5 November 2012
 Will boat people try jumping the queue to nowhere?


Nick Feik

You've got to admire the outlandish bureaucratic ambition of Australia's excision of itself for migration purposes, writes Nick Feik. But will they pull it off?

The Federal Government is seeking to excise mainland Australia from the migration zone - but only for unauthorised arrivals. For the rest of us, Australia will still be here.

So, refugees won't be able to seek asylum if they arrive by boat. Because no matter where their boat docks, they will never arrive in our migration zone. Because they're in a boat.

But if refugees can't arrive in the migration zone (which we'll call 'Australia'), because there is no migration zone (if you're in a boat), then where are they arriving, if they arrive? And where are we, if we happen to bump into them?

It's a linguistic, bureaucratic triumph. Not for the first time.

Once, it was relatively easy to write people out of Australia. When earlier unauthorised maritime arrivals sailed into 'Australia' in 1770, they came up with an equally ingenious, but far simpler means of taking control of its borders: they just called the land 'terra nullius' - land belonging to no-one - and claimed it for themselves.

The previous onshore entry persons, the no-ones, disputed the definition, but it took a High Court ruling in 1992 to overturn it.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, refugees and migrants were refused citizenship if they couldn't dictate a 50-word passage of a European language: German, for example, if the applicant were an Indian, or Gaelic, if they were a Czech Jew.

But the mid-century rise of the human rights movement made such clear-cut discrimination untenable. New hoops were required. After a very brief period of bipartisanship, when governments did little to keep out refugees, Phillip Ruddock, the Howard government's mastermind, emerged. He introduced a new refugee lexicon, and built an infrastructure to house it: Temporary Protection Visas, mandatory detention facilities, migration zones, and adverse security assessments.

The genius of the Ruddock system is that it was infinitely complex and infinitely flexible. Arbitrary decisions and bureaucratic vehemence combined with commercial secrecy and increased national security powers. It was a heady mix.

The Liberal Party still argues that their Howard-era system has never been topped, and perhaps they're right. Because in 2007, whether due to the election of the ALP or not, the boat arrivals started again, and they've been increasing steadily ever since.

Why doesn't the government do something, Australians asked, to lock them up/save them from drowning/protect us from the hordes?

Current immigration minister Chris Bowen is no Phillip Ruddock, but he does have some tricks of his own. The Malaysia Solution's five-genuine-refugees-for-one-boat-person deal was only scuppered by the High Court.

But perhaps the new migration excision plan will be his crowning achievement. You've got to admire the outlandish bureaucratic ambition of the Government's new plan.

The Bill amends the (Migration) Act to "provide that a person is an unauthorised maritime arrival if they entered Australia by sea at an excised offshore place at any time after the excision time for that place or at any other place at any time on or after commencement, became an unlawful non-citizen because of that entry and is not an excluded maritime arrival." (My emphasis)

The influence of the Howard era is palpable.

The High Court will hear the inevitable challenges to this legislation, and decide whether a person can be a non-person in a country that's not in its own migration zone.

But its success will depend on other things. For example, will it stop the boats? Who knows - and anyway, no more than a handful of boats have ever made it to the mainland. Can you claim to be stopping boats that weren't coming anyway? Will it stop the other boats, the ones not trying to make it to the mainland?

Perhaps bureaucratic symbolism alone will stop people from arriving on Australian shores. Maybe refugees will hear there is no 'Australia' to come to, and change their plans accordingly. Christine Milne's diagram (a map of the world without Australia) could come in handy.

We know from experience that non-Europeans aren't great at dictation, so it's unlikely too that they'll be able to decipher the Act itself.

But when it comes down to it, the Government's main aim is to reassure the good voters of Western Sydney that it has a plan to stop queue-jumpers sponging off our welfare (or risking their lives at sea, if you prefer) and in this light, Bowen's plan has a genius of its very own: why would boat people jump a queue to nowhere? And if they do make it here, they won't be here anyway. They can't come to Not Australia.

