It is now a month since Kevin Rudd announced the “Papua New Guinea solution” – Labor’s response to the Coalition’s “Stop the Boats” policy. This policy and subsequent announcements have all involved palming off Australia’s refugee responsibilities onto our Pacific neighbours with promises of millions of dollars of aid money.
Since then both Labor and the Coalition have added Nauru to the equation. When refugee advocate Julian Burnside visited Townsville in June he had just returned from Nauru. He described a country less than half the area of Magnetic Island with a population of 9378. At that time there were several hundred asylum seekers housed there and already problems were starting to surface. Several weeks ago the detention centre was burnt down.
Last week Kevin Rudd announced that up to 3000 asylum seekers will be sent to Nauru and that people found to be genuine refugees will be settled there. Nauru is the world’s smallest republic with unemployment running at 90% and GDP per capita of less than $2500 and under this policy Nauru would face a 20-30% increase in population.
Julian Burnside proposed a more humane and much simpler solution – working with countries in our region to bring asylum seekers to Australia in an orderly fashion. Once here they could he housed in regional areas while their claims are being heard. They would not be housed in detention centres and there would be the added advantage of boosting regional economies.
Could this work? It has much more chance of working than current policies.
There are around 7000 asylum seekers living in Indonesia. Australia could co-operate with the Indonesian Government in settling these people and in return the Indonesian Government would be expected to curtail the activities of people smugglers.
We have evidence to show that compassionate responses do work. When Australia was faced with large numbers of Indo-Chinese refugees seeking to come to Australia by boat in the 1970s, we responded in a compassionate way and settled more than 25000 a year for a number of years with little hysteria and great ongoing benefits to our community.