Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Pacific Solution sends wrong moral message

  • 02 April 2007

Earlier this year a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers was picked up and sent to Christmas Island. The Minister for Immigration, Kevin Andrews, then announced the decision to send them to Nauru without hope of resettlement in Australia. He was criticised both for making a morally unjustifiable decision and for not acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. The first criticism was correct; the second, less reasonable.

Mr Andrews had justified his decision on the grounds that it was necessary to send a message to asylum seekers and those who arranged their boat travel. If this is the only justification for the Pacific Solution, it is morally unacceptable because it inflicts suffering on an innocent group of people in order to communicate a harsh message to others. It is like beginning class by beating a couple of boys at random in order to discourage others from playing up. It makes the suffering of the asylum seekers – their isolation, mental disturbance, anxiety and hopelessness – core instruments of policy.

But even if it is not conceived of as a deterrent the Pacific solution is unethical. It flouts the principle of human solidarity which any ethical public policy must satisfy. This principle states that human beings with the capacity to help are obliged to assist the desperate who make a claim on them. It also states that this responsibility is shared. Australia therefore is obliged to protect those who make a justified claim for asylum, and to share the burden of those in distant places who do not arrive on Australia shores. The principle is implicit in the Refugee convention which Australia has signed.

The artifices of excising territory from Australia’s immigration zone and of using naval vessels to prevent claims being made, simply attempt to evade a responsibility that Australia must bear.

If a policy is unethical, it is automatically inconsistent with Christian faith. Christian faith does not of itself make practices unethical. It offers grounds for recognising the dignity of each human being. It supports human dignity by appealing to God’s love for each human being.

It is reasonable to conclude that Mr Andrews administers a policy that is morally indefensible and is therefore inconsistent with Christian principles. But this conclusion does not justify the claim that when he administers this policy he personally is acting immorally and in a way inconsistent with Christian faith. This charge views too