Quick Post: Blocking visas for undesirables is morally fine

There’s been a fair amount of discussion about the morality and wisdom of using the Minister for Immigration’s powers to deny a visa to a person who wants to come to Australia to teach men about how to use violence to sleep with women.  Constructing the problem is difficult — how you characterise the actors involved in the problem isn’t intuitively obvious — and it’s made all the more difficult with public intuitions about the role of the State and the nature of liberty.

So let’s quickly go through where the sandpit is.

There are a bunch of people who argue that the visa system is inherently wrong.  We should have open borders, with people moving about however they please.  It’s a fantasy land policy position that will simply never work.  But any criticism of using the visa system to block misogynists that begins from the position ‘we should have open borders’ isn’t within the realm of reasonable opinion.  The discussion isn’t about whether or not blocking particular visas is moral; they’ve already discarded the possibility that it is.

The sandpit of reasonable conversation is in the space: the current system is flawed but fundamentally correct, the question is to what extent the visa system should be used to achieve particular policy outcomes.

We already agree that certain outcomes are desirable.  Visas that encourage skilled migration, for example, are good for economic reasons.  Visas that facilitate family reunification are similarly held up to be a good policy outcome.

So the question is why using the visa system to achieve some policy outcomes are good, but using it to promote social cohesion (and exclude people who threaten that social cohesion) is bad.

I have argued at length that Holocaust deniers and Islamophobes should not be allowed into Australia.  A person’s right to travel to Australia for the purpose of inciting hatred against Australians should not be considered a greater right than an Australian’s right to enjoy Australian society unmolested.  Geert Wilders, for example, should have a lifetime ban on applying for an Australian visa.  By granting him a visa, you directly impact on the lives of Australians who should not be made to feel like they are unwelcome in their own country.  An attack on them is an attack on all of us.

Similarly, we cannot claim to be truly interested in women’s equality if we allow people into Australia for the purpose of encouraging violence against them.

Where some people (reasonably) get anxious is the extent to which this social (rather than economic) engineering is a legitimate role of the State.  Would the State be justified in preventing communists, for example, from coming to Australia?

There are two answers.  The first is to consider whether the Migration Act would allow the Minister to discriminate on the basis of political opinion and, if it does (it probably doesn’t), to amend it.  The second is to engage in public dialogue about these situations and where the Minister’s discretion really reflects public opinion on these matters.  So if you’re happy for the Minister to exercise discretion in this instance (which I think you should be), then you should make it clear under which situations you wouldn’t find it acceptable.

Ultimately, this is a good outcome for us.  This is the reason we give the Minister discretion: to ensure that the system follows community expectation about who comes into Australia and for what reason.

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