The end of the Pacific solution

by John Quiggin on December 7, 2007

Without a great deal of fanfare, the new Labor government in Austrlai has ended the shameful ‘Pacific solution’ under which refugees were held in offshore camps, located on the territory of neighbouring countries which the Australian government bullied and bribed into hosting them. Most of the refugees held at the Nauru camp have been allowed to settle in Australia.

The ‘Pacific solution’ and Labor’s failure to come up with an adequate response under the hapless Kim Beazley was a major factor in the Howard government’s election victory in 2001.

Defenders of the Howard government can make whatever claims they like about this evil system, whether to say that it was justified by results or to claim that Labor’s policy isn’t really all that different. The fact remains that this was a cruel and brutal response to community panic; panic the government itself did a great deal to stir up, and even more to exploit politically. Those responsible, most notably Howard himself, will carry the stain of the Pacific solution to their graves and beyond.

{ 13 comments }

1

Gareth Wilson 12.08.07 at 12:05 am

If it was an evil system, and it won the election for the government, does that mean the Australian electorate is evil?

2

Syd Webb 12.08.07 at 1:02 am

Gareth Wilson wrote:

If it was an evil system, and it won the election for the government, does that mean the Australian electorate is evil?

Only by the superhumanly high moral standards of a Canada or a New Zealand.

In the real world, if a government plays on the electorate’s fear and ignorance it only means the electorate is fearful and ignorant.

3

terence 12.08.07 at 1:33 am

horrayy!!!

4

Stephen Judd 12.08.07 at 7:52 am

Only by the superhumanly high moral standards of a Canada or a New Zealand.

Mate, I wish that was true.

Our isolation allows us to exercise our scruples a little more, that’s all.

5

Alex Higgins 12.08.07 at 10:50 am

“If it was an evil system, and it won the election for the government, does that mean the Australian electorate is evil?”

Is this a bona fide question, or a cheap piece of demogogery?

6

Barry 12.08.07 at 1:11 pm

I’m jealous; I can only hope that a Democratic sweep in the USA next year would bear half the fruit.

7

ben 12.08.07 at 7:31 pm

Anything less than totally open borders is shameful. Anybody who wants to immigrate to Australia anytime from anywhere in the world should be allowed to do so. Anyone who thinks any differently will carry the stain of their racism to their graves and beyond.

8

John Quiggin 12.08.07 at 10:04 pm

I’ll mark you down as an “everybody is racist, so they shouldn’t criticise me” racist, shall I, Ben?

9

Gareth Wilson 12.08.07 at 10:05 pm

In response to 5, it’s a little of both. The policy could certainly be evil. Just because five million people voted for it doesn’t mean it’s morally right. But what are the implications of five million people voting for something evil, and what does it say about them?

10

john c. halasz 12.08.07 at 10:12 pm

I just listened to a rebroadcast of NPR’s “This American Life”, featuring an episodic, if not picquareque, history of Nauru. It’s worth checking out.

11

Matt 12.08.07 at 10:32 pm

It’s worth thinking what was wrong about the “pacific solution”, I think. I don’t think that it’s per se wrong for a country to favor third-country resettlement as a policy for refugees so tend to think that _that_ can’t be what was wrong. To my mind several points about it that were be would be the following: 1) there was a strong racist element to it. I’ve been told by an Australian refugee judge that the largest group of illegal aliens in Australia, by far, are American and European “back-packers” who over-stay tourist visas, but little is done about them. They are not rounded up and put in camps in the desert nor shipped to remote islands without hearing for processing. Why not them? The answer seems fairly clear. 2)There was a heavy punitive element to it, in shipping the potential refugees to quite poor and remote islands that could likely not deal with them in the long term and who have a doubtful likelihood of fulfilling their duties under the refugee convention. According to the linked article this was intentional, so as to discourage would-be asylum seekers. This is, at best, in violation of the spirit of the refugee convention and potentially a violation of it since it’s not clear that Nauru and other destinations legally counted as “safe third countries”. 3)Intradiction at sea and processing to a place like Nauru without hearing at least arguably violates to duty of non-refoulment, the core duty under the refugee convention. (Note that the US’s policy towards Hatians also violates this duty, for similar reasons.) The earlier-scrapped program of not counting coastal islands as covered by the refugee convention surely violated the duty of non-refoulment. 4)While not strictly part of the “pacific solution” the system of concentration camps in remote desert locations used by Australia to process asylum applicants surely violated human rights norms. If the labor government can make serious changes in these areas they will deserve significant praise.

12

engels 12.08.07 at 10:50 pm

If it was an evil system, and it won the election for the government, does that mean the Australian electorate is evil?

No. (#23483 in the series: Short Answers to Stupid Rhetorical Questions)

13

a very public sociologist 12.10.07 at 9:30 pm

Good on the new government. But was the policy scrapped on the grounds of progressive values, or the practicalities of cost?

Comments on this entry are closed.