Shipwreck caused by kindness

In ‘Tragic results of Labor’s compassion’ (The Australian, 27/12) Chris Kenny draws completely different conclusions from precisely the same evidence, depending on who was in government at the time.

The drownings at Christmas Island he ascribes to Labor’s refugee policy, which he deems soft because, while it does feature arbitrary detention, it lacks forced repatriation. Howard’s policy, he says, was “cruel to be kind. We will never know how many lives it saved by removing the incentive for dangerous voyages.”

But we get some idea how many it didn’t save, when Kenny demolishes his own argument by mentioning the 353 people who drowned when the SIEV X sank, under Howard’s policies.

Let’s get it straight: Howard’s “make the fire hotter to keep people in the frying pan” approach was designed to prevent entry, not deaths, and there is no evidence that it did either. Even if it had, that doesn’t mean we must return to it, as there are many other ways to obviate the risks some refugees take without trying to match the cruelties they are running from.

The causes of global refugee movements are tectonic in scale. To imagine that local policy adjustments have a substantial effect on them is solipsistic. Two points on a graph do not constitute a trend, nor does temporal coincidence constitute causation. That, incidentally, is why Howard is not culpable for the Sieve X tragedy – only for his lies about it.

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