Julian Burnside AO QC

The reality of boat people and a solution to the asylum seeker “problem”

scott morrison boat people
(AAP Image/Alan Porritt)

The treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by boat has been one of the most divisive political issues in Australia’s recent political history.

It is worth knowing a few facts.

First, asylum seekers arrive in Australia by two paths. They may come by plane or by boat.

Those who come by plane must have travel documents from their country of origin, and a visa to enter Australia; if not, they are then put on a plane back to their point of embarkation, at the expense of the airline that brought them in. Asylum seekers who arrive by plane typically have a short-term visa (study, tourism, business) but when they clear passport control in Australia apply for asylum. When their original visa expires (typically, in a matter of months) they are allowed to remain in the community on a bridging visa while their asylum claim is resolved.

About 40 percent of this group are ultimately accepted as refugees.

Those who come by boat suffer several disadvantages. First, they come from countries that make it difficult or impossible for them to get travel documents. Second, they come from countries where it is practically impossible for them to get a visa to enter Australia. They come to Australia by boat because they can’t come by plane. The durable myth that they come by boat because they are rich is not only false – it is logically absurd. Why would a rich person pay to risk their life at sea? Typically, these people travel to Malaysia or Indonesia on forged papers. They do not pass through countries that have signed the UNHCR Refugee Convention, so their position is very precarious when their people smuggler takes back the dodgy travel documents. From that time, if they are found, they are liable to be jailed, or sent back to the country that has been persecuting them. Asylum seekers who get to Indonesia live in perpetual fear of detection.

In Indonesia, asylum seekers can go to the UNHCR office and seek refugee status. Those who are assessed as refugees may wait 20 or 30 years before they are offered a place in a safe country. In the meantime they cannot get jobs, and their kids cannot go to school, for fear of detection. In countries that have not signed the Refugee Convention, they are truly “illegal”. Not surprisingly, some of them – those with initiative and courage – place themselves in the hands of people smugglers, commit themselves to a dangerous boat trip, and end up in Australia.

Over the past 20 years, more than 90 percent of boat people have ultimately been assessed as refugees and are legally entitled to protection. The tragic irony of their position is that they are the focus of political attack, while the larger number of plane arrivals create hardly a ripple of concern.

The majority view – to which both major parties have tried to pander in the last few years – is that boat people who come to Australia seeking asylum are “illegals”, “queue-jumpers” and a threat to Australia’s borders, and thus to our sovereignty. This is the direct result of dishonest statements by Coalition governments: first the Howard government and now the Abbott government. But although it is Coalition governments who have actively lied about boat people, Labor has never – in opposition or in government – contradicted the lies.

By fostering these false views of boat people (or, at least, by not contradicting them) both major parties have succeeded in whipping up a kind of hysteria in the Australian electorate. The narrative started with “illegals” and “queue-jumpers”, then it matured to “smashing the people smugglers’ business model”, and finally evolved to “Operation Sovereign Borders” under the control of a military commander. From that point on, news about boat arrivals was restricted as “an operational matter”.

A promise to “stop the boats” fairly swiftly became a process of stopping information about the boats.

It is worth noting the trajectory of the public debate: people escaping horrors of a sort we can scarcely imagine are tagged as criminals; then the wickedness of the people smugglers is invoked to stir righteous indignation; and finally we have gone onto a spurious war footing, ostensibly to “protect” the country  – and now we shroud the whole thing in language calculated to make the public think asylum seekers are dangerous criminals. The truth is that they are frightened people looking for protection: often enough, protection from our enemies!

It is interesting that the public (or at least a working majority of the public) accepted without hesitation the tags applied to asylum seekers. This, despite the fact that boat people are not “illegals”: coming to Australia the way they do to seek protection is not an offence against any law. To the contrary, seeking asylum is a right promised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a document Australia helped create, and to which we are a signatory.

In 2001, and again in 2012, Australia implemented a system of “warehousing” refugees in Manus Island (part of PNG) and Nauru. The so-called Pacific Solution is designed, ostensibly, to protect refugees from the perils of the sea. It does this, rather perversely, by waiting until refugees arrive safely in Christmas Island and then transports them, against their will, to Manus or Nauru. At present, people sent to those places are being processed at the rate of about two per year. The slowness of the processing is a reflection of two things. First, Manus and Nauru have no experience in refugee processing, so they had to set up the legal and system infrastructure. Second, Australia is explicitly pursuing a policy of deterrence: life in detention in Manus or Nauru is being made as harsh and prolonged as possible to maximise the deterrent effect. The theory is, apparently, that if we are cruel enough to people who have escaped persecution, others will prefer to stand and face their persecutors.

Like most refugee advocates, I am not opposed to the concept of off-shore processing: it all depends on what that means. The refugee movement is about resettlement in a safe place. From the refugee’s point of view, it does not much matter where the processing takes place. But the processing has to be fair and efficient, and resettlement has to be swift.

In the late 1970s, off-shore processing in Malaysia met these criteria. While refugees undertook a dangerous boat voyage from Vietnam to Malaysia, they were processed in Malaysia and resettled swiftly. This, despite the fact that Malaysia has not signed the Refugee Convention. But a group of Western nations, including Australia, undertook the task of helping clean up the mess left after the end of the war in Vietnam and the genocide in Cambodia. At the time the coalition Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, managed to enlist the support of Gough Whitlam, the leader of the Labor Party. As a consequence, Australia received around 25,000 Indo-Chinese refugees each year for a few years. It caused no discernible social trouble.

