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Asylum seekers, Waleed Aly and the folly of good intentions

By John Slater - posted Friday, 12 February 2016

One of the few constants of Australian politics is the left’s bleating over the offshore processing of asylum seekers.

Indeed, the fact that the Coalition’s policies have stopped the deluge of unauthorized boat arrivals experienced under the former Labor government appears to have done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of open-border zealots.

That said, the last few years has seen a shift in tone. Now that reality has given the lie to the claim that the number of boats coming to Australia is based on world asylum seeker flows – not our immigration policies – critics have taken to seizing on any minor detail or happenstance as evidence of our country’s moral bankruptcy.


The grand folly of this approach is that while it’s easy to paint offshore processing as callous and cold-hearted, we can’t pretend that this issue exists in a vacuum. That was the mistake of the Rudd Government when it dismantled John Howard’s pacific solution in an attempt to make Australia seem more ‘humane’ and ‘compassionate.’ Even a cynic shouldn’t doubt that most people in the Labor party had the best intentions at heart when they abandoned offshore processing.

Unfortunately, these good intentions did nothing to stop 1200 asylum seekers drowning off the Australian coastline, 50 000 unauthorized asylum seekers arriving on our shores and Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake being overrun with economic migrants. Nor did this desire to do good change the fact that in order to stem this seemingly unending flow of undocumented arrivals, more than 2000 children ended up in detention before people smugglers started taking Australia’s policies seriously (again).

The point is that you can’t fairly criticize Australia’s policy of processing unauthorised arrivals offshore before realistically considering the alternatives.

We shouldn’t buy into the naïve myth that adopting a kinder, gentler approach comes without costs. Australia has a generous annual humanitarian intake, but it can’t take all of the world’s needy and suffering. If Australia once again decides to grant migrants asylum based on the fact that they’ve managed to reach our territorial waters, we shouldn’t be surprised if our quota is consumed largely by those with the financial means to do just that.

Given Australia’s relative isolation and the enormous expense of paying people smugglers (the cost is known to exceed $50 000 for a family; quite literally fortune for most living in war-torn developing nations), we can’t pretend that an open door policy creates the distinct possibility that the most needy candidates miss out.

Waleed Aly - one of the best known banner carriers for the open borders lobby – provides a prime example of this tendency to lecture about the grave inhumanity of offshore processing while stopping short of offering any kind of realistic alternative.


His latest Fairfax column is a masterclass in sanctimonious verbiage:

But perhaps the greatest horror is that as a nation, we've now become so hopelessly addicted to the fictions that justify it. It's not just the fiction of Nauru. It's also the fiction of Australia, which you might recall we've declared simply doesn't exist if you're coming here by boat. You can dock in Sydney Harbour if you like, and as far as the law is concerned, you simply never arrived here. But there's also the fiction that Nauru and Papua New Guinea were ever anything more than a dumping ground for us… At some point, the clock runs out. And on that day, maybe the alarm will sound on these mighty fictions that have been sustaining us. Then who will we be?

As a columnist and TV personality, saying this type of thing has the benefit of giving Waleed an appearance of empathy as opposed to our morally impoverished political class. The difference is that unlike Waleed, the Prime Minister, cabinet and parliament don’t have the luxury of being able to live off the grace of their good intentions: they also have to wear the consequences.

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About the Author

John Slater is a student and an intern at the Cato Institute.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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