Fact Check: What did @BobJCarr actually say about ‘economic migrants’? #auspol #asylumseekers

Senator the Hon Bob Carr
Senator the Hon Bob Carr (Photo credit: ACIAR Australia)

There is a weird public debate raging in Australia where everybody on Twitter seems to think that they can intuit facts about the asylum seeker issue.  The origin of the latest round of Ouija Board Policy Making was inspired by Bob Carr’s appearance on Lateline.

Here’s what he said:

TONY JONES: Alright. Yes, that’s what you’ve – that’s the point you’ve made. I want to just quickly go to what Kevin Rudd might be able to do to change the national conversation on policy. I mean, could he, for example, change asylum seeker policy dramatically? Could he do what Tony Abbott is promising to do: turn back the boats or stop the boats?

BOB CARR: Well I said in the Labor caucus this week: we’ve got to recognise – and the people who’ve expressed noble sentiments on refugee rights have got to recognise that under our noses, the nature of this problem has changed. The people coming here by irregular means, irregular maritime arrivals, in the language of the bureaucracy, are being brought here by people smugglers – all of them, being brought here as part of a criminal commercial organisation. Second change: they’re not people fleeing persecution. They’re coming from majority religious or ethnic groups in the countries their fleeing, they’re coming here as economic migrants. And the third: there is an unsustainable spike in their numbers. It’s not the old days where their number were so few, a person with noble instincts could say let them just slide into the population.

TONY JONES: Do some mathematics here. If they’re economic migrants, why do nine out of 10 of them pretty much get accepted as genuine refugees? Are you saying we’ve got that wrong?

BOB CARR: Yeah, we’ve reached the view that as a result of court and tribunal decisions, it’s coming up wrong. We need a tougher, more hard-edged assessment. And again I say to those Australians who believe this country ought to distinguish itself by its decency to refugees, the problem in front of us measurably has changed. It is people smuggling, it is people coming here as economic migrants, it is people coming here in numbers that will push aside our generous humanitarian intake as part of our regular migration program. [Source]

So the nature of the problem has changed and, according to Carr, we are seeing an increase in economic migration.  Tony Jones then asks a stupid question: If they’re economic migrants, why do nine out of 10 asylum seekers get accepted as refugees?  But that’s a non sequitur.  The ‘nine out of 10’ statistic refers to past intakes and not the current intake.

Carr should have clarified what he meant.  Instead, he says something a bit weird: the court and tribunal decisions are coming up wrong.  That’s an entirely different debate from the composition of the current intake.  The question of courts and tribunals is extremely complicated, as I’ve argued before.

Do people move irregularly for economic reasons?  Yes.  Do people go to extreme lengths to move for economic reasons?  Yes.

Meanwhile, you have nonsense statements from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre that:

Also worthy of consideration is that the long and perilous journey to Australia is in its self is the best filter for selecting the most desperate and worthy asylum seekers. The final protection visa grant rate is a reflection of the fact that only the most desperate are willing to take the huge risk of boarding a boat to Australia. [Source]

Not only is it false globally (as the Global RCP meeting shows all too well)  but it’s also false locally.  The huge risk of boarding a boat to Australia shows that a person is a refugee?  Then why do Illegal Foreign Fishers get in boats to come to Australia?

Meanwhile, back to Carr.  On Monday night’s Q&A, Tony Jones (the same person who conducted the above interview):

[Bob Carr] says that 100% of recent arrivals are economic migrants and the tribunal system is broken.  Is he right?  Is he wrong? [Source]

But that’s not what Minister Carr said.

It seems weird that, in the so-called ‘information age’, this journalist-driven nonsense flourishes so easily.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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