Stop the Boats

Covid has given the Smuggocracy something new to obsess about.

My State of New South Wales staggers tentatively in the direction of liberty, led by a brand new premier, the last one having had a spectacularly unwise ‘front-botty moment’, as an old girlfriend of mine would have called it, with a crooked fellow politician, and resigned last week. She’s been succeeded by her Treasurer, so presumably the State is now in the hands of a man who knows exactly how much treasure has been squandered in our Cnut-like attempt to ‘beat’ the Covid virus, and may be marginally more prepared than his predecessor to face down the more neurotically risk-averse voices who, in defiance of the mounting evidence that the virus will keep following Farr’s Laws, still believe a zero-Covid policy is both desirable and possible.

We’ll see. In the meantime, it’s worth reminding ourselves how transient the attentions of our society’s smuggocracy are. Granted, ‘Climate Change’ wittering seems to be an unusually durable preoccupation, but in general, Issues which filled them with passion until 2019 were easily displaced when Covid came along and promised, if only for a while, to give them that warm feeling of being in virtue’s vanguard. Cue pre-emptive mask-wearing and obsessive hand-sanitising.

One bien pensant favourite, the supposed heartlessness of Australia’s border protection policy, is barely spoken of these days, so while we wait to see how Mr Perrottet shapes up, and to show that Harrumpf can celebrate good policy, particularly if it upsets the smuggocracy, here’s a few notes on unauthorised arrivals.

Australia is a prosperous nation with quite a bit of lovely weather, and until Covid madness arrived and turned it into an open-air prison, was a model liberal democracy. The world at large, by contrast, is full of shitholes, and I don’t in the least blame their inhabitants for wanting to get out of them and move here. The number of people who would choose to do so, however, even at great personal risk, far exceeds our entire population, let alone our ability to absorb them, so not even the bravest government, with the most principled willingness to defy the wishes of its heartless, brutish electorate, could afford to simply extend the right of residency to any who managed to get here.

The UN convention on Refugees was created in 1951 to provide temporary protection for a war widow pushing a pram full of her remaining belongings, with a couple of toddlers at her feet – a figure of whom, in the aftermath of WW2, there were millions. Particularly in need of protection, ironically, were Germans fleeing the persecution they faced at the hands of freshly liberated peoples in Eastern Europe among whom they had lived, sometimes for generations, before Hitler’s aggression. But the place was teeming with all sorts of Displaced Persons.

The Convention was an extraordinarily humane initiative, and right from the start it was seen as necessary, if its benefits were to be broad, that they not be very deep. If it was to benefit as many genuinely needy people as possible, those who framed it knew they had to define tightly the categories of person who could avail themselves of it, and to limit the circumstances under which asylum could be claimed.

Protection was offered to people who, in the state where they started off, had a well-founded fear of persecution, from which that state offered no protection. Protection was offered in the first participating state to which they had access.

The Convention was not intended to be a vehicle for the populations of the world’s many shitholes to transplant themselves permanently to more desirable homes, and I doubt whether those who framed it ever envisaged that it might be invoked by people who had travelled thousands of miles, through and past states which were themselves signatories to the Convention, to reach more desirable destinations. They would have clearly seen that as an abuse which risked frustrating the legitimate purposes of the Convention, as indeed it is.

As it happens, Australia has voluntarily taken, and continues to take from remote states many genuine refugees whom it is not obliged to protect under the Convention, given the existence of nearer places of refuge.

Australia has not, however, invariably been quick to meet its obligations. The most infamous example is the 1975 exodus of boat people following the fall of Saigon. Here again, our obligations arose not from the UNCR (there were nearer states where they could have claimed refuge), but because we had been a participant in the war, and now that it was lost, large numbers of South Vietnamese who had both supported and depended upon us could expect to be persecuted by the new government. None of that cut any mustard with the sainted Gough Whitlam, who remarked ‘Vietnamese sob stories don’t wring my withers’, and seems to have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to a more humane appreciation of Australia’s responsibilities. Strangely, this is rarely mentioned by those who berate ‘little’ Johnnie Howard for his policies.

Fast forward to the late 90s when, after . Some time in the early 2000s, in my work as an air charter broker, I got the job of repatriating 38 Sri Lankan youths from Cocos Island to Colombo. At the time there was a lot of rhetoric abroad in the ‘progressive’ media about the supposed inhumanity of the Howard Government’s policy on unauthorised arrivals, and the brutality with which those detained under it were treated. I spent three days on the island, and although I didn’t actually visit the facility where the lads were held, I had plenty of time to talk with the guards who were contracted to look after them and keep discipline, and with the govt officials who were effectively my client, and who would accompany the flight.

At the time, there were two groups housed on the island – the Sri Lankans, and a group of Vietnamese. All were economic migrants, not genuine refugees within the meaning of the Convention. The guards I spoke to clearly held the Sri Lankans in considerable affection, saying that if they were normal candidates for migration, they would make model Australian citizens. They were, I was told, always ready to step up when a job needed doing, and were in general well-behaved and easy to manage. All but three had by then accepted their fate, and were expected to give no trouble en route, as indeed they did not. When it came time to leave, there were handshakes with the guards, and even the odd hug – which sat oddly alongside the picture of brutality painted by the ABC.

The Dept officials were interesting. Given that the asylum seekers had all disposed of their identity papers before arrival, their jobs included going to remote villages in Vietnam with pictures, to try to re-establish their identities, so that they could be furnished with passports and be repatriated. In many cases, they had accepted that they couldn’t get into Australia, but because they had no ID, neither could they return to their native countries. This is a chief reason why so many failed asylum seekers languish in detention; not because Australia perversely hangs on to them, as seems to be implied by critics of our policy.

As far as my group were concerned, they had all arrived in the following way:

  • People smuggler identifies their family as a small-holder with a clear title to a patch of land where they grew mangoes, or somesuch.
  • PS tells the family that he will carry 18 year-old Romesh to Perth, where the streets are paved with gold.
  • PS charges them about US$10,000, and because they haven’t got anything like that in their piggy bank, takes a mortgage on their land. Romesh, PS assures them, will make so much money that repaying the loan won’t be a problem.
  • PS takes Romesh to the Western Australian coast, where he dumps him, telling him that Perth is just over that dune over there.
  • Sometimes, Perth is just over that dune over there, sometimes it’s not – doesn’t worry the PS.
  • If he’s lucky, PS gets picked up and incarcerated,
  • If he’s not PS perishes somewhere up the Western Australian coast.
  • When Romesh’s family don’t receive the expected remittances, and can’t make their payments to the PS, PS forecloses and takes the land.

On my flight, three of the boys had been picked up by pure chance by a WA cop in a Landcruiser. God knows how many others’ bones are out there, bleaching, and unreported by the ABC.

I was very much hoping for more of the same sort of charter business, but unfortunately for me, the policy was so successful that arrivals dried up overnight.

Now, many seem to think this is an excellent way of giving the people of the world’s shitholes a chance at a better life, but I beg to differ. And so, as it happens, do a majority of my fellow citizens, especially, it should be noted, those of them who have come to Australia as genuine refugees, through the proper channels, and have every reason to be grateful for Australia’s enlightened and humane refugee policy, and to resent those who try to thwart it.

Tom Forrester-Paton

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