Peter Smith

Left in Neverland

Compassion, consequences and being grown up

I try to attend the early morning service at my local Anglican church. I say try because I don’t always make it. Early rising on Sunday morning sometimes proves too difficult. The flesh as we know is weak. I could go to the later service but then, at this service, tradition gives way to church pop and it doesn’t suit my conservative nature.

Anyway to the point; when leaving the service last Sunday I had a chat with the young assistant minister. Politics came up and it became clear that his preference leant towards the atheist Julia than the Christian Tony. Politics trumps religion and that, I suppose, is as it should be. He explained though, while favouring the Labor side in this election, that he thought both sides lacked compassion on asylum seekers and that troubled him.

I am not at my best of a morning and I too sharply retorted that perhaps he should invite some of them to live with him. This was not one of my best moments, as I later reflected. But I also thought what did he mean by compassion and I regretted not pursuing this point further instead of making a smart-alec remark.

What exactly do those who objected to Howard’s policy on asylum seekers, and for that matter the current government’s policy, have in mind when they talk about being compassionate?

First let me posit what they don’t mean by imaging a particular incident.

A boat load of 150 asylum seekers, say from Sri Lanka, on course for Australia, is intercepted by an Australian navy frigate on the high seas. The boat is scuttled by the crew. Everyone is rescued by the navy personnel, taken on board the frigate, and given hot toddies and blankets, and whatever else they need to make them as comfortable as possible in the circumstances. They are taken to comfortable accommodation. They are fed and given medical attention to a high standard. Subsequently, after being given generous time to recover from their ordeal, they are flown home, business class.

A variant on this story is that before being flown home, the asylum seekers are assessed as to whether they would face persecution in their home land. Those who would face persecution are given the option of being housed in comfortable, purpose built, accommodation and put in the queue for resettlement under the auspices of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

According to UNHCR, of the ten million refugees (out of over 40 million displaced people) it is currently assisting worldwide, ‘less than 1% can be referred for resettlement to a third country due to the places available’. Moreover, UNHCR ‘will only submit applications for resettlement to third countries on behalf of individuals who are first determined to be refugees within the meaning of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol and who additionally face security issues in the country of asylum which cannot be solved locally. UNHCR also considers family reunification and vulnerability (woman at risk, victims of torture) when assessing a refugee’s need for resettlement’.

I don’t think that those advocating compassion mean treating asylum seekers in the ways described above. I think they mean that we should let them in as permanent residents. That is what I should have pursued, in my after church discussion.

Those who say let them in epitomise the Left’s view across a range of issues. One of its common features is a particular dysfunctional myopia: a refusal to contemplate consequences. We see it in appeasement and defeatism emboldening countries like Iran and North Korea who would do us harm; we see it in green movements that would leave us impoverished; we see it in the growth of entitlements debilitating society; we see we see it in post-modernism and multiculturalism lessening our justified pride in our own national achievements and peerless standards. We see it as well in more localised examples.

Why not feast on the current profits of the mining industry; what harm can that do? Why not let that boatload of 150 asylum seekers settle in Australia; what harm can that do?

Well, the first might have the awkward consequence of reducing future investment and the second of Australia being overwhelmed by numbers of refugees wanting to come in.

We teach children that their actions have consequences. What we see in the positions of the Left is arrested development, hidden by mawkish appeals to peace, saving the planet, equity and compassion. Those on the Left find it comforting to occupy the superficially moral high ground. It’s impregnable and self-congratulatory up there. The rest of us have to take account of consequences. That’s the price of being grown up.

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