How different it is today, with both major parties scoring political points by inciting, then harnessing xenophobia. What we call off-shore processing now is a different thing altogether. The Federal election campaign of 2013 was the first time in Australia’s political history that the two major political parties have tried to out-bid each other in their promises to be cruel to a particular group of human beings.

While the real problem is that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is profoundly immoral, it needs to be borne in mind that it costs us about $5 billion a year to behave so badly. If we were to treat boat people decently, it would cost about 10 percent of that amount.

If I could re-design the system, it would look something like this:

  • Boat-arrivals would be detained initially for one month, for preliminary health and security checks, subject to extension if a court was persuaded that a particular individual should be detained longer;
  • After initial detention, they would be released into the community, with the right to work, Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
  • They would be released into the community on terms calculated to make sure they remained available for the balance of their visa processing;
  • During the time their visa applications were being processed, they would be required to live in specified regional cities. Any government benefits they received would thus work for the benefit of the regional economy. There are plenty of towns around the country that would welcome an increase in their population.

Let us make some bold assumptions. Let’s assume that the spike in arrivals that we saw in 2012 became the new norm (highly unlikely); and let’s assume that every asylum seeker remained on Centrelink benefits (also highly unlikely: they are highly motivated). It would cost us about $500 million a year. We would save $4.5 billion a year by treating them decently. And the $500 million would be spent in the struggling economies of regional towns and cities.

Not only is Australia wasting vast amounts of money to mistreat refugees, it is damaging its international reputation. While we pride ourselves as a generous, laid-back country that embraces the ideal of a fair go, we are seen overseas as selfish and cruel.

It is a tragedy for Australia that its international reputation is being so damaged.

It is a tragedy that most of us do not realise how badly both major parties are behaving.

It is a tragedy that we are so wantonly damaging people who are brave and motivated and who could make an immense contribution to Australia’s future.


Julian Burnside AO QC

Julian Burnside is a barrister based in Melbourne. He specialises in commercial litigation. He joined the Bar in 1976 and took silk in 1989. He acted for the Ok Tedi natives against BHP, for Alan Bond in fraud trials, for Rose Porteous in numerous actions against Gina Rinehart, and for the Maritime Union of Australia in the 1998 waterfront dispute against Patrick Stevedores. He was Senior Counsel assisting the Australian Broadcasting Authority in the “Cash for Comment” inquiry and was senior counsel for Liberty Victoria in the Tampa litigation. He is a former President of Liberty Victoria, and has acted pro bono in many human rights cases, in particular concerning the treatment of refugees. He is passionately involved in the arts. He collects contemporary paintings and sculptures and regularly commissions music. He is Chair of Fortyfive Downstairs, a not for profit arts and performance venue in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, and Chair of Chamber Music Australia. He is the author of a book of essays on language and etymology, Wordwatching (Scribe, 2004) and Watching Brief, (Scribe, 2007) a collection of his essays and speeches about the justice system and human rights. He compiled a book of letters written by asylum seekers held in Australia’s detention camps. The book, From Nothing to Zero was published in 2003 by Lonely Planet. He also wrote Matilda and the Dragon a children’s book published by Allen & Unwin in 1991. In 2004 he was elected as a Living National Treasure. In 2009 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. He is married to artist Kate Durham.

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  3. Indo dreaming said:

    That would all be fine if there was a limited number of refugees seeking refuge, but there is not there is over 60 million refugees in the world and the only reason we do not see a greater number is because of our policy that deters.

    If we had policy that did not deter, we would see a huge increase in numbers as we have seen in Europe, this would see all kinds of issues/problems arising with people trying to enter Australia, security issues, quarantine issues, criminals exploiting the avenue and lack of border control.

    Not to mention there is all kinds of issues associated with migration of large numbers of people, housing, social problems, environmental etc.

    The best solution is to have one system where any refugee can apply for resettlement at an Australian embassy, and doesn’t need a passport or thousands of dollars to travel and pay people smugglers.

    We have the system in place, the problem is when people believe they can by pass this system and that they deserve processing priory because they have the money to travel and pay people smugglers.

  4. Politically Incorrect said:

    The elephant in the room is this. Since Europeans ended Colonialism the countries they once ruled with stable government and sound economies have turned to s++t. The people in these countries are running to the European countries to once again live under their stable rule. It seems the best way to resolve all migrant problems including the one currently unfolding in Italy is to take back control of these countries.

  5. The Borger Club said:

    This just means that their residence is in these towns and they have to work in these towns. It is a great idea because many of these rural and remote areas really need more workers eg. they need more doctors.

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  7. Thekla said:

    Please provide proof for all you assertions ‘Not Getting it’ and how it directly relates to boat arrivals (very appropriate name by the way!).

  8. Thekla said:

    Kuma Burnside ‘designed’ his suggestions for asylum seekers long before the 6 month wait was ever proposed (you may have noticed that that is a VERY recent development and has not even been passed yet).
    The reason he suggests this is that they would have some funds to spend in local towns and in so doing benefit those places, and this could help stimulate their economies, not deplete them as the current system is doing.
    The current system is costing billions and frankly no one benefits except the companies who run the detention centres.
    No one is suggesting looking after new arrivals at the expense of our own citizens – Burnside is suggesting sensible alternatives where many can benefit.

    Also you might need to read the parliament website on why they arrive without documents:

  9. VANSK said:

    Being required to live in a certain area doesn’t prevent someone leaving it for short periods, it is not the same as imprisonment.

