Home > Oz Politics > The end of the Pacific solution

The end of the Pacific solution

December 8th, 2007

Without a great deal of fanfare, the new government has ended the shameful ‘Pacific solution’ under which refugees were held in offshore camps, located on the territory of neighbouring countries which the Australian government bullied and bribed into hosting them. Most of the refugees held at the Nauru camp have been allowed to settle in Australia.

Defenders of the Howard government can make whatever claims they like about this evil system, whether to say that it was justified by results or to claim that Labor’s policy isn’t really all that different. The fact remains that this was a cruel and brutal response to community panic; panic the government itself did a great deal to stir up, and even more to exploit politically. Those responsible, most notably Howard himself and Phillip Ruddock, will carry the stain of the Pacific solution to their graves and beyond.

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  1. alan
    December 8th, 2007 at 09:32 | #1

    We will decide who comes to the Lodge and the circumstances in which they come.

  2. December 8th, 2007 at 10:37 | #2

    So, instead of being held in awful detention centres overseas they’ll now be held in awful detention centres now?

  3. December 8th, 2007 at 11:32 | #3

    Shameful? Cruel? Brutal? Stain?

    Hyperbole overdrive today!

  4. Ikonoclast
    December 8th, 2007 at 11:52 | #4

    Shameful. Cruel. Brutal. Stain. Yes SATP, all the words are correct. Would you like to be treated like those refugees if you were in a desperate situation? The golden rule is to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

    I await now from SATP another wild generalisation about how ALL refugees are cashed up queue jumping con artists and who deserve what they get. Ho hum.

  5. John Greenfield
    December 8th, 2007 at 12:04 | #5


    “will carry the stain of the Pacific solution to their graves and beyond.”

    Totally unsubstantiated moral pyrotechnics, completely detached from the context of the policy. Yes, it is appropriate to end the policy now, but only because the policy was wildly successful in stoppong the boats coming in the first place.

  6. John Greenfield
    December 8th, 2007 at 12:13 | #6

    It is interesting how JQ chooses to spin this. To me the more interesting story is the one told by the other Fairfax paper. The Age headline reads “Rudd Sends Home 16 Asylum Seekers.” We all breathlessly await an outpouring of rage by the “Not Happy John” set, UN Conventions in one hand, flowers for Malcolm Fraser in t’other. Maintain That Rage, Luvvies!

  7. December 8th, 2007 at 13:16 | #7

    for me the important point is, john howard said “no” and no it was. now kevin says “yes” and yes it is. ordinary ozzies weren’t consulted either way. so they have no shame with johnny, no honor with kev.

    maybe some shame in accepting the role of political cattle, but as long as we all agree not to mention that, she’ll be right.

  8. Enemy Combatant
    December 8th, 2007 at 13:36 | #8

    “Those responsible, most notably Howard himself and Phillip Ruddock, will carry the stain of the Pacific solution to their graves and beyond.”

    Howard and Ruddock;
    two lawyers who knew exactly what they were doing to their fellow human beings for cheap political advantage.
    Howard and Ruddock;
    two lawyers who relished the implementation of their Pacific solution.
    Howard and Ruddock;
    two lawyers whose bastardry renders them worthy of ongoing national approbrium.

  9. Enemy Combatant
    December 8th, 2007 at 13:38 | #9

    that’s an o

  10. Chris Lloyd
    December 8th, 2007 at 13:47 | #10

    Utter nonsense JQ. They were treated humanely but not under the ridiculously generous Australian legal system, where you are a refugee unless proven otherwise.

    Newsflash folks. No-one died from the Pacific solution. Everyone was assessed. The boats stopped coming – because they self assessed as non-refugees.

    The only thing wrong with the way refugees are treated is that the detention centres are too harsh. The Australian ones are run by a US private prison providers. As an economist, JQ should spend more time denouncing the odious notion that prisons should be provided by private enterprise.

  11. December 8th, 2007 at 13:52 | #11

    Standard ill-thought out knee jerk crepe from Ikonoklast. Ho hum, some things never change.

    If I was running away from being killed, I would much prefer to be fed, housed, lawyered and doctored for free in Nauru or anywhere else.

    I would consider it a shame that only Australia paid for all this for me, unlike the five other countries I had passed through on the way.

    Compares quite favourably.

    Good Ole Oz! We can hold our head high.

  12. December 8th, 2007 at 13:56 | #12

    ‘The fact remains that this was a cruel and brutal response to community panic; panic the government itself did a great deal to stir up, and even more to exploit politically. Those responsible, most notably Howard himself and Phillip Ruddock, will carry the stain of the Pacific solution to their graves and beyond’.

    This isn’t a fact. Its a viewpoint.

    The Coalition admitted more refugees (around 12,000 per year) than the previous Hawke/Keating governments. It wasn’t a response to ‘community panic’ but to stop a potential flood of queue jumpers.

    Yes it did work and that’s why it looks like a soft option for the new PM to abolish it. He does not now have much of a problem to address – but give it a few years.

  13. jquiggin
    December 8th, 2007 at 15:02 | #13

    JG at #6, I must say I’m struck by the ease with which Labor has managed to pair the scrapping of the Pacific solution with an utterly routine application of longstanding policy, and come across as both toughminded and humane. There was never any chance that the Indonesian fishers would qualify as refugees, here or anywhere else. And, as well as getting rid of an awful policy, they’ve freed (IIRC) around $300 million to spend on better things.

    I’m greatly encouraged by your reaction as well. At this rate, Rudd will be able to dismantle Howard’s legacy almost completely while keeping the culture warriors happy with trivial scraps.

