Asylum Seekers, Waleed Aly and the Folly of Good Intentions

John Slater

One of the few constants of Australian politics is the left’s bleating over the offshore processing of asylum seekers.

Indeed, the fact that the Coalition’s policies have stopped the deluge of unauthorized boat arrivals experienced under the former Labor government appears to have done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of open-border zealots.

That said, the last few years has seen a shift in tone. Now that the bare facts of reality have given the lie to the claim that the number of boats coming to Australia is based on world asylum seeker flows – not our immigration policies – critics have taken to seizing on any minor detail or happenstance as evidence of our moral bankruptcy.

The grand folly of this approach is that while it’s easy to paint offshore processing as callous and cold-hearted, we can’t pretend that this issue exists in a vacuum. That was the mistake of the Rudd Government when it dismantled John Howard’s pacific solution in an attempt to make Australia seem more ‘humane’ and ‘compassionate.’ Even a cynic shouldn’t doubt that most people in the Labor party had the best intentions at heart when they abandoned offshore processing.

Unfortunately, these good intentions did nothing to stop 1200 asylum seekers drowning off the Australian coastline, 50 000 unauthorized asylum seekers arriving on our shores and Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake being overrun with economic migrants. Nor did this desire to do good change the fact that in order to stem this seemingly unending flow of undocumented arrivals, more than 2000 children ended up in detention before people smugglers started taking Australia’s policies seriously (again).

The point is that you can’t fairly criticize Australia’s policy of processing unauthorised arrivals offshore before realistically considering the alternatives.

In other words, we shouldn’t buy into the naïve myth that adopting a kinder, gentler approach comes without costs. Australia has a generous annual humanitarian intake, but it can’t take all of the world’s needy and suffering. If Australia once again decides to grant migrants asylum based on the fact that they’ve managed to reach our territorial waters, we shouldn’t be surprised if our quota is consumed largely by those with the financial means to do just that.

Given Australia’s relative isolation and the enormous expense of paying people smugglers (the cost is known to exceed $50 000 for a family; a fortune for those in war-torn developing nations), we can’t pretend that an open door policy creates the distinct possibility that the most needy candidates miss out.

Waleed Aly – one of the best known banner carriers for the open doors lobby – provides a prime example of this tendency to lecture about the grave inhumanity of offshore processing while stopping short of offering any kind of realistic alternative.

His latest Fairfax column is a masterclass in sanctimonious verbiage:

“But perhaps the greatest horror is that as a nation, we’ve now become so hopelessly addicted to the fictions that justify it. It’s not just the fiction of Nauru. It’s also the fiction of Australia, which you might recall we’ve declared simply doesn’t exist if you’re coming here by boat. You can dock in Sydney Harbour if you like, and as far as the law is concerned, you simply never arrived here. But there’s also the fiction that Nauru and Papua New Guinea were ever anything more than a dumping ground for us… At some point, the clock runs out. And on that day, maybe the alarm will sound on these mighty fictions that have been sustaining us. Then who will we be?”

As a columnist and TV personality, saying this type of thing has the benefit of giving Waleed an appearance of empathy as opposed to our morally impoverished political class. The difference is that unlike Waleed, the Prime Minister, cabinet and parliament don’t have the luxury of being able to live off the grace of their good intentions: they also have to wear the consequences.

Perhaps a more simple way we can put this is that incentives matter. If you know you have a good shot at permanent resettlement in Australia by travelling through multiple countries and paying a people smuggler take you to Australia, chances are you’ll opt for that over throwing your lot in with the international refugee resettlement bureaucracy.

As we saw just this week, incentives also operate on a much smaller level. A reliable favourite of the open-border activists is that offshore detention centres are so awful that asylum seekers are driven to self-harm. In a move that enraged many, Dutton ordered that if self-harming asylum seekers required medical treatment in Australia, their family would not be allowed to join them.

Was this another example of the kind of gratuitous act of mean-minded malice we’ve come to expect from the government?

Not so fast. As soon as Dutton’s order came into effect, the self-harming on Nauru stopped. Immediately. What changed was that there was no longer any incentive to use self-harm as a way for asylum seekers to bring their families to the Australia.

