No easy answers to refugee policy questions

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It’s hard to understand whythe federal government made itslatest announcement on asylum seekers.
Nanjing Night Net

Splashed across a metro newspaper, it was clearly intended as news-leading, Sunday reading for the country.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton. Picture: Getty Images.

The news emerged that the Turnbull government would bar from entering Australia’s mainland any person who tried to seek asylum here by boat. This would apply even if they were found to be genuine refugees, or wanted to visit as tourists.

Australia’s asylum seeker policies havebeen in headlines this year, but not for the same reason theyused to be. Its controversial offshore processing system appears to have deterred boat arrivals.

Criticism of the federal government’s handling of the issue has centred on the conditions asylum seekers endure in Nauru and reports of self-harm and abuse there.

For the government to announce it was making its border control laws stricter seemed odd, considering the current set-up appears to be achieving its goal.

Considering this, it’s not clear from a policy point of view what the government wants to achieve with the change.

It’s possible, as Tasmanian Greens senator Nick McKim pointed out on Sunday, that the Coalition is trying to win votes from the staunchly anti-immigration and resurgent One Nation party. If this is the case, it would be disappointing that refugee policy is being used as a vote-winner, for political purposes.

Assuming that the motives aren’t cynical, and putting politics aside, the proposal needs some scrutiny. It effectively punishes refugees for tryingtoreach Australia via boat. A life ban from Australia –where refugees’ family members may live –seems harsh at first look.

The question to be weighed is, would it be justified by fewer losses of life at sea from attempts at people smuggling?Does the deterrent effect it has come at an acceptable cost to Australia’s human rights obligations to refugees?

It’s an area full of shades of grey and rife with ethical dilemmas. There’s no completely satisfactory answer to this problem, and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was right in his previous comment that there’s a lot of cheap seats in this debate.

When it comes to preventing lives from being lost at sea, and maintaining a fair and orderly refugee intake policy, there are decisions to be made involving more complexity than people on the sidelines – from both sides of politics – sometimes make out.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.