrastructure that others had paid for. Indeed, at the current level of immigration, a fee of $50,000 would generate about $10-15 billion annually.
To ensure the fee did not discourage the immigration of highly-skilled people, a limited number of "immigration scholarships" and "immigration loans" could be made available.
In addition, organisations or state and local governments that sought to encourage population growth in a particular region or occupational group could choose to subsidise the fee of those who agreed to abide by the conditions of the subsidy.
Bona fide political refugees might have their fee waived, while advocacy groups that insisted genuine political refugees were being overlooked could raise funds to pay the entry fee of individuals while they argued their case.
The fee would entitle people to permanent residence, not citizenship. Moreover, it is essential to the scheme that such immigrants were ineligible for welfare income payments (unemployment, age, disability, etc) for a lengthy period after they arrive (say 10 years).
This article is based on the immigration policy of the Liberal Democratic Party. Details are under Policies at www.ldp.org.au
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