Australia took in thousands of refugees in the years after the Second World War. The population, overwhelmingly of British and Irish origin, was only around 7 million. Embarrassed by the widespread use of the diminutive “reffos”, the Minister for Immigration Arthur Calwell introduced the briefly correct term for all immigrants “New Australians”.
With other immigrants, there was hardly any government support for the New Australians. They stayed in migrant camps in places like Bonegilla. The army huts, the flies, the heat and the cold – to say nothing of the cuisine – did not encourage them to stay. They all found jobs, houses, and schools, and most contributed considerably to the life of their new country.
Without any refugee lobby, why did this work so well? First there was no complicated law, no Refugee Convention – just policy determined by Arthur Calwell and the Chifley cabinet. And everyone – old and New Australians – was determined that the settlers would assimilate, that is, become contributing and loyal Australians. Before multiculturalism was invented, no one for a moment thought they shouldn’t keep their religion, their language (alongside English), their clothing style –curiously the big difference seemed to be in their shoes, men’s and women’s – and of course cuisine, which everyone wanted to try.
Apart from the ships, and their time in a really primitive migrant camp, there was no government money, no welfare, no consultants and no platoons of lawyers. The post war refugees – and other immigrants – came to build their own lives with the very minimum of government assistance.
They – and the country – were better for that.
Initially, old Australians weren’t too sure about the migrants from what the sophisticated called the ‘continent’ – the European mainland. Somewhat on the outside because of my Indonesian links, I was intrigued as everyone else was when the first New Australian came to our class. Probably older than most of us, Ivor, a Latvian, was a great success, soon one of the most popular boys.
This was mirrored nationally. The massive post war migrant programme, including refugees, worked like a charm.
Why? When John Howard famously declared “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come, “he was accurately describing the immigration programme started by Chifley and Calwell and continued by Menzies and Opperman (who incidentally ended the White Australia Policy).
The point is the Australian people had confidence in the post war immigration programme, including the refugee component. Today, few Australians support the present refugee programme.
Australians, overwhelmingly, do not like what they see as queue jumpers. They don’t like immigrants immediately going on welfare. They don’t like to see them go into taxpayer funded housing. Nor are they at all happy when those admitted as refugees turn to crime. And they would be furious if they knew about the staggering amount of court time and money which is spent on refugee claims.
The government must do three things. First, they must take over the running of the refugee component – all of it. Only by doing this will people’s lives, including our sailors’, not be put at risk. Second, they must ensure that the only people admitted are those who will contribute and be loyal Australians. This mustn’t be left to some citizenship test; it’s far too late then. The third relates to Indonesia.
The running of the refugee component is currently in the hands of the refugee industry. This consists of both well intentioned people, but also some rent seekers. This occurs with every badly drafted law. We saw it with rent control legislation, we saw it with money lending laws, and we saw it with the old defamation law. Each produced great injustice and let in the usual rent seekers who did very well indeed.
At unbelievable cost, the determination of part of the refugee component is currently outsourced to the refugee industry. This is only because parliament has allowed this to happen.
The government made an error in abandoning the Howard government controls, and in the message that so obviously sent. Apart from putting those controls back, legislation should be enacted to reverse two things the refugee industry revels in. These are that we have neither queue jumpers nor “illegals”.
It’s for the Australian government to determine priorities. At the same time there should always be room for those who come directly in boats from the country of persecution, as they did from Vietnam.
The point is that Australia alone cannot solve the problems created more often by other governments than natural calamities. Unless we are to have no quota, and take anybody and everybody who wants to come, the orderly allocation of places has to be done by the government. And the government, any government, is under a duty to the nation to ensure as best it can they will contribute and make good citizens. (Both sides fall down on this.)
This means we must have a queue. Someone who applies from some refugee camp, does everything right, should not have his or her place taken by a people smuggler’s client. The only exception should be those who come by boat direct from the country they are fleeing from, as they did from Vietnam.
This can be assured by a provision that applications will definitely not be received on Australian territory unless the minister certifies he is satisfied that the applicant has fled to Australia direct from the alleged persecuting country.
In the absence of such a certificate, the entry would be deemed to be unlawful.
It will of course be claimed this breaches the Refugee Convention. It doesn’t because this will not involve refoulement that is, sending the asylum seeker back to the country of the alleged persecution. This is really the only limit on how a government applies the convention.
The laws of other Western countries contain provisions against accepting applications from asylum seekers who have come from safe third countries. Australian law has a glimmer of this, but it is ineffective in the present case.
We need also to have an agreement with Indonesia that peoples’ smugglers clients be returned. This government has a horror of being seen to be doing nothing; its reaction to any problem is to pour millions if not billions into the solution. Before funding Indonesia yet again, surely such an agreement can be negotiated?
The government was elected to govern. There is a widespread feeling that on asylum seekers, it should take charge. The ball is in its court.