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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John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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