  10. VANSK said:

    Abominable nature of the budget aside, you’re saying you’d prefer to sell 10 paddocks to buy a horse?

  11. Tashi Witekauha said:

    The Howard Government started the whole story with the famous slogan “Children overboard” to win an election and villainize the Labor party. I don’t even have to post a reference to it as everyone remembers it as clear as day. And it worked, they then enforced the issue through several elections to the sorry state that it is today. Yes, Labor did not contradict the Liberal Lie. Oh and you should read your references carefully. Your research is utter crap. The only thing you got right is the fact that the references you have posted have absolutely no relevance to the issue at hand. But if you need a reference here have this one


  12. Kuma said:

    Its interesting that under the new budget a person who has been gainfully employed and contributed to the countries economy by paying tax will have to wait 6 months for benefits yet under Mr Burnsides plan a person who comes here without prior contribution and after 1 month get entitlements. It is important to look after our own population before looking after the needs of an alternate. It would also be a major jump in cost to provide enough people and infrastructure to manage the security and identification checks with in 30 days of people arriving without travel documents. I dont want to refuse the refugee status of any one who genuinely needs our support as a nation but lets not sell the paddock to buy a horse.

  13. KateandMatt said:

    It is not ALWAYS australia’s problem you idiot – Australia takes less asylum seekers than any other country who signed to this global agreement.

  14. Chris said:

    I don’t think that is more accurate, if you think the correlation is coincidence you would need to show some external factors which reduced arrival numbers after the introduction of the pacific solution, which also increased numbers after the pacific solution is removed and then again show why the arrivals reduced when Labour introduced the PNG solution.

    The problem is this pattern does not correlate with demand for asylum. If you have some other data which shows this pattern is correlated to an external force please share.

  15. Drew Wolfendale said:

    It would be more accurate to say that government policy follows pressures from boat arrivals. Notice how the pacific solution was introduced at the end of the splurge there?

  16. Somon said:

    You live in a country that already requires certain migrant categories to live in regional cities.

  17. Notgettingitbecauseyoureafool said:

    Are you being a troll? Because you’re entire comment is uneducated, imbecilic nonsense. You clearly don’t know the facts and clearly didn’t read this article thoroughly. What criminals are you talking about? Because I guarantee there are more white Anglo-saxon criminals already residing in this country (that are Australian citizens) who don’t pay taxes themselves. Research has shown that migrants, particularly refugees, are a benefit to the economy not a hindrance. Your comments are repulsive.

  18. Not getting it said:

    Why the hell sahould we pay them centerlink paymments when they gave paid zero tax in this country, send the bastards back to were they came from, use the aid money to help homeless Aussies adn those on age and disability pensions.
    If the leftest wankers wnat these people let in, then they can house/feed amd pay for their medical treatments when needed the rest of Australia don’t want these crimminals, we don’t need rapists and pedophiles coming into the country and yes, some of them are pedophiles as the have sex with their ten year old brides all because their imaganary god tells them they can.

  19. James said:

    “They would be required to live in specified regional towns and cities” I live in a country without guards stopping the free movement of people. I live in a country that doesn’t have second class citizens that aren’t allowed the same freedoms as others. Unless you somehow identified these people (do you propose prison-like uniforms?), then they would just leave for the big city if they wanted to – or would you have ‘border’ checks to keep them in? I know we have fences to keep them in now but don’t replace that with something as demeaning as this suggestion. If they are allowed into society, they should be allowed in like the rest of us.

  20. Be Nice said:

    This article is so true. People may be alive but mentally they could be gone.

  21. sighrd said:

    “Labour created the lie”? What are you trying to get at. Your opening statement suggests Labour were the first to demonize boat people, then you accuse them of being part of a global socialist conspiracy to promote mass migration and multiculturalism, which is it? Then you compound this with talk of global socialist conspiracies and as proof you provide three sources that make no mention of the Australian Labour Party at all. Anywhere. May I politely suggest that in future you tighten up your case with a little more research and a more credible argument before accusing others of “tainted misinformed B/S”.

  22. Chris said:

    “Julian provides a humane solution.”

    Yes humane in some ways but soft border protection has a large correlation with boat arrivals and thus deaths at sea.

    “Your suggestion isn’t realistic. Processing isn’t going to be done near their country of origin.”

    But it is the best option so we should try work towards it, we can help by giving substantial aid as well as by increasing our intake.

    “What part of ‘they are fleeing’ do you know understand?”

    He said ‘closer to’ not ‘in’, please try to be less rude.

  23. Chris said:

    I wish I had one, the Malaysian example after the Vietnam war sounds amongst the best. I would also be OK with flying them in as well, but I am not sure that would work.

    If tough border protection stops people making the dangerous crossing then I see this as a choice between two bad options. One which makes us look and feel bad by putting people in horrible camps, another which make us look at feel good but at the cost of hundreds of lives. Whilst both result in human misery I do at this point prefer the first option.