To be sure, this kind of measure can seem a bit heavy-handed. But lets put it in perspective. No one is being denied medical care. Asylum Seekers on Nauru are given a reasonable allowance and they’re free to roam a peaceful island. Clearly the standard of living in Nauru falls well short of what we enjoy in Australia. Yet for people fleeing the threat of persecution and violence, this must surely count as some improvement.

As Chris Kenny put it following his trip to Nauru late last year
“Nauru has become a vortex of political and personal agendas conspiring to mask the truth. Even simple facts and obvious realities can be difficult to discern or expose. Happiness is disguised, secrets are kept, identities are hidden, allegations are made and politics are played.”

Like any complex area of policy, there’s little doubt Australia’s asylum seeker processing policies and practices can be improved. There isn’t a single politician who doesn’t want to reduce the number of children in detention. That said, there’s a difference between constructive criticism and high-minded pontification without any realistic consideration of the practical alternatives available.

If Waleed Aly, Julian Burnside and Sarah Hansen-Young are genuinely interested in improving how Australia deals with asylum seekers as opposed to burnishing their credentials amongst Australia’s human rights industry, they should spend more time on the the former and less on the latter.

Please Don’t Feed The Trolls

satya pic

Satyajeet Marar is a nutella conneisseur and law/arts student at Macquarie University

Satyajeet Marar explains why feeding the trolls isn’t such a good idea.

So, there is a dude who plans on holding a ‘neomasculinist” gathering at Hyde park. The same dude who has written articles saying that rape on private property should be legalised and that women are meant to follow the orders of men. I won’t mention his name or alias for reasons that will become clear as you read more of this article.

Let’s consider what actually happened here.

Until yesterday when the story broke, you had probably never heard of this person before. You wouldn’t know his face from a bar of soap with hairs stuck to it. He could’ve been just some other blogger writing random articles no one or few people read.

Anyone can go online and write an inflammatory article that would upset a large group of people. It’s quite easy, I often manage to write things that piss off people without even trying. In his case, the formula was simple. Find a highly touchy topic with 99% of the human race on one side of the fence and write a seemingly sincere defense of the morally indefensible other side. Do it in a way that at least attempts to sound like an attempt at a serious argument.

Step #2, sit back and watch the fireworks. Love and admiration are great, but they don’t generate hits. Hate on the other hand, works wonders. How else do you explain how an article more than a year old has gained international attention?

This guy doesn’t seem like an idiot – malicious sexist perhaps. But idiot? nope. He’d be a fool to think that he could make a public announcement about a meeting at a public place given all the heat on him. He insists that he’ll be Sydney in a few days, yet Peter Dutton clarifies that he has made no attempt to apply for a visa. What gives? Something smells strongly of shenanigans.

Because the people feeding this guy’s machine and helping him attract followers aren’t the dudes in fedoras with an ax to grind with women. They are actually the feminists, male allies, newspaper journalists and anyone else who has, with perfectly good intentions (except for some of the journalists), made this dude a target. I’m sorry to say ladies and gents, but you’ve been royally duped and you’ve given an internet troll exactly what he wants – helping him sell more books and website views in the process to jaded, disenchanted and bitter men on the fringe of society. Men who until now, did not know this guy existed and who were predisposed to endorse his misguided, bigoted views assuming they did not already.

Making things even more complicated, are the lines being rather unsubtly toe’d by his legions of detractors. Many have quite literally come out to say that him and his followers should be banned by police force from meeting publicly or privately to socialise or discuss their views in order to protect those to whom these views are offensive i.e. society as a whole. Though the views are offensive and I don’t have much sympathy for these sycophants, this again plays into their narrative of oppressed individuals threatened with a denial of their ‘freedoms’. This not only places an even greater focus on their views, but ironically affords them a degree of legitimacy they would not have gained on their own.


One single article and an announcement about a meeting – a total cost of a few cents, are all it took to give this man international press coverage with even the Immigration minister of our country adding to the mix following demands from (ironically) the same people who want to shut him down. The public outrage machine, though perfectly justified, has given him something private companies pay millions for.

So let these dudes have their little boys club. Treat them as you would the drunken guy yelling obscenities about Zionist conspiracies outside the kebab shop. Once the trolls are no longer being fed, they will return back to their homes – under bridges and in the basements of disappointed parents.