  14. MH
    December 8th, 2007 at 16:00 | #14

    Nicely put viewpoint.

    HC- there never was any so-called flood. Nor any community panic until the coalition created it! Fact – I spent five years of my life airborne as a maritime patrol captain looking for the hordes. There never were any! Unless a few dozen miserable left over Indonesian fishing vessels flogged off to transport the desparate counts. Meanwhile while we spent thousands of hours and countless millions of taxpayers funds in the search for the brown hordes from asia the real villains foreign fishing vessels operating in Australian waters were having a field day. The downside of the Tampa era is the abrogation by the Howard-Ruddock team of centuries of maritime law of rescuing those in peril on the sea. Ask the Norwegian government! Building Oz versions of Guantanemo Bay in Nauru and draping it up as some form of aid was and is simply codswallop. Had we been supporting our Pacific neighbours with something else even that would probably not have been necessary.

  15. Katz
    December 8th, 2007 at 16:34 | #15

    The “Pacific Solution” was a panic-stricken annulment of the rule of law.

    The “Pacific Solution” entailed a curtailment of judicial competency over selected areas of Australian territory for selected juridical purposes.

    Thus, illegal immigrants who found their way into Australia via airports (by far the largest category of illegal immigrants) continued to be dealt with by judicial processes. Those landing on certain beaches in Australia, whether by leaky fishing boat or by luxury yacht, were dealt with by executive means.

    The so-called “solution” as radical as it was, turned a blind eye to the vast bulk of illegal entrants into the country.

    The policy was a bad joke.

  16. The Doctor
    December 8th, 2007 at 16:48 | #16

    I hope the ridiculous concept of an immigration zone gets scrapped next.

  17. melanie
    December 8th, 2007 at 17:07 | #17

    The hordes are coming! The hordes are coming!

    What is it about some of the comments above that reminds me so much about the era of White Australia?

  18. December 8th, 2007 at 17:33 | #18

    Hey, wingnut harry, satp etc…How many of the tampa passengers were deemed to be legitimate refugees again?

    As usual, JQ is right, and you pragmatic moral bankrupts are wrong…Why do you all bother?

  19. Lang
    December 8th, 2007 at 17:34 | #19

    Howard, Ruddock and Downer ( to single out only three) were/are grifters, to defend these urgers makes you in collusion. Sleep well……

  20. December 8th, 2007 at 17:34 | #20

    MH, Obviously the searches and the tough policy were designed to prevent a flood. You can judge whether there was no need or whether the policy was just successful. But illegal immigration into the US for a time was over 1 million per year. You cannot assume there would be no problem here – even if being surrounded by water helps.

    Melanie, Stop using ridicule when you have no argument. Both sides of politics in Australia agree border protection is important. Events in West Papua suggest the potential for a huge problem. We took huge numbers of refugees in the past from Indo-China.

    You cannot legitimately characterise such concerns as ‘the hordes are coming’ and dismiss people who raise such concerns as racists. You are showing your own prejudices and your own inability to argue a case when you resort to such language.

  21. December 8th, 2007 at 18:16 | #21

    “As usual, JQ is right”? ROFL.

    And if all the “passengers” on the Tampa were refugees, what is your point exactly?

    How many of them were Indonesians escaping Indonesia? How many were 4th, 5th & even more steps removed from their country of origin. In all their international travels after leaving Afghanistan/Pakistan/wherever, why did none manage to find just ONE United Nations facility for dealing with refugees.

    After all, they managed to find a clandestine leaky boat on a small Indonesian island.

  22. zoot
    December 8th, 2007 at 18:23 | #22

    MH, Obviously the searches and the tough policy were designed to prevent a flood.

    You cannot legitimately characterise such concerns as ‘the hordes are coming’..

    That’s a rather fine distinction hc. Maybe if Melanie had written ‘the flood’s coming’ you would have accepted her point. No?

  23. zoot
    December 8th, 2007 at 18:26 | #23

    And if all the “passengers� on the Tampa were refugees, what is your point exactly?

    Umm, maybe that we treated genuine refugees as if they were criminals? It’s not a crime to be a refugee (well, not according to the UN policies we signed off on).

  24. melanie
    December 8th, 2007 at 18:33 | #24

    HC, it was you who used the term ‘flood’. That is a highly emotive term (implying the very panic that our host mentioned), yet you produce it as if it was some kind of fact. In reality there was neither a flood nor a potential one.

    So before you come to conclusions about my stability or otherwise, watch your own language.

  25. December 8th, 2007 at 18:35 | #25

    Not a fine distinction zoot – if the policy worked you won’t observe the flood. Is that too hard for you?

    BTW we do not accept all refugees – nor does any country. We have a quota that is generous by international standards.

    The SE Asian countries and Japan accept zero. But they are excused because we are dirty white racists who lack compassion and they are not.

  26. December 8th, 2007 at 18:39 | #26

    Our posts crossed Melanie but the same simple point seems to escape you as zoot.

    I didn’t question your stability Melanie I said your proclivity to throw dirt (‘racist’, ‘hordes’) suggests you cannot manage an argument. Your last response to a claim I did not make confirms my view.

  27. zoot
    December 8th, 2007 at 18:56 | #27

    Not a fine distinction zoot – if the policy worked you won’t observe the flood. Is that too hard for you?

    WTF? My point was simply that a flood of refugees would be exactly the same as a horde of refugees.

  28. December 8th, 2007 at 19:05 | #28

    And if all the “passengers� on the Tampa were refugees, what is your point exactly?</blockquote)

    The ‘Pacific solution’ came about as a response to the Tampa, and to stem the inevitable tide of similar ‘illegals’. The fact that this didn’t turn out to be the case nullifies the original premise.

