JIM COOMBS. The Economics of Stop The Boats : A sense of Proportion.

Why throw away money on preventing refugees when we should see the economic benefit they might bring ?  

Economics is supposed to be about the best allocation of resources. To deal with perhaps 25,000 people we are spending in excess of some billions of dollars. The result, whether it is in breach of international treaty obligations, or human decency, is simply a waste of tax-payers money.

Our need for this is also questionable: in numerical terms the “threat” being dealt with, by comparison, say, with the hundreds of thousands heading towards European Mediterranean nations, is hardly of any significance. It is small also by comparison with overstayers (arriving by air, on a visa) from New Zealand, Asia and Europe, likely over 200,000, few of whom are imprisoned or put back to another country, or the ocean, for someone else to accept, whether they die at sea or not. In our terms death from domestic violence and road trauma are more significant, the threat to us from “boat people”is tiny.

Our response to these desperate people is simply disproportionate: using a cluster-bomb to kill a fly.

Dare one suggest a humane, economic alternative ? 94% of the “boat people” have been assessed as genuine refugees, entitled to our protection under international law. The “evil” that the current wasteful policy is supposed to address is the loss of life due to people smugglers’ lack of safety standards. So we push them back for someone else to deal with them or let them drown on their watch. How compassionate of us.

The “policy” says making Australia a no-go attacks the “business model” of the smugglers, while, incidentally, treating desperate asylum seekers as criminals, detained in less than happy conditions.

The simplest way of undermining the smugglers’ ”business model” is to undercut them. If Australia, richest nation in the region, were to use the Vietnamese boats, apparently already hired or purchased to repel them, to take the refugees to Australia for a modest fee (seeing they had cash for the smugglers), releasing these desperate people into their own communities here, while their claims to asylum are assessed in accordance with our international legal obligations, with suitable reporting obligations.

Instead of the refugees thousands of dollars going to the evil smugglers, they get to spend it here, boosting our economy. Remember 94% so far have been accepted as refugees. It is also worth remembering (those who don’t learn the lessons of history are forced to repeat the mistakes) that Australia has been, in the past, a model receiver of refugees: consider the “Dunera Boys” who produced some of our best in academia and business of the immediate post war, the wonderful culture-changing Vietnamese welcomed late lamented Malcolm Fraser and the Tien An Men Chinese granted residence by Bob Hawke.

This is a body of people who have drive, initiative sufficient to get to our borders to escape persecution and a genuine humanitarian need. If previous “boat people” refugees are a guide they will make a disproportionately positive contribution to this largely immigrant continent. Economic PLUS, not minus, and the sort of young people who will generate the wealth to keep the aging rest of us.

And while Alan Jones and Ray Hadley fulminate with unjustified hate and xenophobia, consider this: it certainly will not cost the BILLIONS of DOLLARS and we will be able to look ourselves in the mirror and think that we have done ourselves an economic favour. Let alone the world, and the oppressed.

Come on, Turnbull and Shorten, get real and consider your sense of proportion.

Jim Coombs, Almost retired magistrate and economist


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4 Responses to JIM COOMBS. The Economics of Stop The Boats : A sense of Proportion.

  1. tasi timor says:

    ‘The “policy” says making Australia a no-go attacks the “business model” of the smugglers’

    Th smugglers don’t have a single ‘business model’. Never did. They opportunistically squeeze as much money out of the asylum seekers as they can, any way they can. So do POLRI and TNI and others. The more times they’re detained the better it looks on the stats and the more bribes paid. So long as OSB is permanent, and costly, Jakarta has restated the point that they control potential threats. So long as the swinging doors to Europe remain swinging the present period in which we have displaced asylum seekers to seek a more prospective welcome elsewhere remains the status quo. This isn’t rocket science and never was although a media commentator who likes to write on security wrote in one of the daily Ruperts that we had stopped the boats with a ‘sophisticated suite of measures.’ I suppose he was referring to bribery blackmail and betrayal. Les Patterson used to wear a sophisticated suite too.

  2. Jan Forrester says:

    Thanks for the article Jim.
    Has anyone/organisation made a substantive stab at how much – in dollars – detention. Deterrence, court cases, etc has cost us? Agreeing on the time-base and cost sub-headings would be interesting. I suspect it would be staggering too.

  3. Bob Weis says:

    We are all migrants even the first peoples who came eighty thousand years ago.
    The fiction that we made for ourselves so that we didn’t have to confront the inconvenient truth is that there was nobody here so we can treat newcomers as the proprietors of Terra Nullius and anybody who is not like us can live in hell.
    Or in the Weasley Words of the great nasal minimalist, “We will decide who comes to this country
    Tell that to Pat and Mick Dodson

  4. Margaret Mayman says:

    Excellent article but there is one issue. New Zealanders who are citizens are not over-stayers. Australia and NZ citizens have a reciprocal right to live and work in each other’s countries. Australia makes it much more difficult for New Zealanders to become citizens than the reverse situation. For information about inequities facing tax paying New Zealanders living in Australia you might want to look at the Oz Kiwi website. I accept that some non-citizens may come to Australia via New Zealand and over stay their visas but the difference should be made clear.

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