Equity needs to trump emotion on refugees

(First published in The Examiner 29 June 2021)

Refugees.  Instinctively we seek to help them.  It’s a good instinct. They add to our social fabric.

Yet there are millions of refugees and Australia cannot take them all.  And then there are those who seek to game the system by falsely claiming refugee status.  Those that are taken in cost the Australian taxpayer with resettlement assistance support and add to the country’s infrastructure needs.

Even with good intentions, glib and superficial policy responses are insufficient to provide a principled, considered and fair framework for Australia’s intake.

So what needs to be considered?

As a relatively wealthy country, we should provide help via foreign aid and resettlement to those most in need.

There is, of course, a limit to the aid we can provide and the numbers we can resettle.  The help government provides in these areas is funded out of our pockets as taxpayers.

Once the intake number is determined for any one year, the government needs to determine those to whom resettlement is offered.  Australia is a sought after destination for many people of the world because of our Judeo-Christian heritage and Western values.  As a result, it stands to reason there will be some who will make false claims to gain entry.

The criteria, therefore, need to be objectively clear to determine refugee status and places then allocated to those most in need.

Not easy, but a task that needs to be undertaken methodically and fearlessly.  Hollow sloganeering makes for sensational headlines and fertile ground for emotional, knee-jerk responses but it falls desperately short when it comes to rigorous and fair policy.

Having visited refugee camps where people designated by the UN as refugees have waited for years on end for resettlement, you get an insight into their genuine plight and desperation.

Given Australia’s limited capacity for taking refugees, the question arises whether it is compassionate, fair, indeed reasonable, to afford priority to those who have never set foot in a refugee camp, by-passed safe haven after safe haven in pursuit of the most desired destination and then have the financial capacity to engage criminal people smugglers.  A clear-thinking moral compass points the needle elsewhere.  Unsurprisingly, this was the exact plea of those with whom I met in refugee camps.

The heartbreaking stories of people displaced patiently waiting in refugee camps for over ten years with no internet, no air conditioning, no certainty of meals, no medical help, not even sanitation, tells you they are the real deal.

Spare a thought for their well-being – disease, dietary, mental – you name it.  The uncertainty year in year out would be extremely taxing on anyone’s well-being.  Yet, they don’t demonstrate.  They’re just thankful knowing they can sleep safely.

Refugees have added to Australia’s economic and social well-being.  They are welcome.  Australia is both generous in the numbers taken in and with the support provided.  With such a world-leading record, we are right to be robust in determining whom we let into our country and on what terms.

Under the Liberals, one of those terms has been the criteria of genuine need.

Compassionate conservatives deliver strong border protection, allowing a humane, orderly intake of those most in need besides stopping the criminal people smugglers.

A few facts on the Biloela family whose situation has recently generated a lot of heat but not much light.

Firstly, at every stage, the family has failed in their bid to be classified as refugees from Departmental assessment right through to the High Court.

Secondly, their situation has been prolonged by their own continual non-acceptance of each determination which has found against them, which they have appealed all the way to the High Court.  It is their right to appeal but not to then complain as to why their case has taken so long.

Thirdly, 1500 of their fellow Tamils have already returned to Sri Lanka. If they’ve returned, it stands to reason that it’s safe to return.  

And for clarity – whilst the children of the family were born in Australia, they aren’t Australian citizens given their parents have failed in convincing any tribunal right through to the High Court that they should be considered as refugees.

Therefore, making an exception for one person opens the door for everybody else in that position now and into the future while also denying someone else who needs a place.  

Australians have rightly and overwhelmingly supported this balanced, sensible, and fair approach at the ballot box because they believe in equity over emotion.