Posted by: Nick Ward | 15 September, 2013

The Clarity of my Fourteen-Year-Old Niece

imageI have on occasion stated that I believe that a lot of Australia’s politicians have the intellectual capacity of a two-year-old. Well, last night I was shown that they certainly don’t have the intellectual prowess of a fourteen-year-old secondary school student from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Let me share with you the presentation which my neice Milly recently gave her class on Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, which she shared with me last night. It is an uncle’s job to be shamelessly proud of his neices, but this had me questioning whether we as a country are looking in entirely the wrong places for intelligent analysis and leadership.

Subject: How the Australian Government is dealing with asylum seekers
Audience: the Australian Government

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Milly Ward and I will be addressing you on the issue of asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat (or ‘boat-people as they are commonly called), how the Australian Government is dealing with them, myths that the government has a lot of Australians believing and some short and long term solutions.

Starting with the PNG solution. For those who need it clarified, the PNG solution is something that the Australian government implemented earlier this year. It means that anyone coming to Australia by boat without a visa or passport will never be settled in Australia, instead they will be settled in Papua New Guinea. There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea which I will speak about later. To be honest I think it is the government simply paying billions of dollars to dump people they don’t want to have to deal with into a small, third world country. What appals me even more is that Australia is obliged through many international treaties to protect the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees, regardless of where they come from or how they arrive. The Australian Government is saying that to arrive on a boat as an asylum seeker without a visa or passport is illegal. It is NOT ILLEGAL! The Australian government signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention which states that anyone seeking asylum or is a legitimate refugee is not an illegal immigrant.

Another thing I honestly find just a bit silly is that the government is only focusing on the asylum seekers coming by boat while there are hundreds more coming by plane but the government simply isn’t concerned by this.

The government is also creating lots of myths about asylum seekers who arrive by boat which most Australians believe. I have a list of eight myths around asylum seekers who arrive by boat and I’m going to tell you the truth about them so that everyone can have a better understanding of the whole situation.

1. Thousands of ‘boat people’ are arriving at our shores in unprecedented numbers.
There are around 10 million refugees in the world. Pakistan has over 1,700,000 refugees, more than any other country. Australia is at number 47 with a mere 23,000. Less than countries like Italy, Sweden, Canada, the United States of America, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Australia receives only about 3% of all asylum seeker claims in industrialised countries.

2. We are a magnet compared to other countries.
Following on from my last point this clearly isn’t true. Refugees will more often than not go to neighbouring countries before coming to industrialised countries like Australia. Also, Australia being an island, it’s not the most convenient, safe or cheapest country to go to, it’s much easier to go to countries that are close.

3. We take more asylum seekers because we are a rich, first world country.
This is ridiculously untrue. As I have already said asylum seekers will usually go to neighbouring countries, not only for the reasons I’ve already mentioned but its closer to what they know, people will look the same, there will be people from their country already there and they might not have to learn a new language.

4. Asylum seekers arriving without a visa or passport are illegal immigrants.
It is NOT illeagal to seek asylum. Everyone has the right to be safe and in 1951 Australia signed the UN Refugee convention which means that seeking asylum in Australia IS NOT ILLEGAL.

5. Most asylum seekers come by boat.
While most people will probably think this is true, it’s not. In fact statistics show that at least 13 asylum seekers arrive by plane per day, more than 32 times the amount coming by boat. More than 96% of refugee applicants arrive by plane.

6. Asylum seekers are taking our jobs.
Again something I think most Australians believe and possibly something people are most concerned about. The federal government released 16,000 asylum seekers into the community while they wait for their refugee claims to be processed, which can take many years. They receive $220 a week from Centrelink, however they are on bridging visas which means they are not allowed to get jobs.

7. They don’t assimilate or contribute.
After surviving life threatening journeys they possess courage and strength, qualities admired in Australian society. History shows that refugees have contributed economically and socially and their success is seen in many ways. One example is the Do family. They came to Australia from Vietnam in 1980 in a leaky fishing boat 9.5m long and 2m wide with 40 people on it. During their 5 day journey they were robbed by pirates, nearly died of starvation and thirst and had people kidnapped and drown. They struggled to make ends meet for many years after they arrived and now their oldest son Anh is an extremely successful comedian, actor and author and his younger brother Khoa is a movie director, screenwriter and was the young Australian of the year in 2005.

8. We can just turn the boats back.
This has been a very highly discussed topic of political debate between then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (who says we can’t) and the then Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbot (who says we can). The truth is that whereever they come from most asylum seekers use Indonesia as a launching point for Australian waters. Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno has indicated that towing boats back into Indonesian waters isn’t an option however it is likely that a regional discussion will be held to discuss a joint solution.

While the government thinks they have a good solution with Papua New Guinea it’s really not helping anyone. Papua New Guinea is an extremely poor, small third world country and Australia is paying billions of dollars that could be used to develop Australia’s schools, hospitals, roads etc. to dump refugees into a country where they are not going to be living very pleasant lives.

I have two solutions that are much more humane and effective. I have a short term and long term solution.

My short term solution is to help all asylum seekers that come to Australia, in Australia. Maybe set up a shelter that houses and looks after refugees or asylum seekers waiting for their refugee claims to be processed. We could build a factory and company that make items to sell, like clothes or jewellery. I think that it would be really good and possibly quite successful to have a company run almost entirely by refugees. It would show how successful they can be when they have the chance.

My long term solution is to go and help the countries that most asylum seekers come from and help them sort out the issues that are forcing people to leave their country and become asylum seekers, because refugees would much rather stay in their own country where their family and friends are, where they know the language and where home is. They only leave because they have no choice. I know that by far this is not the easiest solution but it is the most permanent. We can raise money by appealing to all types of people. For people who want to stop the boats you can say that this will truly stop the boats for good and for people who are on the side of the asylum seekers you can say that this will help them immensely and mean that they won’t have to risk their lives to find a safe place. You can organise charity concerts and fundraising events to also help raise money.

I sincerely hope that you have taken on all my ideas because I know that millions of people share my opinion and maybe it has given you a new perspective.

I too hope that this saw Milly’s classmates take on a new perspective. By all accounts, it did. Milly tells me it was easy to research and prepare her presentation, the information was all right there waiting to be googled. Yet this all remains such a struggle for so many of our politicians, our media and consequently Australia’s population to get their heads around. But then, there are other agendas.

We can, of course, find solutions. Fourteen-year-old Milly has shown how easy it is to see through the myths and come up with a few pretty interesting ideas, and she’s also shown that it isn’t that hard to tell people about them. She has shown some leadership, something Australian politics is sadly lacking.

Perhaps we should always have known who would we would need to look to to tell the emperor that he is wearing no clothes.


  1. I think it’s fantastic that your niece thought this through so well. I love her listing of the myths the most. Love it! I’m sharing on my Facebook

  2. Hey nick! You can’t spell niece…just so you know

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