  24. jman said:

    Maybe I shouldn’t have included the last paragraph, but if I may, how does it make sense? If they’re fleeing their country because of religious, political, or any of kind of persecution, those issues don’t stop automatically when you get a new passport and you return to your home country (which even if you are seeing family is a holiday).
    Example Scenario:::…Arghh…I will persecute you now, but before I do, can I see your passport…oh, I’m so sorry you have an Australian passport, I didn’t know…you’re free to go now. Silly I know, but I hope it gets my point across

  25. Hakuna Matata said:

    It is one think knowing the law and another thing to implement it. I don’t know how u came with those figures ($billion & the 10% of that), I think it is not as easy as u may think. I like the idea of speeding up the process, however, that depends on a lot of other factors which u have not even mentioned here as if it is done by robotics. secondly, u haven’t included UNHCR or regional countries into the equation and yet without them many people will continue to risk their lives in these dangerous seas. Release these people into the community after a month probably will make Australia the first country to do that since there is no country in the world which doesn’t that, keeping in mind the number of people who will be coming and the processing time. Then u sound as if u are a labor sympathizer when u said it is the liberal and that the only crime labor has committed is not exposing the problems, that is wrong unless Ur reading from another page. However, i don’t think there is any country which does it better in the world even if the media wants u to believe that Australia is bad at it. I agree with u that it should be humane because no one deserves to be treated inhumane and i personally do not agree with what the major parties have been doing when it comes to the issue of asylum seekers.

  26. Ren17 said:

    I feel like you have completely missed the point of the article and the quote you have chosen. Also, if you are going to try and rebut an argument I would generally suggest to use more credible sources than Wikipedia and the daily mail.

  27. gotadollarmate said:

    “But although it is Coalition governments who have actively lied about boat people, Labor has never – in opposition or in government – contradicted the lies.” – this had to be the biggest load of twaddle I’ve ever read!!!!!

    labor created the lie! they did it as part of their new labor movement to promote mass multiculturalism in their conquest for global socialism in doing so they’ve actively enouraged mass immigration on all levels and sent out search parties to 3rd world countries encouraging mass immigration to the west



    “ummm this article is a brittish one and has nothing to do with australia i hear you all say?”

    both the australian and british labor parties are members of socialist international and meet with other such governments from around the world to share and implement policies in a conquest for world socialism and multiculturalism is one such policy, (which is why we’ve seen such a flood of new immigrants in recent years)


    on a more personal note to the author: if your going to type such pollitically correct left misinformed slander at least do your research first so you dont pollute others with your tainted misinformed B/S

  28. Akira Lasker said:

    If you had read the article, you would see that Burnside’s solution actually costs LESS than what it would take to keep these individuals out of the country with our current off-shore processing. The savings could be spent on the struggling Australian citizens that you mention.

  29. Marie said:

    Then try to think of a better option yourself Chris! The nature of the situation means that there will never be a perfect solution Though of course, I would love you to prove me wrong. Julian’s option, while ignoring potential issues with culture and assimilation in regional areas, is otherwise a very good humane option, and probably the most reasonable out there. Unfortunately, the only way to stop these people from losing their lives at sea is by performing some miracle to stop them being persecuted/tortured/killed in their own country, and we all saw how badly that went in Afghanistan! These people are not idiots; they know the risks associated with coming by sea, and they have chosen, with the tiniest of free-will left to them, to take that risk rather than face what they must face at home. Without changing the situation in their country of origin, the best we can do is to offer them protection once they arrive, or go patrol the ocean and collect them en-route.

  30. Rainer the cabbie said:


    So you reckon indonesia will be happy to become a dumping ground for refugees that want to ultimately be in Australia?

    The Indonesians are pretty unhappy in the way things are up to today, I don’t think they are willing to become the southern hemispheres processing centre. The other thing you ignore are the conditions of refugee centres in Indonesia right now which are run and operated with typical third world standard.

    You are right, it has become apolitical issue but this can be fought by making it a human issue and presenting the truth instead of the propaganda we have had in the past. A thousand voices can be louder than a thousand daily telegraphs or the lonely and misguided voice of a minister for immigration.

  31. Marfi said:

    Cooperate with Indonesia (instead of pissing them off) & Malaysia to set up processing centres there. Then no-one needs to get onto a boat. If they are in Indonesia (to get onto a boat) anyway, why not? Or what about allowing people to claim asylum at the airport?

    The despicable LNP had made this such a political issue that it can never go back to not being political, not in the short-term anyway.

  32. Karl said:

    Sorry Marfi I have to disagree with you. Julian provides a humane solution. Your suggestion isn’t realistic. Processing isn’t going to be done near their country of origin. What part of ‘they are fleeing’ do you know understand?

  33. Callum said:

    The problem with with that argument is that our policy has never actually effected the rate of arivals. If you look at the data you can see that it has varied in line with incedences of conflict and in line with the rates of other countries. As stated in this article our current system is meant to deter these people through cruelty, however we will never be as scary as the factions and governments these people are fleeing.

  34. Marfi said:

    Sorry Julian, but I have to disagree with the option you have presented. I think first and foremost we have to discourage people from getting onto a boat, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the issue has become so politically charged that Australians will never again accept opening the borders to people arriving by boat. Secondly, people have and will continue to die making the journey. This not only adds to the racist xenophobic argument against boats but is inhumane in its own way.

    I favour the option given in this article: http://theaimn.com/2014/02/20/grasping-the-third-rail/

    I similar option was presented recently by The Guardian.

    Processing needs to be done closer to the countries of origin, and in a timely manner.

    Alternately , make it easier for people to obtain visas to get into Australia. Then people can fly here and claim asylum.The default position for visa applicants by Immigration seems to be that the applicant is either a terrorist, or a potential asylum seeker.

    Either of these options mean no boats, no detention centres, no cruelty, no international condemnation and no billions of dollars being spent.

    This needs to end as a political issue.