    “As usual, JQ is right�? ROFL.

    Then why are you here? Certainly your semi-literate ‘contributions’ add nothing to the discussion.

  29. December 8th, 2007 at 19:25 | #29

    Alex, I “should not” be here? “I am semi-literate”? I add “nothing”?

    Bigotry certainly won’t be dead on this site whilst you have a keyboard.

    I am not yet banned from this site for having viewpoints which are not 100% in alignment with those of the administrator. Thus if you desire only to have your prejudices reinforced, google will find plenty of more suitable sites to occupy you until JQ gets around to censoring me for harbouring “incorrect” thoughts.

  30. melanie
    December 8th, 2007 at 20:23 | #30

    Sorry, HC I misread ‘inability’. I have trouble with small font. But then, I didn’t use the word ‘racist’ either.

    Here, instead are some data from the UNHCR statistical yearbook (2001, 2005).

    In 2001, the year of the Tampa, Australia received a total of 11,583 applications for asylum (as distinct from refugee resettlements from other countries). Canada received 45,804, Germany 192,228, the UK 42,200, the US 395,864. The total for 38 industrialized countries was 595,000.

    Our total for the entire decade 1992-2001 was 1.6% of the developed country total of 5,537,161 applications. In 1991 we had actually received 16,743 applications, which is 135% of the 2001 total and in 1996-97 15,240 and 12,677 respectively. In other words the number of asylum seekers reaching our shores was stable or declining by the time of the Tampa incident – and scarcely a flood. I suppose the numbers went up and down according to the state of the world’s crises.

    In 1991 the largest source countries of people claiming asylum in the industrialised countries were the ex-Yugoslavia and Romania; in 2001 they were Afghanistan and Iraq. Spot the difference?

    Re Japan and SE Asia: it doesn’t do to argue against an indefensible position by pointing the finger at somebody else.

  31. December 8th, 2007 at 20:45 | #31

    SATP it has been a tough time for you, over the last two weeks, still many have appreciated your continued outdated work.

    It reminds us why we voted against your type of world view. Peace, brother.

  32. December 8th, 2007 at 21:00 | #32

    Ah, a troll rears it’s head.

    Joe2, you have yet to explain your rationale for saying that “treating people fairly” for me will be a new experience.


    This remark is unwarranted, without basis, unfair, stupid, ill-advised, unconstructive, wrong and libellous.

    An apology is in order.

  33. melanie
    December 8th, 2007 at 21:05 | #33

    HC, you wanted to argue that we are generous by international standards. I don’t think so. Here again are some bits from the UNHCR 2005 yearbook again:

    African and Asian countries shouldered the highest refugee burden per one dollar GDP at the end of 2005. Because of its relatively small GDP (PPP) per capita and the large number of refugees it hosts, the United Rep. of Tanzania3 shouldered the largest refugee burden in 2005. During the period 2001-2005, the country provided, on average, asylum to almost 868 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita. Pakistan, which hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, was the country with the second highest refugee burden compared to its economic resources (522 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita), followed by the Dem. Rep. of the Congo (344 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita).

    The number of refugees per 1 USD GDP per capita in industrialized countries is relatively small. The highest ranking industrialized country is Germany occupying the 24th position, followed by the United States (34th), the United Kingdom (37th), and France (49th).

    When [refugees per 1000 population] criterion is used, the country with the highest refugee burden is Armenia. On average, Armenia hosted 80 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants during the period 2001-2005 compared to 84 refugees for the period 2000-2004. In other words, about eight per cent of Armenia’s current population consists of refugees. Serbia and Montenegro ranked second, hosting 28 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants (34 the year before), followed by Djibouti (25), Congo (23), and Zambia (19).

    Among the top-10 refugee-hosting countries per 1,000 inhabitants, four countries (Chad, Islamic Rep. of Iran, United Rep. of Tanzania, and Zambia) featured also among the top-10 countries with the highest refugee number per GDP per capita.

    The highest ranked developed country is Sweden with 12 refugees per 1000 population. So it really depends on what you mean by ‘international standards’. In reality, we are only more ‘generous’ than the USA.

    Refugee population by country of asylum 2004 (000s)
    Australia 63.5 (3.2 per 1000 population)
    Canada 141.4
    Denmark 65.3
    Germany 876.6
    Netherlands 126.8
    Sweden 73.4
    UK 298.8
    USA 420.9

  34. melanie
    December 8th, 2007 at 21:22 | #34

    HC, In my last point, I didn’t include the countries which, as you rightly pointed out, don’t accept refugees at all, or in the case of Japan in such pathetic numbers that it doesn’t matter – but among the rich countries, those in which racism is an acceptable creed are rather few.

    It is also interesting to ask why countries like Tanzania, Pakistan, Iran and Chad have the actual, as opposed to the imaginary, flood. I would suggest that the vast majority of refugees are (1) not treated generously by anyone’s standards and/or (2) would prefer to stay as near as possible to home in case they can go back home.

  35. December 8th, 2007 at 21:24 | #35

    Melanie, They are interesting statistics that I have not seen before. The basis for my statement was the ratio of the flow of current refugee migrants (not the stock) to population on which basis I believe Australia does well.

    The developing country statistics you cite seem to relate to different sorts of intakes – neighbouring wars and so on. I’d want to think about these.

  36. December 8th, 2007 at 22:11 | #36

    And beyond?

