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The Fundamental Question on Asylum Seekers

Australia’s dog of a policy on asylum seekers – at least, those arriving by boat – appears set to be a continued topic of political discussion this year, so I’d like to echo the sentiments of Guy Rundle as expressed just before Christmas:

The Australian asylum seeker discussion is wrongly framed. As signatories to the Refugee Convention, we have a categorical moral imperative to allow any potential refugees that reach our shores to claim asylum; this is their right.

However, the policy debate revolves around whether we can

“wholly negate someone’s rights (that we have explicitly promised them), in a situation where their life and freedom will be wholly annihilated indefinitely, all as a strategy for dissuading unknown future persons from making a possibly perilous journey.

By that definition we are using the ‘deterrent’ — the people locked up for years on Manus, Nauru, in Malaysia, or god knows where — as a means to a utilitarian end. It is a clear use of human beings in their totality, as means to other ends, and cannot in any sense ground a moral policy.

[We are] negating the irreducible moral base with a utilitarian argument based on unknowable contingencies and outcomes that cannot be guaranteed.

[Our role should be] to stand up for what we believe to be irreducibly right — right not by emotion, but by well-argued reason from fundamental principles, capable of debate — and seek to repeatedly make those issues clear as they are ceaselessly covered over by, well by notions like ‘offshore processing’. Making those issues clear would be done by making clear the fundamental political question that no politician will put — are we going to stay within the Convention, or are we not? Surely anyone who wants an honest debate and decision would want that question to rise to the surface.

Either we stay with the Convention, and honour its obligations – and further obligations that arise from those — or we repudiate it. Putting the question thus is first of all, simply honest — but I suspect it would also make clear to people eager to impose desert prisons etc, exactly what they are repudiating, about themselves as much as anything.

That seems to be the only moral approach of any honest commentator from any side regarding the issue.”

Our current discussion is not about how to adhere to our committment: it’s about the methods in which we intent to break it. A sad state of affairs.

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