Drugs posed an unprecedented danger to our community, were always out of control, always a new and 'insidious threat to Australian society which has been unsurpassed in the country's history. It was, in a term introduced in , a 'moral panic. Between and Australia endured no less than eight royal or parliamentary commissions into drugs and drug trafficking. Many of these reports implored politicians and the public to maintain a sense of proportion. The best of them, such as the South Australian Royal Commission into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs [xviii] insisted that the major drug problems in Australian society lay not with illicit drugs but on the contrary with the use and abuse of legal drugs, including alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals.
In , the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare produced a celebrated report entitled Drug problems in Australia — an intoxicated society? Its chair, Liberal senator and future Minister for Health Peter Baume, argued that Australia did not have a 'drug problem' but a 'drug problem problem'; [xix] not a social or a health crisis but a crisis in how we framed and talked about an important but by no means unmanageable issue. We were in the grip of a kind of moral panic.
Australia does not have an asylum problem. It has an 'asylum problem problem,' likewise a crisis of language and perception. For as long as the drug issue was framed as a crisis undermining the very fabric of our society, politicians saw little mileage in trying to defuse the issue; to be 'against' law and order was a losing proposition.
By the same token, for as long as the asylum issue is framed as a crisis undermining the very cohesion of our society, politicians see little mileage in trying to defuse the issue; to be 'against' border protection is equally a losing proposition. The recent surge of IMAs is not a crisis. In absolute terms and in relation to the global population of concern, the number of people we are talking about is still small. It is true that we have seen a significant increase in IMAs. In —9, twenty-three boats arrived, carrying 1, people. In —10, boats carried 5, people. In —12, boats carried 7, people.
But refugees remain overwhelmingly a Third World problem. Australia's current asylum population of 23, is equivalent to one for every thousand citizens compare US 0. This puts Australia seventy-first in the world. There are 1. Until August last year, the total quota of around thirteen thousand places allocated for Australia's Humanitarian Program remained unchanged for years, even as the refugee problem expanded in our region and despite the fact that the language of crisis was deployed on all sides.
Again in the years —85, Australia accepted between fifteen and twenty thousand Vietnamese boat people annually, hovering around 20 per cent of the immigrant intake in each of those years. Many of these new groups were the object of considerable short-term anxiety about 'refos' and 'boat people', a pattern of hostility that goes back to Irish Catholic and Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth century. But after a few years one wonders what all the fuss was about.
Has there been a single period in which Australia would have been better off if we had just said no? The current wave of IMAs reaching Australian waters has had hardly any effect on the overall size of the Humanitarian Program. Until last year the so-called 'quiet invasion' had been entirely offset by reductions to other parts of the program. That was indeed the effect of consciously linking the off-shore and on-shore components, introduced under Philip Ruddock. Every time on-shore migration including maritime arrivals increased, other parts of the program were reduced.
Between and , the Special Humanitarian Program, which allows Australian residents to bring in family members facing human rights abuse abroad, was cut by over two thousand places, while the number of IMA visas increased by the same amount. This was not the surreptitious expansion of Australia's refugee population, but largely its redistribution. In —12, the 'on-shore' or IMA component of the Humanitarian envelope exceeded the 'off-shore' component including family provisions, and refugees resettled from other parts of the world for the first time.
It is towards those goals, rather than 'border protection', that our energies should be directed. The Ruddock linkage has few parallels in other countries. As a direct result, the ever-shrinking Special Humanitarian Program now faces a backlog of over twenty thousand applicants who face a wait of many years to bring endangered family members to join them in Australia.
The emotional hardship this is causing is enormous [xxxiii] and apparently intentional, since the policy seems designed to set up a zero-sum game pitting IMAs against established migrant groups looking to access the 'split family' provisions. This linkage has had no discernible impact on the number of IMAs.
As with many ill-thought-out deterrents, however, it did fall foul of the rule of unintended consequences. In , when linkage was first introduced, children made up only 13 per cent of asylum seekers. By , faced with the risk of never being able to bring their families out, the proportion of children on boats had risen to a third. Unlikely to satisfy the sponsorship requirements of the regular family reunion program, these children will lose all contact with their parents — indefinitely, and no doubt at appalling psychological and emotional cost.
Astonishingly, the Expert Panel itself recommended this change, because it was thought it would prevent parents from sending their children out to Australia as an advance party. Even to the extent that this is true, which is unclear, the government appears to be going to outrageous lengths to punish children for the sins of their parents.
The 'drug problem problem' led to increasingly draconian legislation, increased law enforcement and the criminalisation of growing numbers of drug users. These reforms did nothing to stop rising levels of drug use. Cannabis and heroin use grew steadily through the s and s. The courts faced an endless procession of young people from all walks of life facing the lasting stigma of a criminal conviction. In relation to drug policy, laws that simply prohibit the use of drugs make no inroads into underlying levels of use or addiction.
