Was the Pacific solution necessary ?

As the cruel policy of mandatory detention is gradually relaxed (though we should remember that Nauru is still holding prisoners on our behalf), it’s worth considering the claim that the policy was necessary in the crisis situation of 2001, and can be relaxed now because of the Howard government’s border protection measures. To respond to this, it’s necessary to consider what would have happened if we had pursued a different policy, without reliance on mandatory detention or exploiting our neighbours as prison camps.

As an alternative, I’ll consider the option of seeking to discourage boat arrivals through negotiation with Indonesia, and using a system akin to bail, in which only asylum-seekers judged to be at risk of absconding would be subject to detention.

What can we say about this policy? First, the large flow of refugees that caused the crisis in 2001 would have ended anyway, because the fall of the Taliban regime greatly reduced both the flow of refugees from Afghanistan (in fact, many went back) and the chance of making a successful claim. Similarly, although it appears that there is still a net flow out of Iraq, the fall of Saddam has made it very difficult for Iraqis to claim political asylum. It seems reasonable to suppose that we could have obtained the co-operation of the Indonesian authorities with a commitment of diplomatic and financial resources no greater than that required for the Pacific solution, though of course without the kind of instant compliance available from a dependent client like Nauru.

Overall, I’d guess that an alternative policy would have resulted in perhaps 10 000 more boat arrivals, and maybe a similar number of people arriving in other ways. Given that the direct cost of the Pacific solution has been estimated at $500 million, that means that the cost of deterrence is about $25 000 per person, or $100 000 for a family of four. Of course the moral cost of the crimes committed in our name, and with our electoral endorsement is far greater.

60 thoughts on “Was the Pacific solution necessary ?

  1. Jack Strocchi, Stalin’s policies were not good for the proximate purpose of strengthening the Red Army against a Wehrmacht attack. In fact they weakened it almost to the point of disintegration in the time scale involved, though they might have eventually made it stronger on a longer time scale than history in fact allowed.

    However, that was not Stalin’s proximate purpose for the Red Army; he wanted it loyal first, strong second – and this he achieved even in the short term.

    For what it is worth, the informal structure – unwriten constitution – of the USSR rested on the interplay of the communist party, the KGB under its various names, and the Red Army; other elements were not significant while this balance endured. All these elements were artificially created and relied on Stalin type or Augustus type control to keep them in a sort of bicycle balance by central control; that is, mild instability, sufficiently small not to overwhelm the central rebalancing effort and detract from other central efforts but responsive to changes of direction with no natural inertia resisting them.

    This sort of balance has applied elsewhere in history, notably in muslim Spain when it was united, but it is not the same as the interplay that underlay the stability of the Westminster System, which proceeded naturally (in a technical sense of “naturally”) from social developments, so they did not require routine central rebalancing. That underpinning has now passed from the Westminster System wherever it is currently in use.

  2. Katz Says: June 25th, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    I think Jack Strocchi’s analysis misses both the big picture and the small picture. It is difficult to compare the ALP ofthe 1950s with the ALP of today. It is even more difficult to compare Menzies’ Libs with Howard’s Libs.

    Maybe so. Here for once I do not claim to have all the answers. But there is something underway – a the partisan re-alignment of the AUS polity, which I referred to a little while back as “the Great Convergence”. Shanahan has also cottoned on to it in todays Australian.

    Its not a replica of Menzies Australia – the Catholic DLP is gone which removes the sectarian element. But it is suprisingly similar given recent statements by the L/NP on political economy and the ALP on political culture.

    We have a new Cold War of sorts emerging, with the Anglosphere aligned against jihadist powers in all shapes and forms. There is not alot of daylight between the major parties on that issue on political-culture: identity and civility policy. There is also considerable major party consensus on consensus on political-economy: fiscal, financial and industrial policy. There is a bit of a dispute on national security, but this cuts accross, rather than along, party lines.

    The LN/P have become economicly Wetter, as I suggested two years ago and Pr Q later concurred. The ALP has become culturally Drier (as everyone now concedes) and the expat Wets in the DEMs and the ALP have shrivelled up and died or returned home to the LP in 2004. (I cant say I am sorry about that.)