  37. observa
    December 8th, 2007 at 23:22 | #37

    It’s all academic now because multiculturalism is dead or at the very least having the last rites administered

  38. observa
    December 8th, 2007 at 23:27 | #38

    Perhaps Howard and Ruddock were our last little self indulgent spasm of nostalgia eh?

  39. observa
    December 8th, 2007 at 23:34 | #39

    And don’t you just love the Kuwaiti television debate? Like our intellectual ABC, they brought in the token apostate supporter, just for a bit of balance.

  40. melanie
    December 9th, 2007 at 00:08 | #40

    HC, I have examined the flow data and Australia does rather better, it is ranked 8th among industrialized countries in terms of the number of UNHCR ‘people of concern’ that it accepted per 1000 population during 1996-2005. However, among the top 15 of those countries (I couldn’t be bothered going further), it ranks last among those which accept people who turn up at the border seeking asylum.

    Basically, countries like Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and UK only accept people whom we would call ‘queue jumpers’. In Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and Austria, a large majority of acceptances were ‘queue jumpers’.

    In Canada, 55% of acceptances were asylum seekers who got classified as genuine refugees, in Australia only 18%. Different standards being applied? Or a different bunch of traffickers? I doubt the latter since I have always been inclined to see the traffickers as the problem rather than the refugees themselves. Indeed, I would go as far as to suggest that the diminution of asylum seeker numbers in recent years has much more to do with AFP collaboration with the Indonesians than it has to do with ‘tough’ border controls.

    Perhaps the demise of the Pacific solution is to be regretted – in Nauru people were assessed by the UNHCR and most of them got refugee status. If you actually make it to the Australian Immigration Zone, it seems that your chances are not so good!

  41. December 9th, 2007 at 00:19 | #41

    The policy on asylum-seekers under the Howard Govt was mostly policy-on-the-run with strong tendencies towards the hysterical and cowardly.

    It’s hard to see how, when viewed from an historical perspective, these policies will seem anything other than an embarrassment, at best.

  42. melanie
    December 9th, 2007 at 01:14 | #42

    Further HC, why should the geographical location of the refugee make a difference? Refugees are defined by the fact that they cannot (or have a reasonable fear that they cannot) safely go home, not by the particular camp or country in which they are living. Nor does the fact that they may or may not have been able to bring out some or all of their savings make a difference to their refugee status.

  43. December 9th, 2007 at 02:16 | #43


    Refugess must be starving caricatures, and should wait patiently for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn. Any attempts at initiative (ie. saving themsleves) will be frowned upon.

  44. MH
    December 9th, 2007 at 06:53 | #44

    HC – Being surrounded by ocean is indeed a formidable barrier to illegal entry which is why so few attempt to arrive this way. However I would return to the issue of the strategy, I would argue that it was always ill conceived and politically motivated. Travel by boat is for the desperate and ignorant, The savvy illegal immigrant arrives like everybody else in comfort on a 747 with dodgy papers. Running a air-maritime blockade strategy was completely misplaced. I recall having my Xmas ruined some years back to conduct ‘extra’ patrols could be run up North. I recall the widespread and I conclude politically driven coverage in the media with Ministers gravely intoning the ‘hunt’ was on. What were we looking for, a possible boat load, what did we find, nothing. We did find several large Taiwanese registered commercial fishing vessels but there were no maritime assets to stop them so they simply sailed back out of the EEZ. I also recall a commercial shipping vessel that simply pulled up outside of Cairns and dropped several dozen ex PRC citizens on to the main beach of a suburb of Cairns.

    Whether or not we as a nation are prepared to shelter and care for people who have made the journey is another issue and one properly debated. The strategy and policy as I understand it merely covered up the gross incompetence and failure of the Department of Immigration to be able to distinguish or rank the merit or otherwise of any arrivals, no matter how they got here. The Palmer Report clearly demonstrated the competency of Immigration in that regard. If the Immigration Department could not distinguish legitimate citizens from illegal entrants what confidence could any one have they would do the same with poor buggers who risked their lives in leaking rotten wooden boats. Thus in my view the whole Pacific solution was a gross over reaction that merely diminished us morally and eroded our civil and legal values. All in all from my perspective an appalling episode in our history.

    Finally I would not draw any competent analogy between the US and Australia. The US has porous borders that attach geographically to poor South American nations. They have many millions of illegal immigrants, who incidentally I understand from some American economists help smooth out labour participation rates and distort other economic labour statistics in the US because they are not officially counted.

  45. jack Strocchi
    December 9th, 2007 at 10:49 | #45

    Pr Q says:

    The fact remains that this was a cruel and brutal response to community panic; panic the government itself did a great deal to stir up, and even more to exploit politically. Those responsible, most notably Howard himself and Phillip Ruddock, will carry the stain of the Pacific solution to their graves and beyond

    The Pacific Solution helped to stop the people smuggling-and-drowning industry in its tracks. But the scores of people who were not drowned have no constituency in the broadsheet metros or legal fraternity. Those liberal Leftists who stood by and did nothing but preen themselves in front of the moral vanity mirror will “carry the stain…to the grave and beyond”.

  46. jack Strocchi
    December 9th, 2007 at 11:01 | #46

    Bugger forgot to close quote tags. Sorry webmaster.

  47. jack Strocchi
    December 9th, 2007 at 11:12 | #47

    Tragedies like this were a routine occurrence before Howard’s tough border protection policy “stopped the boats from coming”:

    Up to 163 illegal immigrants are feared to have drowned off Australia’s north coast after attempting to travel by boat from Indonesia during a tropical cyclone, the Australian government said Wednesday.

    Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock said two boats that were operating as part of a people-smuggling racket had left Indonesia last week for the remote Ashmore Reef, a deserted Australian-administered territory 200 kilometers south of Kupang, West Timor.

    Hundreds of people were drowning in the passage accross the Indian Ocean but the liberal-Left did nothing because the asylum seekers were a politically useful constituency to use as a stick to beat Howard.

    It was Howard who enforced strict rules of the sea and stopped this exploitative and dangerous practice. I daresay that being deterred and/or detained is better than being drowned.

    The Pacific Solution was only one part of this successful policy. Which should be looked at in totality before liberal-Leftists get on their very shaky high horses.

  48. Katz
    December 9th, 2007 at 12:04 | #48

    Hundreds of people were drowning in the passage accross the Indian Ocean but the liberal-Left did nothing because the asylum seekers were a politically useful constituency to use as a stick to beat Howard.

    Asylum seekers were a useful stick to beat Howard in the same way a Kamikaze plane was a useful tool wo enjoy the spoils of Japanese victory vs the Allies.

    The Tampa issue destroyed Beazley’s career. Beazley tried the small target strategy. It didn’t work.

    The liberal left could have played a political game like Beazley, but they didn’t.

    Their game wasn’t political, it was moral.

  49. zoot
    December 9th, 2007 at 14:00 | #49

    I know I risk Godwin’s Law, so I will leave this as my last contribution to this thread. I am currently reading “Schindler’s List” having recently completed Art Spiegalman’s masterpiece “Maus”, and it seems to me Howard and Ruddock could have been working from the notes of the late Dr Goebbels.
    We insisted that asylum seekers, once behind the razor wire, would have no names; they would be known by a number. A formidable amount of energy and expense was spent telling the populace at large that these people were not worthy of our compassion, even though we are a compassionate people. In fact we were encouraged to think of these wretches as non-people (and judging from some commentary here it worked really well). For the Pacific Solution we established our detention centres offshore (if memory serves none of the Jewish ‘detention centres’ were on the sacred ground of mother Germany). I’m sure there are other parallels.
    For this, I believe Prof Q’s statement that those responsible will carry the stain to their graves and beyond is fair and reasonable.

  50. December 9th, 2007 at 14:09 | #50

    Memory serves you very poorly Zoot.
    The list is far from complete, but you may be familiar with some of the names below:


  51. jquiggin
    December 9th, 2007 at 15:08 | #51

    I will call Godwin’s Law at this point. No more Nazi analogies or debates about them please.

  52. Ian Gould
    December 9th, 2007 at 16:09 | #52

    “Yes, it is appropriate to end the policy now, but only because the policy was wildly successful in stoppong the boats coming in the first place.”

    Yes, because obviously the repatriation of a couple of million Afghan refugees back to their homeland had nothing to do with it.

  53. Ian Gould
    December 9th, 2007 at 16:27 | #53

    So if the Pacific solution prevented the arrival of refugee boats from Indonesia, the reversal of that policy should mean they’ll start arriving again.

    Let’s wait six months and see if that happens.

    If it doesn’t, I’m sure the policy’s defenders will acknowledge their error. Right?

  54. Ian Gould
    December 9th, 2007 at 16:30 | #54

    “The SE Asian countries and Japan accept zero. But they are excused because we are dirty white racists who lack compassion and they are not.”

    This is false.

    Australia is one of the few countries that has a formal quots fro refugees. countries with no quota are widely described in the Australian media as accepting no refugees.

    In practice, they accept ALL refugeees regardless of their number.

    That’s why Thailand, one of the countries you claim accepts no refugees has hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees living there.

  55. Ian Gould
    December 9th, 2007 at 16:36 | #55

    “Hundreds of people were drowning in the passage accross the Indian Ocean but the liberal-Left did nothing because the asylum seekers were a politically useful constituency to use as a stick to beat Howard.

    It was Howard who enforced strict rules of the sea and stopped this exploitative and dangerous practice. I daresay that being deterred and/or detained is better than being drowned.”

    Just think how many more lives a few televised summary executions might have saved.

  56. hc
    December 9th, 2007 at 19:24 | #56

    That’s not true Ian Gould. Thailand accepts refugees only for resettlement in third countries and its bills are paid by the UN. It gives none citizenship.

  57. rog
    December 9th, 2007 at 21:25 | #57

    From memory a fair bit of work had been done to stop various countries form pushing boat people back out to sea and ending up on Australian shores – Indonesia being one such country.

    To be a legitimate refugee you have to stop at the first country that come to and not travel half way around the world.

  58. Ian Gould
    December 9th, 2007 at 22:48 | #58

    HC, it depends what you mean by “accepts”.

    Yes, THailand doesn’t grant refugees citizenship, but it does provide sanctuary for 150,000 Burmese (many of whom have been there for a decade or more) and an indeterminate number of Hmong and other refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

    Granting refugees temporary visas has been Australian policy since at least the Hawke period and was greatly expanded under Howard.

    “To be a legitimate refugee you have to stop at the first country that come to and not travel half way around the world.”

    Unfortunately the UN disagrees with you.

  59. Ian Gould
    December 9th, 2007 at 23:01 | #59

    A further thought on the “first country” argument:

    Are you suggesting, for example, that Bosnian Serb refugees who fled across the border into Croatia should have stayed there? How about refugees from the Rwandan genocide who found themselves in the middle of war zones in Congo and Angola? how about refugees from the Hungarian uprising who had to cross through East Germany or Czechoslovakia to reach the west? Somalis forced into the Ogaden region of Ethiopia where there’s a war going on between the Ethiopian government and the local ethnic Somali majority?

