Asylum Seekers: A User's Guide


Whenever Australia finds itself in the throes of a wild orgy of intense policy debate, the average person frequently finds himself — or, more rarely, herself — thinking deeply about the issues, wrestling internally with his own conscience, and then looking up with a plaintive cry of "What?"

The current hoo-ha over asylum seekers is such an occasion. Just like the GST, the Republic, World War II and Mark Latham, people’s fears are generally based upon nothing but ignorance of the true facts.

After all, modern immigration policy is a complicated matter, right? It’s not like the old White Australia days, when all you needed in order to grasp the niceties of citizenship was a Gaelic-English dictionary and a bottomless well of inner loathing. These days there are sensitivities and complexities and strange, unnerving skin colours to navigate.

It is high time somebody explained the issues in simple, everyday language so that people’s fears can develop and find their proper bases in genuine, informed hatred and prejudice, as has happened in enlightened societies throughout history. It will not surprise any of my regular readers to learn that I am just that somebody.

Firstly, you are no doubt wondering: What Is An Asylum Seeker?

This is a relatively simple question. An asylum seeker is a person who travels from one country to another in an attempt to find a better life.

Asylum seekers can be roughly divided into two groups: those genuinely fleeing persecution; and those who are in fact wealthy aristocrats simply looking to exploit the second country’s generosity by going on welfare and/or blowing everyone up. The latter group can be identified by their shifty eyes, unusual clothing, and habit of flouncing about the place in large, petrol-sodden boats, whereas the former can be identified by the fact you never actually see them because they died in a camp in Sudan.

Of course, there is a third category — terrorists — but as Wilson "The Great Communicator" Tuckey points out, these are so plentiful among asylum seekers there’s really no point calling them a "category". Pretty much every asylum seeker is a potential terrorist, as is every Green, every civil libertarian and every stand-up comedian in Melbourne. But after all, as they say, one man’s terrorist is another man’s innocent taxi driver having his fingernails pulled out in Cairo, and we don’t go around rejecting asylum seekers because they might one day blow things up. We reject them because they might one day build a mosque next to the shops.

The next question you need answered because you are ignorant and dull is this: Why Do Asylum Seekers Want To Come Here?

This is a complex question. The short answer is: Because they are freeloading scum; but there is a risk of over-simplification here.

The long answer, however, is very boring and involves a lot of guff about the United Nations and geopolitical conditions and ethnic cleansing and other stuff that is boring to start with and can just ruin your day the more you know about it. So let’s just say that asylum seekers want to come here due to a combination of "push" factors and "pull" factors.

A push factor is something that forces one out of their country, and a pull factor something that makes another country attractive. For example, if I decided to move to Switzerland, a pull factor would be the fondue and the ice skating, and a push factor would be David Koch. Or, for a more serious refugee, a push factor would be a man with a machete running at you screaming, and a pull factor would be strict anti-machete laws.

Let us take the current case of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers currently holed up in their boat in Indonesia, hunger striking away. Now these people are Tamils, an ethnic group from Sri Lanka notable for three things: an ancient and beautiful culture stretching back two millennia; champion international "bowler" Muthiah Muralidaran; and the Tamil Tigers, a group of fierce warriors named for their savage bomb attacks and thick striped fur. In the case of these Tamils, the "push" factor is the Sri Lankan government’s harsh crackdown on their people, persecuting and herding the Tamils into horrendous internment camps, where they live in degrading conditions like common mental patients.

The "pull" factor, on the other hand, is of course the Rudd Government’s border protection laws, passed in 2008, which state specifically that any foreign national can live in Australia rent-free and with full dental cover if they:

a) make landfall on any shore within an 800 mile radius of Broome;
b) have comprehensive identifying documents, or an entertaining story as to how they lost them;
c) promise under oath to sew their lips together or give a convincing impression of psychological distress if not allowed in, and;
d) are not actually carrying an improvised explosive device at the time of interview.

The laws also state that any asylum seeker shall be granted access to massive Centrelink payments drawn directly from the bank accounts of pensioners and disabled war veterans, and that they have the right to force local primary schools to tear down Christmas decorations at any time.

So in many ways these laws are more lax than the Howard government’s, which merely stated that anyone claiming refugee status in Australia would be immediately dispatched to Nauru, where they would be devoured by Philip Ruddock’s pet pig Abraham. One can understand why a desperate Tamil would see Rudd’s Australia as an attractive proposition, especially given the recent ATO ruling allowing deductions for suicide bombers.

So, What Are The Politicians Doing? Glad you asked.

The purpose of asylum seeker policy, of course, is to prevent anybody claiming asylum, and to that end the current government has really "gotten tough" on the issue. Prime Minister Rudd himself has gone on the record repeatedly as making no apology, and this is a good start. There is no good in having a leader who goes around making apologies: people smugglers see this as a sign of weakness. It’s not really important what the non-apology is for, or whether he is actually doing anything he needs to apologise for — the important thing is that he doesn’t apologise, and keeps on not apologising. It’s pretty much Statesmanship 101, as seen in this instructive example:

Leftist ABC Journalist:
So, Mr Prime Minister, how do you plan to address the growing inequity in Australian society?
Kevin Rudd: I make no apology.
Leftist ABC Journalist: (Speechless in admiration.)

On the other hand, Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals think Rudd should apologise, not least for his rudeness and general lack of respect, inasmuch as he is still Prime Minister, and says he plans to keep on being Prime Minister, even after they asked him nicely not to be.

The Liberals, of course, have a very strong strategic policy on how to stop the asylum seekers coming to our shores, revolving around the twin pillars of firstly, definitely not doing what Labor is doing, and secondly, running about in circles squealing incoherently. This second pillar is well-illustrated by the figure of Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston, whose fretting about refugee-transmitted foot and mouth disease devastating Western Australia must have really laid down the gauntlet to Tuckey. What will he come up with to top that? Sri Lankan mind-control rays? Tamils turn you gay? Who knows? That’s the beauty of the Coalition, they’re always wrongfooting you with their loveable antics. And as they say, a disoriented country is a secure country.

The important thing is, our political superiors have the matter well in hand. There’s no doubt they will continue to take firm decisive action to sort the desirable from the undesirable, the honest from the malevolent, the potential terrorist from the possible Olympic high-jumper.

So, if I may sum up the general thrust of my guide to asylum seekers, it is this: don’t worry. Although it is perfectly natural for decent Christian Australians to harbour certain rational fears about asylum seekers consuming our resources and raping us on the train, we have stringent procedures in place to ensure that these things do not come to pass, procedures that take into account the needs of all parties, so that anyone fleeing oppression can be confident that they will be sent to live out their lives homeless in Indonesia in the most compassionate manner possible.

And you can be confident that, armed with the facts and a full comprehension of the situation, you can then safely and securely ignore it entirely.

I mean, it’s not like you’re ever going to meet these people, is it?

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.