It may just work. Only history will judge how we stopped people coming to Not Australia and the manner in which they didn't come.

 Ture Sjolander :

  • 05 Nov 2012 1:36:12pm

    Massive media information in all the countries from where people are leaving for this journeys.
    Spend a few million of dollars to advertise what is now happen in Australia in anything from local news paper, local radio and of course the main media in all the regions overseas.

    It looks like the government believe that the people overseas are reading or watching Australian news media! They don't!
    They trust the people smugglers out dated information as they have no other sources of information.
    Such a campaign should have been launched a half a decade ago.

      • Marilyn :

        05 Nov 2012 1:58:52pm

        Another part of the grand brainwashing of the morons.

        It is not people smuggling to pay to seek asylum and it never has been.

        It is and always has been people leaving their homes to seek asylum.

        If our media were not so frigging brainwashed they would have noted this years ago when our own courts said "this is clearly not people smuggling, there was nothing covert, the passengers were merely being transported to the authorities."

        There are also no less than 6 binding treaties that show it is not people smuggling.

        But again our media are so frigging lazy and brainwashed they believe the lies.

          • Ture Sjolander :

            05 Nov 2012 2:46:42pm

            I am afraid you are right!
            I was the first one who said what you are saying here in Australia, and published it to. I should have written like this "people smugglers". However Whyalla kinda corrected it. Thanks.

            Still, it should be done!

            • Help101 :

              05 Nov 2012 3:00:37pm

              "It is not people smuggling to pay to seek asylum and it never has been"

              Actually that is exactly what it is....

                • Marilyn :

                  05 Nov 2012 3:42:52pm

                  It is not. It is people paying other people so they can be safe.

                  As it happens in other countries and is none of our business and we now rarely bother to charge the Indonesians what is the point of continuing the racist myth.

                  • frangipani :

                    05 Nov 2012 5:20:47pm

                    If you don't like it, Marilyn, perhaps you would care to take it up with the UN. We signed on to the Protocol on the Prevention of People Smuggling, just like we signed on to the Protocol on Refugees. Why aren't we as obligated by the one as the other?

                    • Tiresias :

                      05 Nov 2012 5:38:56pm

                      If drug smugglers smuggled in the same way as 'people smugglers' 'smuggle', they would be caught every time. These 'people smugglers' send the boats directly to Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef, some even phoning ahead, in broad daylight. The people can be seen standing on the decks. In Indonesia the refugees know how to find a boat, board it and sail away - and no one else notices?

                  • seajae :

                    05 Nov 2012 4:23:03pm

                    there you go running off at the mouth again with your bullsh*t marilyn. Australia makes it own laws, we are not required toconform to anyone elses. The boats leave indonesia illegally and anyone paying to be on them is therefore illegal as well and that is according to theirs and our laws. You can rave as much as you like and it will not change it, you never know, maybe one day you will put your money where your mouth is and sponsor these people if you are so concerned but I doubt that will ever happen.

                • Whyalla wipeout :

                  05 Nov 2012 2:11:38pm

                  No, but family members and others who enable asylum seekers using the services of people smugglers through guaranteeing payment, etc do read and see these ads.

                    • Marilyn :

                      05 Nov 2012 3:43:15pm

                      So what? It's not a crime.

                        • Whyalla wipeout :

                          05 Nov 2012 5:04:17pm

                          Never said it was, Marilyn. You are as fact-challenged as your wing nut opponents.

                          The purpose of the videos, etc is to discourage asylum seekers from risking their lives by countering the blandishments of the people smugglers. And people smuggling is a crime.

                          • Ture Sjolander :

                            05 Nov 2012 5:09:11pm

                            The point I made was, and is, They all should know, and to any price be informed about the current Australian conditions.

                            or not?

                    • Billy Bob Hall :

                      05 Nov 2012 5:34:04pm

                      Media campaign :

                      "No Passport - No Future - Your Choice ?"