    The current international rules were put in place for a reason – the thousands of Jewish (and other)refugees from World War II Europe who were prevented from entering the Allied countries snd sent back to their deaths.

    When people’s lives are at stake, I’d rather err on the side that’s less likely to get them killed.

  60. Ian Gould
    December 10th, 2007 at 00:53 | #60

    Another example: starving North Koreans who make it to China should, presumably, hand themselves over to the Chinese government to be returned to North Korea for torture and execution.

  61. December 10th, 2007 at 01:45 | #61

    I seem to have missed the loud international condemnation of China triggered by China repatriating refugees to torture and execution.

  62. rog
    December 10th, 2007 at 06:15 | #62

    Essentially the definition of refugee is outlined in the 1951 Geneva Convention and has limitations which governments can further interpret.

    One such limitation is that individuals fleeing from war or civil unrest are not classed as refugees.

    A person needs to cross an international border between their home country into another state to be a refugee. If that state is a UN signatory that state must process the refugee. If the refugee later moves on to another country they may lose the title of refugee.


  63. jquiggin
    December 10th, 2007 at 06:18 | #63

    I seem to have missed the loud international condemnation of China triggered by China repatriating refugees to torture and execution.

    Perhaps because you weren’t looking (a two-second Google found hundreds like this).

    But I think your implied defence of Howard’s policy as “no worse than that of a Communist dictatorship” pretty much sums up the whole case.

  64. melanie
    December 10th, 2007 at 08:44 | #64

    UNHCR data show China hosting about 300,000 refugees. So if they are forcibly repatriating some of them, it sounds as if their policy is very similar to that of the Howard government.

  65. John Greenfield
    December 10th, 2007 at 10:47 | #65

    What on earth is the “liberal left?”

  66. John Greenfield
    December 10th, 2007 at 10:51 | #66


    Ah, the Tampa (and other Pacific Solution) refugees were assessed according to Australian law. The fact that so many were accepted as bona fide refugees is testimony to the integrity of Australia’s policy, not a repudiation.

  67. John Greenfield
    December 10th, 2007 at 10:53 | #67


    You would do well to learn the difference between ideological posturing and morality. ;)

  68. melanie
    December 10th, 2007 at 12:21 | #68

    John Greenfield, I think the Pacific solution refugees were assessed by UNHCR and we tried to pay NZ to take them or some of them.

  69. gerard
    December 10th, 2007 at 12:26 | #69

    An outcome of the Pacific Solution should have been to bring attention to one of the world’s most wretched examples of ‘statehood’; the 21 square kilometer post-colonial frankenstein that is Nauru.

    Some 13,000 utterly aid-dependant islanders inhabit this tiny speck of wasteland, the world’s smallest ‘republic’, with absolutely no economy to speak of and an environment unique in its abject devestation. Phosphate mining has stripped the island down to a barren moonscape of dead dry bones, with the super-profits from this resource bonanza shared between Western mining interests and a corrupt local government. The money from the trust that had been set up for the country’s long post-phosphate economic death has been pissed away, unemployment is at 90 percent, and almost all Nauruans that work do so in the ‘national’ government. All necessities are imported; the waters surrounding the island contain no fish due to toxic mining runoff. The country’s main post-phosphate industry, money laundering, has been brought to an end under international pressure, leaving the hosting of Australia’s offshore refugee prisons as the only significant money-earner.

    What a sad, upside down world it is, when this raped and plundered island’s whole economy is centred on the hugely expensive and callous punishment of a few hundred asylum-seekers whom the Howard government didn’t want to process on Australia own territory. What type of country is this, where aid to a dependent, helpless and ruined island is tied to the use of that island’s territory for some ‘deterrant’ infliction of cruelty? What sick minds there must be in government to bring about this sorry state of affairs. When the island drowns under rising sea levels, where will its fleeing people be incarcerated? Nauru is a tragic abomination.

  70. David
    December 10th, 2007 at 12:26 | #70

    zoot -

    Having seen the detention centres at Woomera (empty) and Baxter (full), I can assure you that, like Auschwitz, the misery was designed into them.

  71. December 10th, 2007 at 12:31 | #71

    JQ, I didn’t imply anything in post #61, please do not look for meanings which are not there.

    There is no need to “imply” a defence of the Howard government actions. Not only is my defence real, it is supported by the rest of Australia. The population was NEVER going to vote for the ALP while it seemed that would result in the detention centres being thrown open.

    Nice that some activists are condemning China. I should have been more specific, I seem to have missed the UNHCR, the UN secretary general, & heads of government.

  72. Chris Lloyd
    December 10th, 2007 at 12:38 | #72

    We had to wait for 70 comments for some clown to mention Auschwitz. This is itself a heartening sign. The point all pro-refugee lobbyists steadfastly ignore is that the people arriving by boats were not refugees. I use the term in its common sense – not in some legalistic sense defined by a piece of paper Robert Menzies signed in 1951.

    The boat folks arrive from Indonesia without papers. How do they get there? From Jakarta. How did they get there? By plane, at which point they had papers which they suubsequently ditched. That is why we treat those who arrive by plane differently. They are not trying to hide who they are because they at least believe they are genuine refugees. They also do not try to deliberately harm themselves to force the issue.

    Closely related to this is the issue of closest port. The recent refugees from Sri Lanka are presumably Tamil. Have a look at a map and see how close the southern Indian province of Tamil Naidu is to Sri Lanka compared to Australia. The decision to choose Australia is an economic one, even though they may indeed be refugees at the point they leave their homeland.

