Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On John Key getting us mixed up in Australia’s problems with asylum seekers

July 7th, 2010

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Asylum seekers? We’ve been here before under a National-led government. In 1999, the then-Immigration Minister Tuariki Delamere used the spectre of 120 Chinese boat people coming over the horizon to rush through Immigration Act changes that allowed for mass, indefinite detention of asylum seekers. According to the advice relied on by Delamere (presumably, it came from security services here and overseas) these boat people had the ‘declared intention’ of reaching New Zealand, and were due to arrive sometime after Sunday, June 20, 1999. The legislation passed, but the boat people never turned up.

John Key now shows every sign of being just as spookable. He seems set on getting New Zealand involved in the Australian election battle over asylum seekers. In the process, Key would be helping out a Labour government via his buying into Julia Gillard’s notion of a regional processing centre based in Timor Leste, a camp that would detain and process any asylum seekers arriving by sea.

Among other things, Key’s compliance is an electoral gift to Julia Gillard – who has been struggling to look tougher than Kevin Rudd on asylum seekers, but not quite as heartless as her opponent Tony Abbott. Thanks to Key readiness to climb aboard, she can now paint this move as a regional solution, and – presumably – shift some of the costs of opening and operating such a processing centre onto us .

Questions, questions.
(1) Who would pay to open and operate the centre in Timor, a country which has no capacity to handle such an influx – and how much will it cost New Zealand ?
(2) Why should New Zealand be alarmed about the imminent arrival of boat people here, when such boats have been heading to Western Australia, thousands of kilometers from our shores ? Before buying into this plan, Key needs to share with the New Zealand public the information that convinces him boat people pose an imminent, major threat to New Zealand.
(3) How does such a processing centre – and the interceptions by force that they entail – square with our obligations under the UN Refugee Convention, which allows for asylum seekers to seek and reach a country of refuge unimpeded, and make their case for asylum?

Australia’s interceptions at sea and the flouting of the Refugee Convention that they involve have brought that country into a good deal of international disrepute. Why would New Zealand want to share in the sort of opprobrium that has been heaped on successive Australian governments for their interception and internment of asylum seekers? Arguably, by getting New Zealand involved in an activity of this sort, Key could be committing a violation of the SIS Act 1969, which in its short title defines “security” in these terms :

Security means—
(a) The protection of New Zealand from acts of espionage, sabotage, and subversion, whether or not they are directed from or intended to be committed within New Zealand:
(b) The identification of foreign capabilities, intentions, or activities within or relating to New Zealand that impact on New Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being:
(c) The protection of New Zealand from activities within or relating to New Zealand that—
(i) Are influenced by any foreign organisation or any foreign person; and
(ii) Are clandestine or deceptive, or threaten the safety of any person; and
(iii) Impact adversely on New Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being

Yep, this looks like a breach of both (b) and (c, iii) in that such activity culd well adversely impact on our international wellbeing and with it, our economic wellbeing. After all, neither Australia nor New Zealand is exactly bursting at the seams with refugee claimants, as this Australian news story indicated yesterday:

[Australia] receives a tiny proportion of the world’s asylum seekers, around 6,500 last year compared to almost 290,000 for Europe and 82,000 in the United States and Canada combined, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Less than 2 percent of them arrive illegally by boat.

Right. So that is 2% of 6.500 people arrive by boat. And Timor plainly cannot cope with such a centre, unaided, as the same news story indicated :

East Timor’s Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres said the government was considering Gillard’s plan, but noted his fledgling country’s lack of capacity to run such a center, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

“We have so many issues that we have to deal with and bringing another problem, another issue to the country, I don’t think it’s wise for any politician to do it,” Guterres was quoted as saying.

The [Australian] opposition is campaigning on a return to an earlier policy that detained asylum seekers in camps on small Pacific island countries without U.N. oversight, the so-called “Pacific Solution.” Many asylum seekers spent years languishing in the camps under the plan, which was heavily criticized by the U.N. and others.

Refugee advocates reacted cautiously to Gillard’s plan and called for more detail, noting some similarities to the earlier contentious system.“If what the government has in mind is simply a re-badged Pacific solution then this is of course unacceptable” and at odds with international conventions, said Claire Mallinson of London-based Amnesty International.

Does John Key know whether the Gillard plan would be any different from John Howard’s much criticized “Pacific solution” – and if so, in what ways does the Gillard plan significantly differ? How will such a centre avoid becoming a detention camp in which asylum seekers and their spouses and children may well languish for years?

As things stand, the current situation regarding boat people in the region seems no worse than in the 1990s, which didn’t exactly result in the Lucky Country being submerged under waves of asylum seekers clambering up its beaches. The reality is that Australia and New Zealand accept a tiny proportion of the world’s refugees, and very few of this trickle arrive by boat. If the argument comes down to one of resources… wouldn’t it be cheaper to process boat people if and when a few of them actually arrive here? Rather than paying into the cost of establishing and maintaining a detention camp (and its related legal and deportation costs) that will be 99% filled with refugees who were actually headed for Australia?

There seems no reason why New Zealand should rush into being part of Gillard’s version of the “Pacific solution” for what is now – and for the foreseeable – purely a problem for Australia to resolve, and that mainly by living up to its international responsibilities. This should not mean unloading the cost onto that nice, gullible chap from New Zealand, and the New Zealand taxpayer.


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    1. 11 Responses to “On John Key getting us mixed up in Australia’s problems with asylum seekers”

    2. By Sam on Jul 7, 2010 | Reply

      Could not agree more. John Key should be saying to Julia Gillard – No way!!

