Opinion

The state of emergency that is facing Australia. By Richard Flanagan.

Australia’s boat people crisis

It is one of the tragedies of our age to wander the streets and malls of Penrith or Rooty Hill or a hundred or more similar suburbs in our great nation of Western Sydney and see the misery, degradation and wanton terror that the boat people have brought from Campbelltown to Parramatta. Outside of the ruins of Aleppo and the wastes of Grozny, to say nothing of the sorrowful boulevards of Pyongyang, few places in the world have known such ongoing misery as the once happy lands of the western Sydneysider.

And it is to Western Sydney and all its great people that I offer the following modest proposal to once and for all end their world of the terrible problem of the ongoing invasion of the west by illegal boat people.

For some years it has been agreed that the problem could only be dealt with by the application of firmness best expressed in the term Stop the Boats. Even the most hardened heart of our most flinty politicians has been moved by the sight of drowned children and drowned mothers scattered over the Indian Ocean like lost shopping bags blowing through a Westfield car park. 

For some years, however,  the illegal and dangerous refugees have just kept making that journey, blind to the fact that their misery is a selfish vanity and ignores the plight and sufferings of the people of our great nation of Western Sydney. And of late they have waged an asymmetrical war against us in internment camps by stealth, in the form of riots, wounds, rapes and deaths that are ultimately self-inflicted.

And in that time we, as a people, as this great nation, have come to several conclusions, the first being that as well as being unwelcome these people lie outside the purview of any of the customs of decency or laws of humanity that apply to us, and hence they are illegal. Second, that these illegals keep coming not because of their own despair or misery, or the much cited notions of terror and fear. They keep coming because people smugglers – a brutal force of nature that can be easily equated with murderous white pointers – are running a highly successful import business bringing them to Australia. This leads to the third conclusion we have reached – namely, that there is no end of cruelty that is not justified in halting the wicked trade, and about the necessity of cruelty we are as agreed as we are united in knowing that we are only cruel in the interests of humanity and decency.

And yet, it is also clear that we cannot turn around the boats because they sink, or they are scuttled, while if we spend valuable taxpayers’ money on highly expensive lifeboats to shuttle the illegals back to Indonesia we may well provoke an unwanted and unnecessary confrontation with the Indonesian authorities. It is also now apparent that bribing Third World governments to set up gulags at huge taxpayer expense is impossible to administer properly without risking riot, violence, rape, abuse, and murder.

So what will stop the boats? What will end the reign of the evil people smugglers?

The answer before us is so obvious that we have for a long time not seen it.

All efforts to stem the flow brought about by the wicked people smugglers have so far only resulted in more misery, as evidenced by the recent problems of Manus Island. If these problems are self-inflicted, it has to be acknowledged that they are also now not only costing us billions of dollars, but have led us close to war with Indonesia, seen us seek to quash human rights investigations in Sri Lanka, deal with a former Khmer Rouge cadre-cum-despot in Cambodia, and be condemned for human rights abuses by China. It has seen our government suppress information, lie, and deceive in a manner that is deeply corrosive of our beloved democracy. And all of this is unnecessary if we simply return to the fundamentals.

For it seems to me that in our decency and our magnanimous humanity, in our generosity and the undeniable largeness of our Western Sydney spirit, we have so far refused to recognise where these conclusions rightly and properly lead in the interests of decency and humanity.

Which brings me to what are inescapable facts. Why are we defending our borders? What does it mean when our army and navy are asked to defend our borders?  Why is this the greatest national crisis we have faced since megafauna in the form of giant carnivorous wombats roamed the savannah lands that once were Panania and Revesby? 

Why? Because we are at war. We are at war with invaders of great cunning and phenomenal endurance, at war with invaders who just won’t stop coming, and yet we refuse to accept it is so. And once we accept it is war, we can then accept what we now must do.

Bomb the boats and kill all the illegals.

Of course, blowing up people is a cruel policy, possibly even crueller than what we already do. I do not resile from its cruelty, because ultimately it cloaks a larger compassion and a greater humanity. But it needs to be understood that while killing one illegal is a crime, a war on illegals is a matter of strategic necessity.

And by sinking the boats by bombing them with the use of naval artillery, we will not just be stopping the boats but eroding the base of the people smugglers by killing the people smugglers as well. 

It may be objected that innocent people will inadvertently die, but many will die anyway, and those who don’t would, under the existing arrangements, be made to suffer so greatly in Third World hell holes they’d wish themselves dead anyway. Killing them immediately is tragic, but it is the only way we can get the message to the people smugglers that their business model is dead, because they will be dead with it.

The ongoing naval bombardment has many virtues beyond stopping the illegals.

It gives our sorely tested navy the opportunity for ongoing live gunnery practice with a real enemy, while helping to restore their morale after suffering the vicious slanders of the ABC. Opportunities would arise for cross forces exercises, deploying US Marines stationed in Darwin to machinegun down survivors. A transnational alliance – and here I think much could be achieved in the way of reducing tensions with Indonesia – that brought the Indonesian navy in to participate in a real-life gunnery exercise would be a welcome development.

At the moment, a huge amount of taxpayers’ money is being wasted on the retrieval of people already dead, often putting the lives of our valiant Australian naval personnel in extremely dangerous situations. By bombing the boats and destroying them and all the people on board there will be no bodies left to rescue. What there will be is a nutrient-enriched oceanic current that will serve as a much needed food source for dwindling fish stock in the Indian Ocean – thus helping impoverished Indonesian fishing communities by increasing the possibilities of higher catches, and sparing naval personnel the trauma of having to deal with corpses, plus the ongoing cost of litigation from traumatised service personnel years later.

It is possible to pursue this policy in a civilised and controlled manner. At present we are killing illegals with private contractors outside the purview of national and international law. The important point I would make here is that at all times we observe the Geneva Conventions, which would bring the whole matter of killing illegals under the strict and humane provisions of international military practices and ethics, affording the illegals far more rights than we have given them previously.

My proposal is not without consequences for how we run Australia. It seems clear that in a time of war a three-star running a military operation to hunt down and turn back boats is an inadequate response. While Minister Morrison has been exemplary in his strength, the Prime Minister is right that we don’t want wimps and – though it lies outside the purview of my proposal – it may be that, until this crisis is satisfactorily resolved, we need to have the Prime Minister himself replaced with a four-star general running the nation. 

I should say I am not suggesting that there are no other solutions. I have had several conversations with well-placed friends in the People’s Liberation Army of China and, without breaking confidences, I can say that the possibility of Australia using the latent capacity presently available in the Chinese gulag system to place asylum seekers was discussed in a favourable manner. This though would also necessitate placement fees which over some years – even when offset with organ donations by illegals – would prove an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer. 

Bombing and killing the illegals by our own navy has the added virtue of our public finances being spent here in Australia, on Australians, and the cost would be minimal compared with the present blowout of billions.

I am not saying that far greater military minds than mine could not greatly enhance my proposal in many details, both large and small. A good friend well placed in the military has, for example, pointed out that opportunities for developing technology such as drones that could find and destroy the illegals’ boats would also abound, thus helping restore our sorely depleted manufacturing base.

But its principles – entirely consistent with the cruelty rightly advocated by both Liberal and Labor parties (to say nothing of the many commentators I admire in our national newspaper) for many years now – is clearly what we need to honour and develop to their logical endpoint. In that spirit, as we approach the 100th anniversary of our victory at Gallipoli, I put forward my plan.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 28, 2014 as "The solution to end all solutions". Subscribe here.

Richard Flanagan
is a writer. His most recent novel is The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

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