A former editor once told me not to call for a better conversation, but instead be the better conversation. Asylum seeker policy discussions in Australia are garbage because neither side of the discussion has any interest in discussing the matter seriously. Nobody moves beyond slogans and bellyfeel.
The more I think about it, the more I’m in favour of offshore processing. I used to be agnostic, then I was broadly in support, and now I’m quite firmly convinced that it’s the best option on the table. But what if I disagreed with myself? What if there was a me who knew all the same facts, had all the same reasoning capacities, but just fundamentally believed that onshore processing was the best option on the table? Let us find out.
Hello, me who is identical to me but disagrees with me on this particular issue: offshore processing.
Thank you for having me here.
Not at all. Where should we start?
We could start with broad ideas. What do you think an asylum seeker policy should achieve?
I guess I think an asylum seeker policy is about contributing to a global effort to resettle the millions of people displaced by persecution.
That is a good aim. I think an asylum seeker policy should focus on what to do with the people who approach Australia for assistance.
Perhaps it’s a bit of both? Maybe a really good asylum seeker policy would respond both to global and domestic needs.
Maybe. But when push comes to shove, one of those priorities will trump the other.
Like when you have 15,000 places in your refugee programme and 14,000 people arrived that year?
Yeah. Hypothetically, it’s possible that all of the positions will be taken by direct applicants.
True. And I guess in that situation, I still think the global effort should be given preference over the local issue.
We don’t agree on that. I don’t think that you can directly interfere with the rights and liberties of an actual person here in order to maximise the rights and liberties of a hypothetical person somewhere else.
But I don’t think it’s a reasonable argument in this situation. We know that the wait for a person in a refugee camp is somewhere in the ballpark of 15 years, while a person who makes a direct application only waits about 5 years. Why do you think it’s reasonable to incentivise people who self-select their resettlement outcome?
Because they’re fleeing persecution.
But lots of people are fleeing persecution. Millions of them. And there aren’t enough places in the global resettlement programme, so why should people who opt to use clandestine migration pathways get preferential treatment?
They’re not getting preferential treatment. People in camps are getting suboptimal treatment.
That’s a weak argument.
But it’s the best I’ve got. If we’re serious about liberal ideals, then we cannot interfere with the rights and liberties of this individual, even if it would be better overall to do so.
I’m not a liberal in the actual world.
Liberalism is pretty good. John Locke, baby.
He owned slaves. So did Thomas Jefferson. Liberalism is by slave-owners for slave-owners.
The only way I can crack open your argument is the ‘interference with the rights and liberties of the individual’ aspect. What if I conceded for the sake of argument that this was not a ridiculous thing to assert, and instead argued that offshore detention did not interfere with the rights and liberties of the individual?
That would be a very cool argument, but I doubt such a thing is possible. Do you have any cognac?
Yes. In the decanter.
Truly, you are the best of all possible Mark Fletchers.
Nope. There’s always a potential for a better Mark Fletcher.
We’re kind of great.
We sure are, fantasy me who disagrees with me. And now I have stalled for time enough. Are you ready for this?
When we imagine immigration detention centres at the moment, we imagine something horrible.
Yeah. But what if it didn’t have to be like that?
No, I mean like what if we were able to improve the standard of an immigration detention centre such that it didn’t actually interfere with the rights and liberties of the individual?
Freedom, my man. The moment you restrict a person’s freedom of movement, &c., &c., &c., you interfere with their rights and liberties. You can’t have a lock on the front door.
What if the conditions were so good that it wouldn’t need to be locked?
You’re going to run into two problems. The first is that a desperate person might think that their chances of not being returned to their home country are better if they’re not processed at all as there is a non-zero chance of having their application fail. Therefore, there is always a flight risk. The second is that any immigration detention centre that good will cause resentment from the general population hosting the immigration detention centre. Why are these asylum seekers getting three square meals a day when my kids are starving?
You could pass a law making it an offence for the asylum seeker to flee from an immigration detention centre… No, wait…
Yeah. I realised that when I finished that sentence. Hmmmmmmmm…
You’re going to have to reject the interference with liberties assertion.
That’s the thing. I can think of lots of situations where that principle doesn’t hold. If you’ve got a serious communicable disease, we detain you for the purpose of benefiting some hypothetical other person.
Don’t link asylum seekers with the concept of disease.
I know, but I feel like the interference principle can’t be absolute. We stop you from building a house the way you want it because of its potential effects on some hypothetical third person. We stop you from owning guns because of its potential effect on some hypothetical third person. Your interference principle isn’t self-evidently true.
But I think it holds for the asylum seeker instance.
I just don’t agree. Incentivising a person to act to the detriment of another person who might require it more really feels wrong.
Offshore detention centres seem to necessitate violence against asylum seekers.
It’s really gross. I don’t support our current system of offshore detention centres. I think the standards should be lifted.
I think that’s somewhere that we both agree. If we must have offshore processing, then the centres should meet minimum standards.
Yup, and if we are going to encourage other countries to detain asylum seekers en route to Australia, then we should do more to ensure people who live in our global neighbourhood have access to the things we think asylum seekers should be able to access: nutritious food, clean water, basic health care.
And, frankly, we should be doing that regardless of whether or not our asylum seekers are being processed there.
I was fairly sure that this dialogue would end up with the two versions of me snogging. I feel like the world is a poorer place for this not happening.