    The plates started to shift when Hewson’s Eco-Rat and Keatings Pee-Cee got the boot in 1993 and 1996. The change started to take formal shape when Hanson burst on the scene in 1998 which more or less put an end to the NFF’s influence on the Coalition. Then “Bomber Beazley” started to act like the born-again moral-equator-of-re-armament that his father was. Finally, Howard started to tax-and-spend like a drunken sailor on leave. His-hatefulness’ monomaniacal centralism is another hearkening back to Menzies.

    So there is some kind of (crypto) late-Menzies nationalist-statist partisan realignment occurring at the Federal level, which is being counter-valed by the complete hegemony of the ALP at the state level. Somethings up but I havent yet come up with a Grand Unifying Theory to explain it. Any suggestions?

  3. Well, I have nothing to say, except that there are so many ugly Australians in this world.

  4. When Hitler broke the pact and invaded Russia it was said that Stalin spent 6 weeks in bed – in a state of shock – there was no direction given. Contrary to popular belief Stalin did not use the pact to buy time to strengthen the military. Reports tabled at 1941 Party Conference show a country being plunged into economic chaos by his failed policies. This chaos would made invasion attractive to the Germans and the failure of the Red Army to prevent this was Stalins fault entirely.

  5. It has also been suggested that Stalin had in mind attacking first, and had everything structured that way around with no plans for the alternative that actually happened. We cannot know, but that too would account for much of the moral effect on the USSR and its leadership.

  6. My thoughts entirely Hal 90000 and Mick M. On the whole, what a thoroughly depressing read this thread is. Lets hope that none of you lot ever need the services of a lifeboat, or a good samaritan

    If Wet and Luvvie are the condescending terms for a person who believes in a ‘fair go’, and believe we are judged by the way we care for children, all children, then I’ll wear them with pride!

    If you believe that locking up people behind razor wire for years, guarded by the sort of people that dealt with Cornelia Rau; that crowding out our already much needed mental health beds for weeks at a time; that costing tax-payers hundreds of millions of dollars, when most have been now been designated ‘refugee’ and granted visas (but now with the probability of an ongoing mental illness), and in sending our good name down the toilet in the process, is good policy, then you’ve lost me!!

    PS If you think Menzies would have soiled his hands and despoiled his good name with such grubby tactics, then you didn’t witness him trolling round 1950’s Great Briton, dressed up a treat as Warden of the Cinque Ports, my word he was a sight!

  7. It has also been suggested that Stalin had in mind attacking first, and had everything structured that way around with no plans for the alternative that actually happened.

    A controversial view enthusiastically promoted by one Viktor Suvorov, KGB defector, amateur historian and popular author. Interesting read…

  8. Razor wrote:

    “Your views do not represent the majority of the Australian population.

    Kind Regards


    But Razor did not explain why a majority is always right, without any consideration of the facts, nor did Razor manage to counter any of the argtuments I put forward. I would characterise this as ‘mindless sniping’ – nothing “kind” about it. Why not come back, Razor, and explain why Mandatory Detention and the so-called Pacific Solution are humane or make any economic sense, as in giving us good value for money. I would really like to see that. Give it to us, Razor.

    Willy Bach

  9. WB, I think Razor was challenging your claim to speak on behalf of the Australian people, not the claim to be right (which, as you say, rests on other things – though you don’t have the chance to go into those). I’m pretty sure you tried to avoid that, using the pronoun “I” as much as possible, but the penultimate paragraph of the body of your letter starrts to make presumptions on behalf of the Australian people.

    In fact, there’s one in particular there I would want qualified: I don’t give a damn about the opprobrium of the rest of the world. But that’s because I respond to my conscience in these matters, not to peer pressure or bullying. The opinion of the rest of the world has sod all to do with it any more than your own measuring of the Australian majority. I for one wouldn’t take kindly to swapping one biassed assessment for another, one that doesn’t even err in our favour.

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