Illicit drugs are as widely used and as easily accessible as ever. We tend to assume that if only deterrents are severe enough, people will change their behaviour. So if a policy centred on law enforcement fails, the solution lies in more law enforcement and heavier deterrents.
But with certain kinds of problems, including, for example, prostitution and drug use, this is a kind of legal magic realism — it attributes a kind of abracadabra power to legal words. Here is Alfred Conroy, first member for Werriwa and a founding member of the Commonwealth Liberal Party, speaking during the first Australian parliamentary debate on drug laws:.
We are assuming that all we have to do is to pass an Act of Parliament when, hey presto, all sin and misery will disappear from the world… [We are] ready to pass an Act for the prohibition of the opium traffic in the full belief that the evil will at once disappear. The very thing that worries people about drugs — the intensity of the desire that draws people to them — likewise makes crude deterrence relatively ineffective.
But these laws are not just ineffective. They have terrible consequences. Prohibition is the opposite of regulation. Regulation works to the extent that it allows some level of social activity to continue; it becomes counterproductive when it drives users underground. Thus, in relation to alcohol and tobacco, we see a range of licensing controls, plain packaging laws, and so on, which limit the harms associated with these drugs precisely by adopting a regulatory approach.
On the other hand, the terrible harms of un-regulation we know from the most notorious experiment of them all, 'Prohibition' in the United States. Gangsters like Al Capone had a field day; violence and corruption flourished as never before. Alcohol prohibition was a short-lived failure, introduced in and unceremoniously rubbed out fifteen years later.
Drug prohibition — begun in the United States in and since exported around the world — has a longer but no less inglorious history. Policies directed at criminalising users and demonising traffickers do not stop drug use and have only a minor and temporary effect on drug importation. But the riskier it is, the higher the profits made by drug traffickers, and the more dangerous the conditions under which drugs are used. Tragically, drug prohibition is itself responsible for the very problems that it claims to address. On the other hand, almost no illicit drug-related deaths in Australia are attributable to their bio-chemical operation.
People die not because they inject heroin but because of the conditions under which they take it — conditions created by the legal framework itself. Illegal use ensures that dosages are unpredictable. A heroin user might consume a dangerously pure dose one time and a cocktail of toxins the next. The secretive conditions of illegality ensure that there is no medical or social support for the user. In our inner cities, the criminal nature of the enterprise does not discourage traffickers — far from it — but sometimes leads to dangerous turf wars; thirty-six people were killed during Melbourne's recent methamphetamine gang wars.
In many Latin American countries, escalating drug wars have corrupted the social and political structure with devastating results [xlii] — over 28, deaths in Mexico alone. Drugs are not the cause of these deaths; their il legal status is. The logic of prohibition is not only failing, but counter-productive.
One of the main harms in question is the issue of deaths at sea. At least nine hundred asylum seekers have died since The Refugee Convention places obligations on State parties not to return refugees to places where they may be in danger. This is called non - refoulement. This legal distinction makes Australia a more attractive destination for asylum seekers, while making it harder for our government to return them to countries which lack similar legal protections, as the recent High Court case which overturned the government's Malaysia plan demonstrates.
Furthermore, asylum seekers use boats because Australia aggressively prevents their arrival by other means. We do not accept refugee applications in our consulates or embassies. We make it as difficult as possible for refugees to fly safely to Australia. We call them criminals if they don't have a visa; we call them liars if they do.
As James Hathaway wrote, 'if you could lawfully come to Australia and make a refugee claim without the need of sneaking in with a boat, people would do it. But we make it illegal and create the market that smugglers thrive on. Two extreme responses come to mind. The first would be to withdraw from the Refugee Convention. Some make this suggestion not because the Convention places an unfair burden on countries like Australia but because the sheer volume of refugees is causing the system to break down.
Its signatories are typically developed countries; the burdens of irregular migration fall overwhelmingly on developing countries. Without it, those burdens would be even more unequal. We did not choose for IMAs to come here, true. But neither did the Malaysians or the Pakistanis. Neither do refugees simply 'choose' to leave their own country. The Refugee Convention brings home our small part in a global web of inter-dependence and responsibility. It is hard to accept this lack of freedom. But it is not so strange, really.
SENDING THEM HOME : Refugees and the New Politics of Indifference (Quarterly Essay, Issue 13)
In our own lives, too, responsibility is not something we choose but something that chooses us. Even when we accept our responsibility for another person — as parents or children, friends or neighbours — the forms that it takes and the demands that it makes are always unpredictable. In an increasingly globalised world, we can run but we can't hide. The Phoenicians, it is said, used to beat the waves to calm the storm. Withdrawing from the Refugee Convention would be a similar exercise in futility. The second response would be to get our neighbours to sign the Convention too.