  35. Chris said:

    Whilst mostly good, Julian was too flippant on the issue of the tragic lost of life at sea. Unfortunately it seems his solution would result in more loss of life, I fail to see the moral superiority in such policies. I am happy to double or even triple our current intake and I am not too concerned about boarder security.

    I desperately want a solution that will prevent the loss of life without requiring harsh boarder protection, but unfortunately all I have been offered is one or the other and this article as not solved this problem.

  36. Zvyozdochka said:

    What a remarkably clear and simple explanation from a tireless advocate.

    As much as it distresses me to say it, I suggest people work on Clive Palmer to assist in changing our internationally disgraceful path. He has indicated that he wants changes and he will be key to moving this issue.

  37. Joanne Brooks said:

    I agree with Burnside, however, I would add to his plan the following:
    An Asylum Seeker Australian Migration agency for the sole purpose of processing asylum seekers be established in Indonesia. The asylum seeker pays the Australian Agency the same amount or less, than they would to the people smugglers for processing fees etc. This would render the people smugglers’ business obsolete. Those who are processed are then given safe passage to Australia, where they arrive in either Port Hedland or Broome. Go through the usual health and security checks etc and are accommodated in a central village style accommodation which is temporary and properly maintained, (creating more jobs). Infrastructure would need to be created, ie, schools, accommodations, health centres, roads, transport, etc which would create jobs locally, employing the asylum seekers who are able to work. Children of asylum seekers could go to schools and play with other children. The asylum seekers who are employed, would pay taxes on their wages and would also be spending their earnings in the local economy, thereby building and strengthening the economy. They are required to reside for a compulsory period of time in the area. They may after that period decide to move to another area, perhaps with family or in the pursuit of work.

  38. James said:

    A good, succinct piece. My only concern is that of numbers. The big question many advocates ignore is how many refugees can Australia sustainably take per year? Australia is a big place, though much of it is largely inhabitable. New infrastructure must be established to cope with increasing population and we arguably already lag behind recent population increases. Steady population growth is good for business and economies, but not good for Australia’s fragile environment. I understand that currently only a fraction of migrants are asylum seekers, but if we sent out the message to the tens of millions of people living in desperate situations around the world that if they make it to Australia one way or another they were able to work and/or access government welfare, we would see a massive increase of arrivals. Half a million people people turning up a year would certainly present issues that would be hard to address. I think we should be taking many more refugees, one way or another, but surely there is a limit on how many we can sustainably take to maintain our good standard of living. And if we resettle the thousands of aspiring citizens in limbo in Indonesia for example, what of the 50,000 that will come to Indonesia after them? And the 100,000 after that, etc? There is no easy “solution”. There may be no “solution” at all?

  39. Nef said:

    I’d take it a step further, myself — I’d have Australia operate the boats that bring them here from Indonesia. This would improve their safety, give them health care and a hot meal or two, and would give us a chance to educate them on what it means to be an Australian. That way we wouldn’t end up with refugees, we’d end up with Australians, which is no bad thing.

  40. Tom said:

    Well, it does. It’s not a holiday. It’s to see the family they left behind. And it’s actually very rare. And the Aussie passport brings them a great deal of protection from their former government.

  41. Tom said:

    (Continued). Jordan 1/2 million. Malaysia 100,000. Meanwhile, Abbott has slashed Australia’s figure to 13,750 /year. Much poorer countries are much more generous.

  42. Tom said:

    Richer countries than Australia? Please name them. And Muslim countries host far more refugees than Australia. Pakistan 1.5 million. Iran 1 million. Kenya 1 million. Lebanon 1/2 million

  43. H8ter H8ter said:

    The argument states that those arriving from boat are the poor ones
    who don’t arrive by plane. I’m making an assumption here, but I would
    presume that those poorer ‘boat people’ are also the lesser educated.
    Those richer ‘plane people’, who have had the means to afford education
    are the educated.

  44. Gary said:

    Nauru for example costs $1.9B over 4 years for 750 people. That’s over $633,000 per person per year! Centrelink costs more like $20,000. Let’s make it $25,000 including additional services.

    Nauru is then more than 25 TIMES MORE EXPENSIVE than Centrelink!

    The previous poster uses the full intake of 20,000 people to calculate centerlink costs, when the number in offshore detention is far less.


  45. Julie said:

    If we are a country of “toil,” we are also a country of “wealth”, with “boundless plains to share” for those who’ve come across the seas.

  46. Julie said:

    If you answered “no” to any question asking “how many…?” you probably didn’t answer the question.

    PS I’m white and born in Australia and haven’t sung the national anthem, waved an Australian flag, or attended an ANZAC parade in many years. What’s my punishment for this, if asylum seekers should be denied human rights for the same?

  47. raymond said:

    Why is it always Australian problem? Most of the asylum seekers are coming from Muslim countries. Would it be logical to find a solution that richer countries than Australia in Middle East with the same religious background be given a task to help these people? It would be easy and help these people integrate well in the Muslim society. Unfortunately Australia should be considering the history that Muslim does not integrate well with the majority Christian society and the western way of life. It is hoped that somehow when you show them kindness and generosity they will reflect in the way of their thinking and living but unfortunately it is a wrong assumptions. You give them the right hand and they want more and the sad thing of all is going against you. I know it is right to help people but please duty first in your country. Help your own people first rather spending and wasting billion of dollars to this unsuccessful integration rather use it to benefit first struggling Australian citizens.

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  49. Dave Thomas said:

    this is potentially the single worst argument I’ve ever seen constructed….

