Monday, July 08, 2002

Australia has an immigration policy that works in our interest, is supported by the overwhelming majority of the electorate, all major political parties, and is beginning to be copied around the world. It delivers better and faster outcomes than the UN for almost all asylum seekers who enter illegally.

A tiny minority of asylum seekers do not meet our generous refugee qualifications, and are refused refugee status. When they refuse to return to their country of origin, they stay here in detention, until they choose to return, or are deported. Over the years, the number of people refusing to return has accumulated because of the lengthy appeals process, and the unwillingness of the Australian Government to be seen to be returning people to hostile regimes.

One of the reasons Australia maintains a policy of mandatory detention is that illegal immigrants will melt into the general population, because Australian is almost unique among developed nations in not requiring our citizens to carry ID cards. We sort of had an election about it in 1987, but the whole deal ended up being dropped on a technicality. Without a national ID system, and given that Australia has an overseas-born population of about 30%, there is little chance of police finding illegal immigrants in the millions of immigrants that we have welcomed legally.

Today's Australian newspaper demonstrates that on this subject they are now pandering to their personal beliefs, and an unrealistic view of the border protection issue. They are seriously proposing that the citizens of Australia be required to carry ID cards, in order to more easily identify illegal immigrants attempting to access Social Security benefits, employment and banking services. They claim the Pacific Solution, where boat people are diverted to detention on neighbouring Pacific Island nations, costs too much. No figures are provided for the money cost on organising, producing and enforcing a reliable identity card for almost 20 million people, give or take a few. Not even a mention of the civil liberties concerns or fraud. There is a pretence that this would only be required by asylum seekers, but there is no way for the system to function without universal application.

And particularly, no justification why citizens should be forced to compromise their liberties, to combat potential crime committed by non-citizens. Now be fully aware, this does not relate to anyone who has arrived here legally, or even illegally, and been found to be a refugee. This is about people here without permission, and who have been found to not meet the requirements of a system that is two or three times more generous than the UN's.

To expect the citizens of a law-abiding, liberal democracy to accept restrictions on our lives, because of the illegal actions of non-citizens, and then to justify this as some kind of obligation on our part, towards people who have done nothing to deserve it, and are due no further entitlements from their host country, is absolutely outrageous.

It turns the idea of citizens' obligations on its head, and expands the range of people to whom Australians must provide support to an infinite number. There is no restriction that can't be implemented in the name "compassion", especially when the definition is a moveable feast.

There is only one question that need be asked is "in this to the benefit of our citizens"? And if the answer is not sufficient, then out it goes.

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