The less distinction between the treatment of refugees in different countries the less reason asylum seekers have to move. The High Court of Australia struck down the federal government's 'Malaysia solution' for complex reasons but essentially because Malaysia was not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. Precisely because of the heavy burdens that it imposes, there is no likelihood that transit countries will sign up any time soon. But in the long run and with our support such developments are not inconceivable.
After all, the pressure to find real solutions is greater in Malaysia and Indonesia than in Australia. Over the next few years it may come to seem only practical for Malaysia and Indonesia to accept greater domestic legal obligations in exchange for a substantially expanded contribution from Australia. Our countries stand a long way apart, but they are being inexorably driven into each other's arms.
What largely stands in the way at the moment is not the asylum problem, but the 'asylum problem problem'. Climate change and consequent political instability will surely make matters worse over the next sixty years. In Indonesia, for example, where there are about six thousand asylum seekers and recognised refugees, resettlement lags well behind arrivals. UNHCR appears not to start looking for resettlement possibilities for three to five years. In a population similar in size to Australia's there are now 86, refugees and 10, asylum seekers, together with a further hundred and twenty thousand irregular migrants, vulnerable to exploitation, living under the constant threat of deportation and subject to draconian penalties for breaching immigration laws.
It is hardly surprising, then, that many should look for a safer haven. In an effort to stop them coming here, Australian policy aims to make us as unattractive a destination as possible. Economist Timothy Hatton carefully analysed the likely effect of different kinds of policies. He concluded that the treatment of asylum seekers once they arrive 'ha[s] little deterrent effect. Furthermore, it is doubtful how much sound information asylum seekers have about destination countries.
A study in Britain showed that most asylum seekers relied mainly on vague impressions. Governments and international organisations are simply not trusted by the people they are trying to reach; dissemination strategies are inadequate; and there are serious practical barriers in terms of translation, literacy and access. The greatest example of the failure of in-country deterrence is mandatory detention itself. In February , 4, people were being held in immigration detention on the Australian mainland and 1, in detention on Christmas Island. No other developed country thinks a policy on such a scale necessary or desirable.
It was first introduced under Bob Hawke in and legislated in ,, [lvii] supposedly 'for a limited period', [lviii] in order to gather basic information about an asylum claim, health, identity or security issues. It has long since exceeded these limits. As Robert Manne wrote with great power almost a decade ago, [lix] the policy inflicts psychological and physical harm, sickness, suffering and death on those who have committed no crime other than to claim their rights under international law.
If there is some danger of rejected applicants for asylum going to ground if they are not kept in detention, the policy is ridiculously disproportionate.
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Given the very high levels of genuine refugees amongst IMAs, we lock up the vast majority of legitimate applicants for the sake of a risk, posed by a few, which can be dealt with more cheaply and humanely in other ways. Mandatory detention is often treated as Australia's sacred cow.
In reality it is nothing but a white elephant. The notion that we can 'send a message' to potential asylum seekers — to scare them off as it were — by treating those who make it here with exemplary severity, continues to befuddle the debate. On 21 November , the Minister for Immigration announced a new category of bridging visas designed to reduce the pressure on Australia's overcrowded detention facilities. Chris Bowen said: 'Consistent with "no advantage", people from this cohort going onto bridging visas will have no work rights and will receive only basic accommodation assistance, and limited financial support.
But it is worse than that. The legal magical realists assume that if work is prohibited, hey presto, no work will be done. But the case study of drug policy reminds us that prohibition is not regulation; it is un-regulation. Visa-holders will work; on 80 per cent of the government's lowest benefit how could they survive otherwise? So work they will, in poor conditions, paid under the table, paying no tax, and undercutting Australian workers. They will find work on the margins of society, some no doubt as prostitutes, some in the drug trade.
All of them will be vulnerable to exploitation and blackmail.
The cycle has already begun. Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison recently used the occasion of an assault by a young man on a bridging visa to demand that asylum seekers should not be released into the community without special 'behaviour protocols' and the notification of police and residents in the area. These laws will follow the same downward spiral. The logic of prohibition assumes that if harsh policies are ineffective, the answer is simple; make them harsher.
Thus the Leader of the Opposition responded to the government's bridging visa policy not by criticising its lack of generosity, but on the contrary, condemning it as too bountiful; Tony Abbott proposed cutting Australia's Humanitarian Program in half. On the one hand, halving the quota will certainly not reduce the number of claimants or 'shorten the queue'. Britain has always been the tolerant parent, and an older Australia could be both intensely patriotic and see itself as what it was, a transplantation of Britain. This relationship did not exclude America but it made for a sometimes complicated threesome of nations.