    3. By Stuart Munro on Jul 7, 2010 | Reply

      Delamere also slashed immigration staff to the point that many straightforward cases were taking over two years to process.

      The great myth of Australia being swamped with migrants descends from a few boatloads settling on the northern coast a few years back. They were a terrible incursion – so dreadful that no-one noticed them for at least 6 months.

      But Sydney, with its overextended infrastructure must indeed feel crowded. NZ needn’t be too concerned, most of our migrants leave for Australia once they realise how badly our economy has been hollowed out.

    4. By ya on Jul 7, 2010 | Reply

      Isn’t this just another example of John Key not being able to say no. It will be funny seeing him try and wriggle out of this and embarrass the new Australian prime minister who has now publicly stated his support.

    5. By Matt on Jul 7, 2010 | Reply

      I’m very puzzled as to how Key could be breaching the NZSIS Act 1969. Perhaps you could explain this non sequitur, Gordon? Because that’s what it is, you realise. Key, worthless waste of space that he may be, is not committing any offence that is specified by the Act: he’s not revealing the identities of past or current officers, he’s not impersonating an officer, and he’s not a current or former officer revealing information learned within the auspices of the office. Those are offences under the Act. Hell, even an officer of the NZSIS cannot commit the notional offence you raised, because it simply doesn’t exist.

      Even though I agree that we should be loathe to tag along behind the West Islanders on this matter, you do nothing worthwhile to your argument by suggesting the PM is breaking the law when, in fact, there is nothing in the law that vaguely resembles the crime of which you accuse him.
      If you want to try and pursue the criminal act angle, you would do better to review treason or sedition. Best of luck twisting these facts to support such a claim, though.

    6. By C. on Jul 7, 2010 | Reply

      A low numbers of asylum seekers is a good thing, as even a small number can sicken the golden goose that lays the eggs to feed them. New Zealand and Australia could be easily over run by each and every African country in population terms if a weak Socialist stance of asylum were taken. People traffickers are always willing to exploit both them and us.

      Whilst asylum by boat might meet a closed front door, more fuss should be made about the opening of the back door, and the change in the demographics being implemented by our current immigration controls, i.e. high occidental outflow, and low occidental inflow, that is dangerous social engineering with intractable implications.

    7. By Shayne on Jul 7, 2010 | Reply

      People traffickers feed on the misery of others, to make a profit. They sell lie’s to the poor about a new home and riches, herd them on to boats like cattle, coach them on what to say to immigration when they arrive, and then dump them on a beach in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no regard for their welfare. In short, they’re scum!

      Unfortunately, New Zealand will at some point have to deal with boat loads of asylum seekers. Africa and Asia account for 72% of the worlds population and their birth rates are skyrocketing, by 2050 they’ll be bursting at the seams with people. Immigration and asylum is something that does need to be dealt with now, we can’t put our head in the sand and pretend it’s not going to happen to us.

      People traffickers need to be sent a message that New Zealand is not open for business!

    8. By rj on Jul 8, 2010 | Reply

      Agree with Shayne above
      The people smugglers are running a commercial business and they will send the boats to the country which they can market as a destination to customers. If Australia restricts its borders, NZ will be the next stop

      Wooden boats were used to circumnavigate Australia in the early 1800s, and a wooden boat with asylum seekers has the means to bypass Australia and reach NZ in 2010. One boat aiming to bypass Australia for NZ has already attempted this passage

      Like NZ, Australia is part of the UN Refugee Resettlement Scheme and takes 14,000 refugees annually (NZ takes 750). Each asylum seeker arriving by boat who is accepted has meant one less place available of the 14,000 place Resettlement Scheme, If NZ uses the same process then 750 will quickly be used up

    9. By nz native on Jul 9, 2010 | Reply

      C. , shayne and rj are what we New Zealanders know and call …..dreamers.

      There has NEVER been a load of boat refugee’s arrive in modern New Zealand. That would be because of the geography which presently has Australia sited several thousand kilometers closer to where the refugee boats embark from than us.

      This quirk of geography is expected to continue for quite a long time.

      So the Aussies can keep expecting a few boat people to turn up and we can keep expecting ………….. none.

      Local New Zealand produced fear-mongering idiots outnumber ‘boat people’ by factors into the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands, this will not change.

      Some times it seems this country is swamped by fearful right whing-er idiots who live in dread of strange illogical possibility’s.

      And we even have a government ready and willing to represent them …………….


    10. By Oliver on Jul 9, 2010 | Reply

      People smuggling boats have succesfully made it from Sri Lanka to Canada. That is a much longer journey over much tougher waters than we be required to reach New Zealand.

    11. By rj on Jul 9, 2010 | Reply

      nz native

      I’m Australian, not a Kiwi.
      Our Navy intercepts asylum seekers once they reach Australian waters.
      If asylum seekers opt to remain in international waters and sail on to NZ, then the RAN has no legal right to stop them

      If you feel that’s fear mongering, so be it. It’s for NZ to deal with, not Australia

    12. By A foreigner on Jul 14, 2010 | Reply

      The country does seam swamped, especially Auckland, and its not native Right Wingers (which nz native might think is a good thing), but the rest of us know that its the socialists that have quietly changed the ethnic population balance, and when that happens our culture drowns along with us and unfortunately crime rates and unemployment often overflow too.

      With Asylum seekers John Key is posturing about a front door route none will take, whilst his government, like the previous, keeps the back door wide open and quietly whispers come in.

      Some of you were born here, lived here for generations yet after 2 weeks my vote counts just as much as yours. Thanks. But don’t think that my elegances to my home country have changed. No way. Never will either.

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