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Why stopping the boats won’t help

THE POLITICAL orthodoxy that any of the policy solutions offered by the two major parties will “stop the boats” demonstrates some clear misunderstandings of international law.

It is not illegal to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum.

The major difference between Australia and most other countries is that we are surrounded by water, hence the need for a boat.

The idea that turning back the boats is a viable solution is also misguided. Both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have condemned coming to Australia in “leaky boats” because it is unsafe to do so.

One of the foundational principles of international maritime law is safety at sea.

The notion that unsafe, leaky boats would be “turned back” (presumably removing them to international waters) is likely to be so unsafe it would breach international law.

Captains at sea have substantial authority and their first obligation is to the safety of all at sea not to domestic Australian law or policy.

The notion of a regional processing facility is very unlikely to reduce the number of refugees who resettle in Australia.

It is important to note that Nauru is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

Becoming a signatory to the Refugee Convention means you accept the responsibilities placed upon you as a party and the rights of those to seek asylum.

Nauru has no obligation to accept any of those found to be refugees.

East Timor on the other hand, in the event that a processing centre was ever set up, is a signatory.

Nevertheless if they were processing asylum seekers on behalf of Australia they would rightly argue that Australia’s obligations are greater than their own.

But surely Australia has a moral responsibility extending far beyond any legal obligations.

We claim in our national anthem, “For those who’ve come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share.”

Finally our Church in its proposed new preamble reaffirms the truth that those of us who are Second Australians came from many lands.

Most of our ancestors came from somewhere else, many by boat.

I thank God they didn’t turn back the boat on which my grandmother’s family came.