As an island continent, Australia is uniquely positioned to ensure that the government of the day determines migration programs that reflect the desires of the Australian community; namely, to accommodate migrants with skills, those with close family ties, and humanitarian entrants with a high need for protection.
From time to time some people believe that they can bypass reasonable checks and selection criteria to obtain an outcome to which they might not otherwise have been entitled. People smugglers have seen opportunities to profit in these circumstances.
While all governments loudly proclaim that they determine who enters and settles in Australia, they should be judged by their record rather than their rhetoric.
Like its predecessors, the Howard government was faced with the challenge of unauthorised border arrivals. Yet for almost half a decade it managed to bring people-smuggling to an end. There are a range of measures that can be taken to contain people-smuggling. Some involve high levels of international co-operation and others involve domestic policy settings.
The Rudd Government would have Australians believe that the pursuit of international co-operation is sufficient. The deployment of immigration officials and police abroad, dialogue with other nations and even advertising campaigns are not new strategies. The Howard government used them all. In reality, however, the only measures that worked were domestic in character.
These included the return to Indonesia of a number of vessels destined for Australia, the implementation of the so-called Pacific solution with the co-operation of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and humane mandatory detention for those who reached Australia.
The detention enabled the consideration of claims for protection or other reasons to remain in Australia, as well as character, security and health checks. It meant detainees were available for processing and for removal if necessary.
Further, if a detainee was found to be a refugee, temporary protection was offered rather than a permanent migration outcome, to limit the consequential family reunion.
Border security was, is and always will be difficult public policy.
The Rudd government appears to have walked away from its responsibilities and the promises it made during the last election campaign to maintain robust border security. This abdication of responsibility is putting people's lives at risk, forcing them into the hands of people-smugglers whom Kevin Rudd himself has described as "the vilest form of human life".
The Rudd government maintains that the increased number of unauthorised boat arrivals is unrelated to its winding back of the Howard government's border security arrangements. It argues that softening border controls has not become a pull factor for illegal immigration to Australia. Rather, it points to increased push factors due to a global increase in displaced people and refugees. This argument is seriously flawed.
During the Howard administration the UN High Commissioner for Refugees identified more than 24million people as refugees. Its most recent reports suggest that number has fallen to little more than 11 million.
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