Julian Burnside on the High Court’s Malaysian Solution Decision
In the past 15 years, most boat arrivals have been Afghan Hazaras fleeing the Taliban, Iraqis fleeing Saddam Hussein, Iranians fleeing the theocracy in that country, and Tamils fleeing genocide in Sri Lanka. Not surprisingly, a very high percentage (approximately 80-95 per cent) of boat people ultimately establish an entitlement to protection. […]
It is therefore difficult to assume that anything done by Australia will make any appreciable difference to the arrival rate of boat people.
If things are left as they are, Australia will continue to face the following problems associated with the present system: needless infliction of mental harm on detainees and damage to Australia’s reputation as a nation which cares about human rights. And don’t forget the huge cost: mandatory detention costs us about $1 billion a year.
There is simply no merit in the idea of detaining people indefinitely just because they have arrived in Australia by boat. Asylum seekers also arrive by air: typically they arrive on short-term visas such as business, tourist or student visas. Once in Australia, they apply for asylum. Once their initial visa expires, they are given a bridging visa pending assessment of their claim for asylum. This may take years, but they remain in the community while it happens. Most of these asylum claims fail on the merits (only about 20 per cent succeed). By contrast, about 80-90 per cent of boat arrivals ultimately succeed in their claim for asylum, but they are detained during the entire process.
The arrival rate of asylum seekers who come by air is two or three times greater than the arrival rate of boat people.
A question inevitably arises: what is the justification for detaining boat people indefinitely, at vast expense, when most of them will ultimately succeed in their claim for protection but will be damaged more or less severely by the process? To this question, it seems that the only genuine answer is an appeal to political advantage.