THE federal government claims that its new asylum seeker policy – the PNG solution – breaks the people smugglers’ business model. Anyone smuggled by boat to Australia will be removed to Papua New Guinea for processing and won’t be resettled in Australia. People smugglers will no longer be able to sell their product – the prospect of living in Australia – to prospective customers. Without a product to sell, the smuggling will stop, and so will the tragic deaths at sea.
Many commentators have accepted this logic, even if they differ on the rights and wrongs of leaving asylum seekers stranded in Papua New Guinea. But is the logic sound?
The policy rests on a misunderstanding of the product being sold. The product that asylum seekers want and that people smugglers offer is passage to a place where real protection is possible. By real protection, I mean the chance to live somewhere – anywhere – free from persecution and able to rebuild a dignified life. This is not necessarily the same as seeking a life in Australia. The problem is that Australia, at present, is one of the few countries in the region where real protection is possible…