Yesterday I posted my first, hasty impressions of what I am calling “The Rudd Solution”. The new agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea. The full text is on this link.
Now that I have had a chance to reflect a little and to look at the objections and approvals people have been voicing, here is a summary of my reaction to these objections. Thank you Robyn, Victoria and “Happy Feet Noely” for helping me think things through, from both sides of the argument.
I wrote at the end of yesterday’s post that I felt I was in favour of it. Today’s reaction is still the same.
This is not a “Fact” post. It is an “Opinion” post. A summary of my opinions which have been informed by some facts as I have come across them. Since we, as a nation, have been taught by our Media that Opinion is more important, and possibly sexier than Fact, what follows is up for discussion.
My method while planning this post was to create headings and dot points. I decided to keep that system in the final product as it will be easier for any commenter to reference their comment. I will ignore anyone who simply says, “You are wrong”. I want information. Show me where I am wrong. Try not to be racist or abusive, please.
1) How bad is PNG? One of the major arguments I have been hearing about the “Rudd Solution” is that PNG is a cruel, brutal, disease-ridden country. Let us look at the potential problems one by one.
- ACCOMMODATION:- While the housing on Manus Island is not up to standard at the moment, we are promised that no one will be sent there until the housing is completed and of “family” standard.
- CLIMATE:– Pretty much the same as Indonesia where most of the People Smugglers’ customers have already been resident. And we willingly pay money to go the Bali. While the southern parts of PNG are swampy and jungly, the North coast, from reports I have heard, is a tropical paradise. Avoiding Port Moresby and settling in Rabaul or Lae seem like good options.
- SAFETY:– Speaking of Bali, an Australian apparently dies there every nine days. Yes, there are problems with public order and crime in Papua New Guinea but similar in scale to the problems faced in Indonesia where terrorism seems to be endemic. PNG is certainly safer than the countries from which these people have fled in fear of their lives!
- DISEASE:- This is an interesting one. Dengue Fever has reared its head in Queensland. Malaria can be kept at bay with medication and I have known a number of people who lived in PNG who have never contracted it. Here in Australia we are having severe problems with Ross River Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. There are health risks all over the world
- EARTHQUAKES:– This may appear to be a little flippant at first but they are a reality in PNG. As they are in many of the Middle-Eastern countries refugees flee.
- SETTLEMENT:- Most of the rural land is held by clans which will not be eager to give up their traditional rights. However the majority of refugees, from what I have been able to gather, are urban and so will be looking to settle in towns and cities. Many refugees will have the skills needed to improve the knowledge base within PNG. Doctors, teachers, accountants as well as builders, masons and electricians will all strengthen our nearest Northern Neighbour..
2) How much will it cost? We are already giving $500 Mill/p.a. to PNG. If we assume that all the more than $2 Billion a year being spent on dealing with the “refugee problem” here in Australia will go to our Northern neighbour then there is no extra cost. And the cost will not be increasing year on year. I do have to question point 8 of the agreement. “Australia will provide support, through a service provider, to any refugees who are resettled in Papua New Guinea or in any other participating regional, including Pacific Island state.” Does this mean we will be paying more money to Serco? The people who could not prevent the destruction of the Nauru Detention Centre last night?
3) Family reunions:- This is the big problem I see. Will the families of people already here be permitted to come to Australia? Will there be some people who get caught halfway and then permanently denied re-union?
4) Saving lives:- This has been the major cry from everyone. That the loss of life on People Smuggler’s boats is totally unacceptable. The Greens have demanded that we take all who express a wish to come to Australia as a way of stopping those deaths. The ALP has seemed impotent to do anything constructive while the L-NP and those further to the right have not really cared. Except to use the facts of those deaths to berate an already guilty ALP. By removing arrival in Australia as a sales point for the People Smugglers, the Rudd Solution finally saves lives. I have heard reports of a People Smuggler today bemoaning the fact that he will go out of business. Possibly a few will change their tactics and begin moving refugees across the northern side of the Island Chain directly to PNG. This will be a much safer route if it is done.
5) Is it more humane? Australia will be accepting more people from the UNHCR processing centres in Indonesia. This is precisely what the Greens have been demanding. Once the Smugglers find their income drying up as refugees reject paying for useless trips to Christmas Island, the “Boat People” problem will almost disappear.
6) Is it a Political Solution. I’m sorry people. I have news for you. Of course it is political. So is your $18,000 income tax threshold. So is the GST you pay every day. So are the promises being made about the Roads and Rails around Australia. The questions which need to be asked is, “Will it work?” and “Will it save lives?”. The answers are so much more important than “Will it help one politician or another?”
7) What about Visas to Australia:- With the PNG detention time likely to be much less than Australia’s, refugees coming off Manus Island and into mainstream PNG society they will have options. By becoming PNG citizens they will gain passports and the ability to legally move to international destinations. It may even be possible for them to migrate to Australia either as economic migrants or as 457 visa holders. Now THAT is a karmic prospect which attracts me!
COULD IT BE THAT Kevin Rudd and Tony Burke have found a way, not to “turn the boats back” but to Stop The Boats before they sail? News Ltd seems to think so – “Rudd’s decision will stop the boats, Afghan asylum seekers declare”
John Menadue OA has also given the Rudd Solution limited approval as it seems to tick all the boxes the High Court found were not ticked by the Malaysia Solution. He concludes, “The RSA has been obviously negotiated quickly. As PM Rudd said ‘many other steps lie ahead’. But this arrangement with PNG based on burden-sharing is a much more promising approach than the recent nonsense about amending the Refugee Convention and describing increasing number of refugees as really only ‘economic migrants’. A key test for the RSA must be – does it provide effective protection?”