  50. jman said:

    Here is my two cents worth about the issue…If someone wants to claim asylum, then assess their situation (on or offshore processing doesn’t matter to me) and if they qualify, give them a 2 year temporary visa.

    With that visa, they would be able to work, have access to English classes if needed, and given some benefits. If they need more money or other items, then all the people wanting to allow any asylum seeker to be allowed free access to Australia can open their homes and wallets to provide it through some private means.

    At the end of 2 years, the refugee will have their home country situation reassessed to determine if it’s safe for them to return home. If unsafe, renew the visa for 2 more years. This entire time, the refugee will need to adhere to all the requirements of any other temporary visa.

    If their country’s situation doesn’t improve, then they will just stay here on a temporary visa that is reassessed every 2 years until they are able to apply for permanent residency like everyone else (via a skill, employer nominated, or marry an Australian).

    Humane? Yes. Solves the entire problem, no, but at least it helps people (which addresses the issue of those saying Australia is so inhumane to asylum seekers) and it gives people that don’t want to accept everyone an option (not every refugee will stay here…and surprise, not everyone refugee actually wants to stay in Australia) too.

    I think that the problem a lot of Aussie have with so called refugees is that they’ll claim asylum b/c they’re so afraid to return to their home country, but as soon as they get an Australian passport, they return to their home country for a holiday. To me, that doesn’t make sense.

  51. Annoyed said:

    Perhaps you should remember that when we celebrate Australia we are really celebrating the arrival of the first European boat people.

  52. Shane said:

    Where do you get the $5 billion number from?

  53. ThePete said:

    The whole white racist Christians is a stereotype as bad as the stereotypical view of muslims as terrorists.

    Also it’s not about denying anyone’s religion, its recognizing that Islam is often much more than just a religious belief, its a totalitarian system that subjugates people. We get people fleeing from Iran, Afghanistan etc Islamic countries. Why flee an islamic state if you are just going to try and set the same thing up in a new country? (They are already introducing Sharia courts in the UK). Granted not all muslims have this goal, but the moderate also do not seem to oppose this.

  54. ThePete said:

    Well because we are focused on boat arrivals and forget the larger picture. Out of sight, out of mind.
    We also can’t seem to get past ideological posturing.

  55. Belle2 said:

    This is such a good article! It gives a clear and true account of the situation, and a humane, practical solution which as a side benefit saves Australia billions of dollars.

  56. ThePete said:

    By my calculations if say 20,000 a year arrive and stay on welfare for an average of five years (as the data suggests) then after 5 years of operating the cost of the program would be 1.3 billion per year just on centrelink. That’s not taking into account the necessary support services and associated costs of implementing this program.

    Not to mention, there’s a big assumption that dumping large amounts of people in regoinal Australia from different cultures, potentially with language issues and various levels of education, that it would just work.

    It’s not an idea without merit, but a little fanciful.

    It outright ignores the drownings, that will be caused by open borders.

    And what of those in refugee camps, who can’t make the journey here. Who speaks for them?

  57. Marcus said:

    You are the biggest whiner of all Marilyn.

  58. Damemuckabout said:

    As it seems the new Oz is mostly concerned with hip-pocket issues, the solutions put forward here, should appeal to all. Trouble is mainstream media ain’t going to run this, any time soon.

  59. Cork said:

    How can it be considered racist? Being a boat person does not determine which country you’re from.

  60. tricia said:

    way you can help is to write to Pope Francis. He is the only person who
    has any chance at all of influencing Tony Abbot. I think this Pope is a
    good guy and very interested in helping the downtrodden. Lets go viral
    with writing to the Pope. I sent mine two days ago. Send this article to him also. It is really brilliant.!

  61. Daryl Dickson said:

    Finally, someone approaches this discussion from a humanitarian point of view. Now the time comes to attempt to get the current and future Governments to do likewise.

  62. LP said:

    So this is both a moral and a financial problem now, and yet both major parties take the wrong course of action on both counts. What’s going on? It’s expanded a bit here: http://wp.me/p4tGtc-1F

  63. Caroline said:

    I was born in Australia and am extremely patriotic. Having said that, aside from a rugby league final, I probably haven’t sung the National Anthem since I was in primary school. I don’t think I have EVER ‘waved’ an Australian flag. I do however, have a Southern Cross tattoo on the inside of my wrist. Does this count? I don’t think I have EVER attended an ANZAC parade but don’t for one single second think that I don’t appreciate and respect them. These things do not make me any more or any less Australian than anyone else that has been fortunate enough to be born here. I can’t believe you’re asking about charity given your uncharitable attitude, but since you asked I personally know 5 young asylum seekers that don’t have enough money to donate to others but they do volunteer at both the Local Salvation Army and the Lifeline Op-shop. I also think that if someone bothered to teach them the words, they would enthusiastically sing the National Anthem. And what a ridiculous thing to say: ‘They are not true ANZACS’, well neither am I – and neither are you unless you were/are a member of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp!

  64. Caroline said:

    It is a tragedy that the citizens of this great country are allowing the government to behave so appallingly. I still can’t work out if I am in the minority (accepting of asylum seekers) or if I’m in the majority, but the minority is just a hell of a lot more vocal.

  65. Dippa said:

    I’ve seen plenty, but not on TV for some reason. I wonder why.

  66. DrJMNL said:

    Deborah wall is a ingaramus but you Marilyn are not much better. Get a life and stop getting hung up on words when the message is so wonderful.

  67. Marilyn said:

    I know that, I know Julian quite well which is why I know he should know better than to use the stupid term, most refugees catch precisely one boat in their lives.

