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Border protection

By Mike Pope - posted Friday, 11 September 2015

The Abbott Government has – with Opposition support – passed legislation and created an infrastructure which has stopped asylum seekers and other migrants from risking their lives in their attempt to reach the Australian coastline by boat. We feel more secure knowing that we have the ability to control our maritime borders.

Yet those seeking a safer and better life continue to use Indonesia as a stepping stone to this country, something which Indonesia might more actively curb. Others, from a variety of Asian countries have tested our resolve only to be turned back by vessels of the Australian Border Force.

What the Australian government does not appear to have done - at least not publicly - is examine the reasons why those seeking to enter our country have to flee their motherland. Indeed the Australian government actually provides financial and material assistance to countries which persecute or discriminate against their own people.


In some countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Burma and Viet Nam for example minorities face active persecution by their governments, though not all "refugees" from those countries are so affected. Refugees from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are more likely to be economic migrants seeking a better life in a country with much higher living standards, good governance and better job opportunities.

The Australian government has put a stop to people crossing our borders by boat and the Opposition Labor Party has largely adopted the policies and practices which have produced this result. But, for how much longer will these prove a deterrent, an effective barrier to those who would prefer to live here rather than in the country of their birth? Possibly less than 30 years or so.

Over the next three decades it is likely that our maritime borders will become increasingly porous and more difficult to defend because of a massive increase in the number of refugees seeking to enter our country by boat. The vast majority are likely to be climate refugees forced from their homeland by coastal flooding and food scarcity.

The million or so refugees from Asia and Africa entering Europe in 2015, will seem like a trickle compared to the hundreds of millions seeking to enter Australia from our immediate north by mid century. They are likely to be far more desperate, far more determined and some of them may be armed.

Dr James Hansen and colleagues, including world renown glaciologists specializing in polar ice sheets have published a Paper which warns of the consequences of continued carbon emissions on climate stability and sea level. They conclude that a rise in average global temperature of 2C above the pre-industrial would produce a dangerously violent climate, accompanied by a multi-metre rise in average sea level.

Unless we curb greenhouse gas emissions and do so rapidly, these developments will occur well before 2100 and become increasingly damaging. As they do so, low-lying coastal plains and the infrastructure built on them will be subject to flooding and damage by both seawater and violent storms.


The result of these events: Low coastal plains bordering the Gulf of Bengal, the east coasts of Australia and China and coastal areas of Indo-China will be flooded by rising sea level combined with severe storm surges. These areas are not only densely populated by hundreds of millions of people, they are also major food producing areas. Inundation by salt water would leave the land infertile for years producing immediate food shortages, starvation and desperation for the resident population.

Although Australia would also be affected by increasing climate severity combined with rising sea level, it has other major food producing areas at higher elevation. Government could maintain food supply, though probably only at the cost of curbing food exports. The coastal plains of north and central Queensland could well experience inundation by mid century. Cairns and other low lying coastal towns may be so damaged as to become dysfunctional, forcing abandonment by their populations in the latter part of this century.

Moreover, loss of rich agricultural land bordering the coast will be permanent and increase. An expected multi-metre rise in sea level by 2100 will continue for centuries, eroding coastlines, destroying more and more human habitat, including all existing coastal cities.

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About the Author

Mike Pope trained as an economist (Cambridge and UPNG) worked as a business planner (1966-2006), prepared and maintained business plan for the Olympic Coordinating Authority 1997-2000. He is now semi-retired with an interest in ways of ameliorating and dealing with climate change.

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