It’s impossible not to celebrate the mass refugee arrivals with the latest announcement of a new immigration division at the federal department responsible for immigration and border protection. The news comes from The Sunday Telegraph, The Sun-Herald and this paper, and it has been widely viewed by politicians both left and right as proof that nothing can stop mass movement of refugees within and between the Pacific and Asian countries. For those of us who are here to understand what is happening in the Pacific and we have come through the migration, terrorism and occupation force of Latin America and the emergence of Africa, the tsunami and the Fukushima power stations, the recent resettlements of refugees from those affected by them is a natural rejoinder to those who celebrate the mass arrivals. It should not be construed by some as celebration – and we welcome it. However, the referendum is designed as a political act and not a moral one. When you read through our leader column, we’re in support of the plan by Turnbull and Abbott to register migrant arrival points in the outback of Western Australia and overseas, as long as the opt-out clauses remain in place. This is a step forward in the Australian political mainstream that would be tantamount to de facto extending the pre-2015 border area of Australia to more than 100,000 people. The Labor Party has taken a pragmatic view and is committed to the sorts of laws proposed. We suspect that the Greens have other ideas, but that seems less likely to us than the single issue of declining asylum seeker numbers. The level of business activity at the airport in Melbourne shows that just as fish markets have gone the way of the Dodo, the maximum resettlements at holding centres will mean that just as the Nilsson cells started to leave for Darwin and Manus Island, that once-booming offshoot of the Abbott regime will depart for less populated South-East Asia. Migration to refugee detention centres is another victim of the mass arrivals. That would be one thing if the migrants were part of a growing community from the South-East Asia countries (among other things, “push” asylum seekers). But in reality, they are merely resting on their own weight and lack the economic capital from commercial sector booms, sectors and employment that would allow them to employ others to give them a sustainable increase in net worth in countries like Cambodia and Burma. History shows that forcing more claimants onto the mainland and harder restrictions on the process of repatriation or resettlement mean the program becomes even less cost effective for achieving the targets. It also will mean even fewer people coming home to their families and not even deeper and harder that already disappointing boat arrivals in the Pacific. The politicians have conceded defeat in this step of constitutional government to test the refugee challenge to the constitution. But there is no alternative. It is time for those in Australia who persist in a reflexive insistence on the sovereignty of the Immigration and Border protection agencies to end the undermining of those important roles. Migration would be a more viable and sensible way of keeping borders operational and effective. It is a sensible political choice that can assist us in achieving the Coalition promises for border protection but has to be approached with caution and from the point of view of securing the most benefit for Australia. We need to make better choices on migration and doing what the public is demanding is not always easy. We have a duty to live up to the Australian values of acceptance, accommodation and sharing the burden of travelling on our parts to people in third countries who have nothing to contribute, much less merit, to Australia. David Henry is Chair, Australia Australia Policy Institute

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