Kim’s reply now seems much less like an attempt to walk both sides of the street then when I first read it. My letter to him, on the other hand, now seems too terse to convey what I was trying to say properly.
This is what I might have said if I had been writing a blog post, rather than dashing off a quick email:
There is currently much debate about the policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers. This policy was instituted by the Hawke-Keating government, and has historically had broad bipartisan support. This policy may be justified in several ways:
1) These entities called countries have a right to control who enters certain geographical areas. Otherwise, what is the point of having them? I do not agree with this argument on theological grounds (e.g., ‘The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens’, Baha’ullah) and it has been critiqued extensively from both left and right, but there is broad support for it in the electorate. Thus, detaining unauthorized arrivals will tend to deter other unauthorized arrivals and keep the process of migration under control. Kim does not explicitly refer to this primary deterrent function of mandatory detention in his reply.
2) People entering Australia illegally may injure us by taking our jobs, bringing plagues into the country, stealing our women and running riot in the streets. These reasons are all highly dubious, but are the main rationale offered by Kim, viz.: ‘…the damage that the unmonitored release of large numbers of refugee claimants could inflict on our community in terms of illegal employment and health risks’; ‘…we continue to support a regime of compulsory detention of unauthorised arrivals in order to carry out thorough health and character checks’. I trust the ‘bot’ calculated that most letters on this topic would be from sentimental folks who would not be moved by the Realpolitik justifications.
3) We should discourage people from doing something that is very dangerous- making a long ocean crossing in unseaworthy craft operated by criminals. There is a moral rationale for deterring people from doing this by making their experience unpleasant once they land, even if like me you believe that nations have no intrinsic right to control ‘their’ borders. I am in complete agreement with this justification. Unsurprisingly, as I am the only one I am aware of who has made it, Kim does not mention it.
4) Given that 1) is a fact of life, our natural admiration for the initiative and daring of these asylum seekers, and our dispassionate assessment that they form a very small group of people posing no threat to our way of life, is tempered by the realization that it is unjust to let in illegal immigrants while others are waiting patiently to proceed through legal channels of immigration. This sense of injustice was milked to great success by the Coalition government. But, I think it is only valid if the ‘queue’ which is being ‘jumped’ is a real queue, and not a shabby con. If a refugee who follows legal procedures for immigration to Australia is likely to die of old age before making it the head of the queue, then it is nonsense to talk about ‘queue jumpers’. It is ridiculous to demonise people for not going through proper channels if proper channels are woefully inadequate. Kim’s bot does not mention ‘queue jumping’ because, I think, explicitly saying it was okay would scare swing voters, while explicitly saying it was bad would cause the rank and file to complain that he was exactly the same as Johnnie.
Thus, I should have said:
Kim, this popular justification that the Coalition is going on about- number 4- is fraudulent. You know it, and I know it. But we both know that it could be made a decent argument, and should you win government you will need more decent arguments than number 2 to continue the Hawke-Keating mandatory detention policy. I figure that with a refugee intake of 200-250k per annum, targeted to the places where the refugees actually are, most people who have a valid case and want to come to Australia will have a fair chance of making it here within a decade, and will be content to go through legal channels instead of risking their lives. Then, you will be on firm ground to throw the book at those asylum seekers arriving here unannounced. ‘Why didn’t you fill out the forms we were distributing in Peshawar?’ you can ask. ‘Why isn’t your name on the list?’
I suddenly non sequitured to mention Israel in my letter because of what I had been reading just before, which had brought home to me very strongly two things.
a) The consequences of justification 1) in the 1930s and 40s, when it condemned millions of people who had the desire to emigrate, the wherewithal to support themselves, and the qualities to be exemplary citizens of their new countries, to appalling suffering and death.
b) The amazing capacity of a small struggling country to absorb large numbers of immigrants in a short time, leading me to believe that if we could easily cope with many more refugees than we were taking.
Marco and I were recently discussing the best way to exert pressure on the candidates in the upcoming federal election in order to increase Australia’s unskilled migrant intake, because there aren’t enough unskilled workers to go around. Refugees would be the best source of unskilled migrants, because they need it more and because they will earn us international good nation points. Can anyone recommend any good lobby groups?