This is a brilliant, deeply meditated essay by one of our finest writers about the traditions that shaped Australia and which connect it to one of the mightier traditions in world history. Made in England is In the first Quarterly Essay of , Robert Manne tells the stories of individual asylum seekers and finds in their experience the seeds of a devastating critique. Balancing sorrow and pity with a controlled anger, Manne develops a sustained argument about what could, and should, be done for the nine thousand refugees who remain in limbo on temporary protection visas.
Sending Them Home also contains a groundbreaking account of conditions in the offshore processing camps on Nauru, whose operations have until now been shrouded in secrecy, and a damning forensic investigation of the recent efforts to return - frequently against their will - many of those who sought our protection and whose countries remain in turmoil. Combining ethical reflection and acute political analysis, this essay initiates a new phase in the refugee debate. However these problems arose not because these people were not genuine refugees. They arose, rather, precisely because the overwhelming majority of them were.
In the second Quarterly Essay of , Paul McGeough offers a dramatic account of why Iraq remains in chaos despite desperate American efforts to create a model democracy in the Middle East. According to McGeough, Iraq to this day remains a tribal society. It cannot be governed without the cooperation of the true powers in the land, the tribal and religious sheikhs. Those who have ruled Iraq in the past, including Saddam Hussein and the British before him, understood this fact.
The Americans, by contrast, seem to have missed the point. There are vivid portraits of the sheikhs' role in the fall and capture of Saddam, as well as their part in the growing insurgency. There are glimpses, too, of a history that once involved Lawrence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell, and which pre-dates Islam, stretching back thousands of years. Combining reportage and analysis in brilliant fashion, this groundbreaking essay is well timed to coincide with the next major phase in Iraq's troubled history.
In the third Quarterly Essay of , Margaret Simons takes a long hard look at Mark Latham, the self-proclaimed "club buster" and the man who would be prime minister. Few doubt Latham's intelligence and ambition, but what will this amount to in government? Simons argues that if Labor is elected, it will not be "business as usual".
Rather we can expect a reformist government in the spirit - if not the letter - of Latham's political tutor, Gough Whitlam. It is also likely to be a government that has little time for the totemic issues of the Labor elites. This is an essay that takes the political pulse of the nation - it is clear-eyed, probing, anchored in observation and an original analysis of the political state of play. It ventures into the murky world of Liverpool Council, where Latham made enemies and ran the show. It reserves harsh words for those in the media who have ignored Latham's ideas and community campaigning in favour of rumour-mongering.
Above all, it reveals Latham as a conviction politician and an acute thinker, with a prescient understanding of how the urban fringe now drives the politics of the nation. In the fourth Quarterly Essay of , Raimond Gaita confronts essential questions about politics as it is practised today.
Published Melbourne, Vic. Language English View all editions Prev Next edition 1 of 3. Whitefella jump up: the shortest way to nationhood. Beautiful lies: population and environment in Australia. Quarterly essay. Refugees and the new politics of indifference. Other Authors Corlett, David. Copyright Content Types text Carrier Types online resource volume Physical Description 1 online resource iv, pages iv, pages ; 24 cm.
Series Quarterly essay ; QE 13 Quarterly essay ; issue 13 Quarterly essay ; issue 13 Quarterly essay, ; issue 13 Quarterly essay ; issue 13 Quarterly essay ; issue Subjects Illegal aliens -- Government policy. Politics and government. Refugees -- Government policy. Illegal aliens -- Government policy -- Australia.
Refugees -- Government policy -- Australia. Australia -- Politics and government -- Australia. Australia -- Politics and government -- Political science.
Essays | Quarterly Essay
Refugees -- Australia -- Interviews. Australia -- Emigration and immigration -- Government policy. Australia -- Politics and government -- Political refugees -- Australia. Political refugees -- Government policy -- Australia. Asylum, Right of -- Australia. Detention of persons -- Australia. Deportation -- Australia. Civil rights -- Australia. Human rights -- Australia. Refugees -- Australia.
Australia -- Politics and government -- 20th century. Australia -- Emigration and immigration. Australia -- Politics and government -- 21st century. Summary In the first Quarterly Essay of , Robert Manne tells the stories of individual asylum seekers and finds in their experience the seeds of a devastating critique. Balancing sorrow and pity with a controlled anger, Manne develops a sustained argument about what could, and should, be done for the nine thousand refugees who remain in limbo on temporary protection visas.
Sending Them Home also contains a groundbreaking account of conditions in the offshore processing camps on Nauru, whose operations have until now been shrouded in secrecy, and a damning forensic investigation of the recent effor. Combining ethical reflection and acute political analysis, this esssay initiates a new phase in the refugee debate. Notes Cover title. Includes correspondence on Made in England. Includes bibliographical references. View online Borrow Buy Freely available Show 0 more links Set up My libraries How do I set up "My libraries"?
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Sending Them Home: Refugees and the New Politics of Indifference
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