  68. H B said:

    Thankyou Mr Burnside. My sentiments perfectly enunciated.

  69. PaulBugeja said:

    Ed’s note – just to clarify, Julian used the term “boat people” in his submission to us without, I believe, any desire to be crude, racist or derogatory.

  70. Tom said:

    I think you’re incorrect to tie the two positions together. If you are opposed to multiculturalism, then you would either be opposed to immigration from countries with significantly different cultures, or you would be in favour of assimilation policies. Simply focusing on the tiny minority of arrivals who come as refugee seekers by boat seems an ineffective way of achieving cultural homogeneity.

  71. Marilyn said:

    And stop calling refugees who sail here BOAT PEOPLE, it’s racist, crude and derogatory, they are human beings.

  72. Heather Stone said:

    Deborah, in addition to what the front line homeless workers have already posted, I might also add that the statistics you are using are badly skewed. To know the real numbers, you need the statistics for “sleeping rough”. For example, I am one of the homeless statistics because I am in transitional housing awaiting a permanent residence. Also counted as homeless are people living in caravans, cabins, shacks, camps, rooming houses, refufes, shelters, hotels, couch surfing (either forced or voluntary) etc. That leaves us with the much smaller minority sleeping in cars, parks, dumpsters, alleys and under bridges. $4 1/2 billion a year would set them all up in comparative luxury as opposed the the hell endured and still being inflicted on asylum seekers. My dad was an ANZAC and a 39er. He welcomed refugees with an open heart and mind.

  73. Marilyn said:

    Among all the whining by all academics is the fact that it is a right to come by sea, it is not illegal, it is not smuggling and it is patronising racist gibberish to deny people the right to sail if they want to.

  74. Marilyn said:

    How many homeless people are fleeing bombs, civil war, genocide and other human rights atrocities in Australia?

  75. Marilyn said:

    There is no such thing as a true ANZAC but if there was why would someone from Afghanistan give a damn? Have you any idea what you are even talking about?

  76. Christine said:

    How can you tell who is an asylum seeker in a parade? Many asylum seekers, including children, are locked up in detention camps and denied proper process, so we don’t see them anywhere. Out of sight5.

  77. Ausgaia said:

    How many have you seen waving our flags, why should they I don’t, I don’t have to wave a flag which means nothing really, to prove I am a good Aussie. I help my fellow man instead.
    How many have you seen attending an ANZAC parade, none, because I don’t attend them myself, my father landed on the beaches on D Day but I don’t have thank him or the other brave men who fought for OUR freedom by attending a one day parade, I thank them every day by caring for my fellow citizens on the planet and trying to help in some small way.
    How many have you seen donating to others. Lots I collect for charity eg Red Cross, they donate more than they can afford,
    “They want the same rights and freedoms as us, they are not true anzacs. They are entitled to the same rights and freedoms as us. Every citizen in the world is entitled to freedom and the right to have that freedom. My father, grandfathers, etc etc fought so that they had those freedoms.
    Stop being a selfish, mean person.
    Sorel Sanders, Adelaide

  78. Ann Balfour said:

    The resource of motivated educated people in the refugee camps is like a gold motherlode that should be mined. Soon the talent of Syria will be looking for safe harbour. Why are we not taking advantage of this – then we can talk about what the refugees children will do for Australia’s aging population. It is such an obvious economic fit – as well as a humanitarian duty.

  79. genreelenot said:

    I can’t agree with you on your perceptions / judgements of the homeless emily. 26 years working with the homeless provided me with a little more depth of understanding of the issues surrounding homelessness and the reactions of those who are in this position to those they come across. I use this same capacity to accept that that there is more to people and their circumstances and their coping mechanisms than what we see on the surface, when assessing our treatment of asylum seekers. It is those who only see the surface and who make judgement that support Morrisons actions.

  80. theo said:

    Deborah I accidentally sent my reply to your comments to Rainer the cabbie.

  81. theo said:

    Deborah, you are a true ignoramus and typical of the sort of person who makes arguments such as the ones you are making now.
    I use the term argument very very loosely here. I will not even try to talk sense to you. It seems others have tried and failed. You need to go back to school, relearn mathematics. You should also try to work out your true heritage. As far as I’m concerned, I would hazard a guess that you are here because either your predecessors were criminals in England (possibly classed as such because they couldn’t feed themselves), or financial refugees.
    I actually would like to deport all the financial refugees from the UK who presumably bring skills to the country (directing traffic at building sites) Lol!!!
    Who deserves to be here most? Someone who wants to earn an extra buck, or someone who wants their family to survive in peace?

    As I say, look at your heritage. By your reckoning, you may not deserve to be here!

  82. Richard said:

    I do not have a problem with asylum seekers coming to the country for protection – I have a problem when asylum seekers come to the country are given residential status and then DEMAND to have their religion or their traditions respected. And then I see red – you want to demand ? then bugger off

  83. Christine said:

    Only this year did I attend Brisbane’s Australia day Citizenship ceremony. The new citizen who was chosen to speak on behalf of all attending? The son of a refugee family ALL proud of becoming Australian Citizens, contributing to our society and who all ‘sang the national anthem and waved our flags’. Consider for a moment that the information you have been given may be incorrect.

