Manne, Robert: It’s time to rethink asylum-seeker policy

Robert Manne

It’s time to rethink asylum-seeker policy‘, The Monthly, 28 February 2017

Described as ‘an open letter to the supporters and opponents of the Nauru and Manus Island asylum seekers’, this long article canvasses the history of asylum-seeker policy over the last decade and concludes that there is ‘now no alternative to acceptance of naval turn-back if the inmates of Nauru and Manus Island are to have any chance of being settled in Australia reasonably soon’. The author summarises the compromises that need to be made by both sides:

Supporters of the asylum seekers will have the following choice. They can accept the only even remotely plausible plan to save the lives of the people on Nauru and Manus Island in the near future whose settlement the United States refuses, namely settlement in Australia but retention of the policy of naval interception and turn-back. Or uncompromising adherence to those genuinely held and powerful legal, ethical and political principles can lead them to refuse to countenance the policy of naval turn-back no matter what the practical consequences for the people presently marooned on Nauru and Manus Island, at least half of whom will never be settled in the United States.

For their part, opponents of the asylum seekers will have to accept that the cruelty they advocate or tolerate with regard to the ongoing treatment of the inhabitants of Nauru and Manus Island is based on not a genuine but a counterfeit version of political realism. The offer of settlement in the United States has not revived the people-smuggling trade between Indonesia and Australia. Accordingly, the realpolitikal conviction that the people-smuggling trade will revive if the present marooned population of Nauru and Manus Island are settled in a desirable country – either in the United States or Australia – has been demonstrated to be false so long as the policy of naval turn-back remains in place for future arrivals. Refusing to settle in Australia those people on Nauru and Manus Island rejected by the United States is an act of thoughtlessness at best and gratuitous cruelty at worst that will ensure that the lives of very many hundreds of innocent fellow humans will be slowly but inexorably destroyed for no discernible reason.

Robert Manne is one of Honest History’s distinguished supporters. He has provided advance praise for The Honest History Book.

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