    We should accept PNG and Indonesian refugees arriving by boat, especially if they have papers. We should accept Afghans and Iraqi’s if they apply from Pakistan with papers. We should not throw boat people into harsh jails. They may be trying to trick their way into Australia but you can’t blame them for trying.

    A legalistic interpretation of refugee conventions is never going to wash with the average punter – or with me. Howard was clever to run with the issue – especially since he is transparently correct that we should decide who is a refugee, not some UN convention from a bygone era. Thanks to all you shrill lobbyists for keeping the refugee issue on the front page and giving Howard the 2001 and 2004 elections.

  73. December 10th, 2007 at 12:57 | #73


    “my defence…….is supported the rest of Australia”??

    Well, not by me. And not by plenty of others. I guess what you meant to say is that your views are supported by other Australians with the same views. Though I think JQ’s has nailed you, whether or not you meant to imply it, it’s clear your stance on asylum-seekers sits quite comfortably with China’s.

    The paradox is that Australia’s OTT ‘national security’ response to asylum-seekers is only possible because the number of people arriving here is so very very small. And it always has been small, even before the ‘deterrent’ of the detention camps.

  74. December 10th, 2007 at 13:02 | #74

    Michael, my stance was supported by enough people for the Howard Government to win at least two elections.

    It is “clear” that I support the stance of the Chinese government? Hmm, the powers of perception used to deduce this are the same powers which say that controlling our borders is wrong?

    But you are simply being obtuse, a not uncommon response from someone whose argument gets thrashed every time it sees the light of day.

  75. December 10th, 2007 at 13:15 | #75


    You ignore several relevant issues. Asylum-seekers are, do I actually have to say this, seeking asylum. Safety. In the example of Sri-Lanka, they won’t get that by going to India. That would simply swap a perilous existence in their home country for the same in another country where they wouldn’t even be citizens. There is no legal, or even common-sense, reason why asylum should only be sought in a neigbouring country. It’s ideal when possible, but it’s often not.

    I’m glad you enjoyed Howards’ exploitation of vulnerable people. I don’t have as much respect, as you seem to, for people who seek political advantage in the suffering of others.
    I was one of the “shrill” to whom you owe so much, but given the same situation again, I’d act no differently. I’ll opt for basic human decency over craven policital opportunism every time.

  76. melanie
    December 10th, 2007 at 13:20 | #76

    Chris Lloyd, You are quite wrong to think that these people were not refugees in the common sense of the word. Most of them were not refugees in the legalistic 1951 convention sense of the word – which, as pointed out at #62 does not include people fleeing from war or civil strife. In Australia’s case we only accept refugees in the legal sense. Other countries, mainly in Europe also accept people on ‘humanitarian grounds’ (e.g. the UK). That is, they recognise that these people are refugees in reality if not in legalese. The Australian government has not accepted people on ‘humanitarian grounds’ since at least 1982. This is probably one of the things that deters large numbers from trying to get here. They try to get into Europe instead.

    There is also plenty of research demonstrating that if you become a refugee, life is likely to keep on going downhill. You can hardly blame people for wanting to avoid that. Suggesting that Sri Lankan Tamils go to sit out a couple of decades in a camp in India is like saying the poor deserve to be punished.

  77. December 10th, 2007 at 13:23 | #77


    What happended to your stance being supported “by the rest of Australia”? Now downgraded to just the relatively slim 2PP majority at election time? That’s at least a much more realistic assessment.

    You clearly have much in common with the Chinese view on asylum-seekers – send ‘em back. Given your previous liberty in claiming the support of “the rest of Australia” for your views, why not throw in China as well?

  78. John Greenfield
    December 10th, 2007 at 13:28 | #78


    Ah, newsflash, there has been bipartan support for mandatory detention since it was first introduced to Australia by er, er, er, the Keating ALP government, particularly its Socialist Left immigration minister, Gerry Hand.

    So how do you like them apples!?

  79. December 10th, 2007 at 13:28 | #79

    Well put Melanie.

    I don’t mean to pick on you Chris, but I’ve found over the years that people with strong anti-refugee/asylum-seeker views tend to have a very poor grasp of the facts around the issues, particularly the situation in Australia compared to the rest of the world.

  80. December 10th, 2007 at 13:33 | #80

    Thanks John. Very well aware of that, which is why my views won’t change simply because there has been a change of Govt.

    Refugee advocates will continue to press the Govt for changes to the current system. In fact, we may become even a bit more active given the perception that effecting change may be easier now than before.

  81. John Greenfield
    December 10th, 2007 at 13:37 | #81


    No need. The Pacific Solution and Howard’s $1 billion check to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono stopped the people smugglers a couple of years ago now. Time to move on.

  82. jquiggin
    December 10th, 2007 at 14:04 | #82

    So we’re going to dump the Pacific solution and keep on co-operating with Indonesia. If that works, we can take it that the concentration camps* weren’t needed.

    * Since these were a British (or maybe Spanish) invention, I’m not violating Godwin in describing the government’s policies that way.

    The fact that (as with so many of the bad policies of the outgoing government) this policy started under Keating is important to remember, though a bit inconvenient for those who want to represent PK as some kind of slimmer version of Phillip Adams.

  83. John Greenfield
    December 10th, 2007 at 14:14 | #83


    Keating’s vile race and ethnic politics were far too sleazy for that. Besides, Phillip Adams is a crank prattler, who never had the power or responsibilities of power, so who cares what he says?

  84. gerard
    December 10th, 2007 at 14:23 | #84

    If they want to come here, all they need to do is go to the same effort that the rest of us made – simply materialize inside an Aussie womb.