  84. Georgie Green said:

    Crap, Deborah that is just a gross generalisation without proof or basis. I live near Ballarat in Victoria where there is a large population of Sudanese refugees who make substantial cultural, community and economic contributions to their new home. I also witnessed many members of this community and adults and children of many backgrounds participating enthusiastically in Ballarats Australia Day celebrations including children tearing around with little Australian flags a flutter in their hands, happy to be a part of this safe and lucky country: let’s keep it that way hey.

  85. Peter W said:

    Mr Burnside, you are brilliant beyond compare. Thank you for offering a solution to this issue, and for providing it in a way that is absolutely humane.

  86. Arthur Baker said:

    Deborah, how much money do you need in order to solve Australia’s homelessness problem? You have just read an article which shows how we could save $4,500,000,000 which is currently being wasted by a government whose election promise was to “end the waste”. Would that 4.5 billion dollars (hey!, Billion with a B!) do the trick for you? If we freed up that money, it wouldn’t be a case of either/or. We could look after asylum seekers AND our own citizens in need. Besides, one thing Mr Burnside didn’t mention was that we are creating further costs for ourselves by imprisoning people in places which drive them insane. Why do we prefer to create psychological basket cases, many of whom will need long-term care at Australia’s expense rather than sane, healthy new citizens who can work and pay taxes?

  87. Dachlan said:

    Hey Deborah, I’ve worked in sectors where I come into contact with refugees and asylum seekers, and I can quite gladly tell you that you are incorrect.

    Many refugees resettled in Australia profoundly appreciate the generosity this country has given them. Many truly love Australia and all it stands for – the egalitarianism, the diversity, the freedom of speech, and, of course, the beautiful nature of democracy – often because they fled the precise opposite!

  88. Rainer the cabbie said:


    I fully appreciate your opinion but do us both a favour.

    Go to your local news agent and buy the latest edition of the Quarterly Essay. In his article “That Sinking Feeling” News Corp journalist Paul Toohey is writing about the issue of Asylum Seekers.

    Paul’s piece is written totally non partisan and factual. He spend some time in the Indonesian region where refugees and people smugglers gather, in preparation for the boat journey to Australian.

    In my opinion this is great information and you should read it to inform yourself to reach a good judgement on this issue.

  89. Rainer the cabbie said:


    Not too sure where your “toil” reference belongs to; Julian states in his article that most asylum seekers are highly motivated to build a new life for themselves, they properly work twice as hard as any Australian will ever do to achieve this.

    As to us taking a stand, the issue is complex. When Rudd opened the floodgates things went a bit haywire and fortune seekers, actually groups of highly educated Iranians who wanted to improve their lives, used the boat option to gain entry to Australia.

    The thing you have to realise Deb is that for every one of them there were three genuine persecuted refugees that needed a new home. The publicity by the right wing press totally concentrated on those Iranians, painting everyone on boats with the same brush.

    I guess you are upset about the huge numbers of boat people arriving at Christmas island but when compared with the numbers arriving in other countries they fade into insignificant.

    Let’s take a real stance Deborah, let us show our heart to the victims of war in our region, process them on our soil and sort out the scammers from the people that need our protection. This can be done easily, the only reason it’s not practised is an unwillingness by the government of the day.

  90. DeborahWall said:

    Also how many asylum seekers have you seen singing our national anthem?
    How many have you seen waving our flags?
    How many have you seen attending an ANZAC parade
    How many have you seen donating to others?
    If you answered no then you are correct. THey want the same rights and freedoms as us but they are not the true anzacs. – Liz Geyer

  91. DeborahWall said:

    I do, I think we need to protect our homeless. I help by providing them with finances every time i see them and I also give to a large number of organisations. I don’t agree with you that they aren’t suffering what a horrible thing to say. Look in your own backyard and help the needy instead of feeling sorry for other people whose governments should help them.

  92. emily said:

    As someone who works with homeless people Deborah, I can assure you many of them are not responsive to or wanting to accept help. Many of them are not vulnerable and “suffering”. They are well aware of their situation and and can make rational decisions regarding it. If you can force them to accept shelter and assistance then maybe you are on to something and should come up with strategies for providing help as Mr Burnside has tried to do for asylum seekers.

    You appear to have strong feelings towards homelessness, so what are you doing about it?

  93. DeborahWall said:

    but we are doing the right things by turning back the boats we are taking a real stance and saying no we are a country of toil

  94. DeborahWall said:

    I don’t understand why we are so compassionate to Asylum seekers when our own people are suffering. Did you know there are 105,000 people homeless any night in Australia this is OUR people we don’t have time to worry about the rest of the world when their governments should be looking after them

  95. Rainer the cabbie said:

    Thanks Julian, a thoughtful piece. Your re-design makes perfect sense and has everyone winning.

    Let me express my view that detention on Manus island and Nauru is cruel and tortures. The government claims that it has no control of the running of these gulags, yet it set them up, finances them and supplies contractors to these camps. Still, the responsibilities for the conditions in these prisons are with the PNG government, according to our officials.

    Refugees have become political footballs for both parties. What the government does in our name, imprisoning persecuted people and subjecting them to treatment that even the worst criminal in Australia will never endure, is embarrassing to all of us.
    In the words of one of my passengers, a man in his late seventies, Labor and the Liberals have created offshore possessing to gain a few votes in Sydney’s western suburbs.

    All of this has gone too far, a solution must be found and quickly too. Detainees are suffering badly in the camps we created for them and all of us are guilty of being inhumane.

    Keep up the good work Julian, it may surprise you but I find that more people are siding with your opinion than the uninformed who think we are doing the right thing.

  96. Tony said:

    Wow. What an article. I agree with him 100%

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