by Henry Sherrell & Peter Mares
Inside Story – 14 October 2016
Attitudes towards a more generous refugee resettlement program are influenced by beliefs about how many migrants arrive each year. But making the calculation isn’t straightforward
Towards the end of ABC TV’s special “Sovereign Borders“ edition of Q&A came an intriguing but frustrating back-and-forth about the number of migrants Australia welcomes each year.
The key protagonists were Shen Narayanasamy, GetUp!’s human rights campaign director, and retired general Jim Molan, co-author of the Coalition’s refugee and asylum policy and Tony Abbot’s former special envoy for Operation Sovereign Borders.
[Shen Narayanasamy’s] laudable aim of encouraging Australians to support a much higher intake of humanitarian migrants needs to be based on firmer foundations than the flawed assertion that Australia already accepts 800,000 migrants every year (not least because for many people this high figure might be reason to slam the entry gate shut rather than open it wider).
There is no doubt we could do much more. History, and migration numbers, tell us as much. In 1980–81 under Coalition prime minister Malcolm Fraser, Australia had a population of just below fifteen million people and resettled 22,545 humanitarian migrants. We have never reached that number again. If we resettled an equivalent number of refugees proportionally to our population today, then our current annual humanitarian intake would exceed 33,000 people. This is 75 per cent above the increased intake of 19,000 people promised by Malcolm Turnbull at the recent refugee summit in New York, and significantly beyond Labour’s election promise to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 27,000 by 2025. Yet we are a much richer country today than we were in 1981.
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