    Why should those of us that did the hard yakka of being concieved in the developed world have to share our hard-earned prosperity with bludgers who only arrived because they went to great personal expense to migrate?

  85. melanie
    December 10th, 2007 at 14:39 | #85

    JG, don’t break out your champagne too soon. Last year there were 6,573 new asylum claims in Australia, just over half the number of 2001. World-wide the number of asylum seekers was down by about 30% on 2001. However the number of refugees has increased again…

  86. December 10th, 2007 at 14:58 | #86


    It’s good to see that at least you can acknowledge that the ‘Pacific Solution’ and dentention centres had nothing to do with the reduced flow of asylum-seekers.

    You’d also agree that we can be rid of them as they’re superfluous to requirements?

  87. rog
    December 10th, 2007 at 16:16 | #87

    There is some confusion over the terms of refugee and asylum seeker, an asylum seeker is one who has yet to be classified as a refugee.

    The UK has at least 10 detention centres, despite some of them being part of prisons they are called ‘accommodation centres’



  88. melanie
    December 10th, 2007 at 19:39 | #88

    rog, where do you find confusion? The distinction between an asylum seeker and a refugee is very clear in the UNHCR reports.

    If someone turns up at the border and claims asylum you are legally obliged to receive the person and investigate the case. This is why ‘detention centres’ were set up, at Port Hedland in the first instance – although there are alternative options such as tagging which the UK has also used.

  89. December 10th, 2007 at 20:22 | #89

    The UK system of “tag & release” during the refugee application process has shortcomings, the nature of which you can all guess.

  90. December 10th, 2007 at 21:07 | #90

    Unlike the wonderful system here that locks people up in prison for 5 years for no particularly good reason.

  91. December 10th, 2007 at 23:13 | #91

    Michael, The five years you refer to is caused by the lawyer industry appealing & appealing & so on at no expense to the asylum seeker.

    Instead of the illegal arrival being deported immediately their claim is found to be bogus.

  92. December 10th, 2007 at 23:30 | #92

    Haven’t you heard about Tony Tran?

    Locked up for 5 years in immigation detention because of a DIMIA ‘stuff up’. His was just one of the ‘stuff ups’ that have occured due to the punative culture that infected DIMIA. And the rot started at the top.

  93. December 11th, 2007 at 00:20 | #93

    “punative” culture eh?

    Tony Tran arrived by leaky boat from Indonesia did he? Lost all his paperwork did he?

    No, there is much to the Tony Tran story, but whatever there is to the Tony Tran story, it is no bearing on illegal surreptitious arrivals on the north coast.

  94. December 11th, 2007 at 01:14 | #94

    That’s the pathetic part. Even with the right papers, this happens. Same Dept., same approach, same outcomes, courstesy of an overall tone best described as politically motivated paranoia.

  95. December 11th, 2007 at 08:52 | #95

    * Since these were a British (or maybe Spanish) invention, I’m not violating Godwin in describing the government’s policies that way.

    So why use the word?

    Because you’re Godwining. Dishonestly.

  96. Katz
    December 11th, 2007 at 10:00 | #96

    Actually, the term “concentration camp” as applied to all but a small number of instances is usually employed incorrectly.

    The term was created by the British to achieve in South Africa the precise purpose encompassed by the word “concentration”.

    Whole Boer families and communities were concentrated geographically within compounds in order to deny their help to the Boer Commando.

    Also implied by the British policy was the threat that if some individual Boer misbehaved then his family may be punished. The policy, therefore, attempted to pre-empt bad behaviour.

    The primary target, therefore, of the policy were not the people within the compound, but rather those who were still free and who were deemed to pose a military threat to the British.

    In that sense, the term “concentration camp” is somewhat apt in the context of the Pacific Solution. The people in Howard’s concentration camps were designed to pre-empt bad behaviour by persons contemplating an illegal entry into Australia by boats destined for certain Australian shorelines.

    The inmates of Howard’s concentraiton camps were therefore being punished for infractions that had not occurred yet.

    Nazi camps never played this function.

  97. December 12th, 2007 at 00:19 | #97

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. And the word “Semitic” means any semitic peoples! So Palestinians can’t be “Anti-Semitic” because they are Semites!

    Everyone reading this knows that the term “concentration camp”, in the minds of 99% of living people, conjures the image of Nazi death camps.

    And that is why Quiggin and the other losers in this thread use the phrase, end of story.

  98. jquiggin
    December 12th, 2007 at 05:29 | #98

    Great to see the libertarian view represented so forcefully, Yobbo. Given the support for Nauru, Gitmo and so on you and others have expressed, I’ll be sure to call them “libertarian camps” from now on.

  99. haiku
    December 12th, 2007 at 05:48 | #99

    An apology to Captain Arne Rinnan, and some sort of Australian award (he’s won a few international ones), might also be an appropriate gesture.

    It might be claimed that in politics you make your own luck, but surely one of Howard’s luckiest days came when Capt Rinnan sailed into view. The risk of turning back a leaky fishing vessel was that hundreds might drown – whereas the Tampa could be treated with appropriate disdain.

    No danger of the MV Tampa sinking; Norway is not the sort of country to respond to the boarding of its ship with retaliatory air strikes; and a nice large deck area for a show of strength with SAS troops.

  100. Katz
    December 12th, 2007 at 06:05 | #100

    Everyone reading this knows that the term “concentration camp�, in the minds of 99% of living people, conjures the image of Nazi death camps.

    Shorter Yobbo: I always go with the first thing that enters my mind. Mmmm, hamburger!!!

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