The great Australian experiment


It is hard to think of a bigger proven disaster, than that of the Australian Labor Party’s boats policy. People will recall how John Howard’s hardline on asylum seekers arriving by boat with hated by the liberal left in . They demanded an end to it, and when Labor won in 2007, they scrapped it.

You can see above what happened. The scrapping of Howard’s policy saw an exponential growth of people trying to arrive by boat. Not a 100% increase or even 1,000% increase but a 10,000% increase. Before they did a u-turn in 2013, the number had grown from around 10 people a month to 4,000.

But that was not the worst impact of Labor’s policy. It was the death toll. Their policy change may have been well intentioned, but it incentivised desperate people to pay thousands of dollars to people smugglers to try and get them into Australia onto unsafe boats. The so called humane policy turned out to be a lethal policy.


When say two or three civilians die in an overseas war zone, some are quick to say the Government is responsible for their deaths. Well what do you can it when a Government policy led to almost 1,200 human beings being killed. And not a quick death, but probably an awful panic stricken event as their boats sink in the middle of an ocean, and they slowly drown or freeze.

Sometimes correlation is not causation, but in this case it clearly is. Note that since the change of Government, there has not been a single drowning at sea, and the level of asylum seekers arriving by boats has fallen by a massive 99%.

Greg Sheridan in The Australian noted:

While Australia will still be one of the most generous societies in the world to refugees, they will arrive in an orderly and lawful manner and be chosen by Australian authorities.

Australia has the highest refugee quota per capita in the world.

The Abbott government will neither confirm nor deny the numbers, but in the past four weeks some five boats have been turned around or towed back towards Indonesia.

Operational secrecy has been central to the success so far.

Operationally, turning boats back is even more effective than transferring people to Manus or Nauru.

The arrival of people in Manus and Nauru often still triggers final payment for the people-smugglers, who continue to tell their customers that people housed on those islands will eventually get to Australia.

Failed illegal arrivals who return to Indonesia, on the other hand, demand their money back and tell everyone they know that the mission was a flop. Even if the boat is sound and the crew competent, they are met by the Australian navy and kept out of Australia.

And so the people smugglers are out of work, and you don’t get hundreds drowning out at sea.

Meanwhile, Australia continues to have, per capita, the largest permanent refugee resettlement program in the world. But these refugees are not self-selected nor chosen by illegal people-smugglers – they are all genuine refugees, and none of them drowns on the way here.


It is a salient reminder that good intentions are not enough. Bad policy can lead to people dying. Promoting biofuels for example led to mass starvations as third world nations changed their land from food production to biofuels. And taking a soft approach on boat arrivals led to an exponential increase in boats, and hundreds drowning at sea.

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