Does the public support ‘legitimate’ refugees coming to Australia?

Pollytics blog reports on some interesting Essential Research polling on refugees. It does a bit more to fill the big gaps in our public opinion knowledge of refugees: there have been many questions about boat arrivals but very few about what the public thinks of the broader refugee program.

From this perspective, the most important proposition put by Essential Research was:

The federal government should be allowing legitimate refugees to enter the country and contribute to our nation.

A plurality (45%) agreed, and a minority (25%) disagreed. A surprisingly high 30% of respondents did not have a view.

Though only 25% oppose refugees generally, 66% agree with turning the boats back. Possible reasons are the prospect of terrorists being on the boats (56% agree) and doubts about whether the refugees currently coming to Australia are genuine refugees (37% think they might not be, though the question was confused with the added concept of processing them immediately).

What we need now are questions about the concept of a ‘queue’ and whether there are particular types of refugees the public does or does not want.

10 November update: A useful summary of polls from Pollytics blog.

16 Responses to “Does the public support ‘legitimate’ refugees coming to Australia?

  • 1
    TerjeP (say tay-a)
    November 3rd, 2009 20:38

    Charge them an entry fee if they want to jump the queue. Many of them currently coming by boat clearly demonstrate some capacity to pay.

    If we are too compassionate to charge an entry fee then open the boarders and be done with it.

  • 2
    James Simpson
    November 4th, 2009 01:08

    Sorry to be obtuse Andrew, but why do we need those questions answered? Aren’t the concepts of a ‘queue’ and discrimination between types of refugees inconsistent with our treaty obligations? Or would you say Australia ought to revoke its treaty obligations to the extent they are inconsistent with public opinion?

  • 3
    Andrew Norton
    November 4th, 2009 05:30

    James – I didn’t actually have these questions in mind, but
    a) the concept of a queue and discrimination between refugees are not as I understand inconsistent with our treaty obligations – most refugees/humanitarian arrivals (those in the ‘queue’) are not requirements under the treaty. We can (and do) pick and choose from the world’s refugee camps.
    b) I don’t say we should revoke treaties simply because they are inconsisent with public opinion (I’m not a populist) but nor do I think treaties should be immune from democratic decisions (I am a democrat).

    The core of this issue does seem to be mode of arrival – and not as recent polling suggests the very idea of refugees or (as claimed by the left) the ethnicity or religion of the refugees (a factor, but other surveys suggest that support for discriminatory migration is far too low to explain strong opposition to boat arrivals).

  • 4
    Son of the Ratpack
    November 4th, 2009 12:20

    But the mode of arrival does not determine whether the arrivals are legitimate refugees, in the sense of whether those arriving satisfy the legal criteria for being classed as a refugee.

    So the question is badly posed.

    The opposition to the uninvited boat arrivees can’t seriously be motivated by a fear of terrorism, can it? It’s the morality of the orderly wait at the deli counter (don’t you just hate people who push in ahead of others are doing the right thing ?) combined with the well-honed fear and loathing of the party-crasher (no invitation = you can’t come in).

  • 5
    November 4th, 2009 15:07

    Right, but most of those arriving by aircraft weren’t in a “queue” either. So it comes down to those arriving uninvited versus those arriving under false pretences (“I’m just a tourist”).

  • 6
    James Simpson
    November 4th, 2009 20:21

    Andrew – sorry – I meant, why do we need the questions you mentioned in your final paragraph. Are they in order to test the ‘ethnicity/religion hypothesis’ asserted by the left?
    But it is important to recognise the difference between our humanitarian intake, i.e. ‘the queue’/where we can pick and chose, and genuine refugees who enter (or overstay in) our country without authorisation. Article 31 of the Refugee Convention provides that we should not penalise refugees on account of illegal entry or presence.

  • 7
    Andrew Norton
    November 4th, 2009 21:22

    James – That’s certainly one reason I am interested. But I have nerdish interest in understanding public opinion even where this does not serve any political purpose.

    I’m not 100% clear on why we should rate the Refugee Convention as importantly as you do. Thinking about this in philosophical terms, why are we obliged to accept people fearing political persecution and not those facing many other severe disadvantages? I’m not sure there is a reason, other than that the history of the convention (as I understand it) was that it was expected to deal with a relatively small number of people seeking asylum, and not be a conduit for mass migration.

    So while I think there is a case for taking refugees, I am reluctant to give the convention the kind of meta-law beyond-question status it seems to have acquired, and that it is legitimate for countries to weigh their domestic circumstances against the needs of would-be refugees. Given there seems to be very strong domestic opinion against self-selecting migration, it’s not unreasonable for democratic leaders to take that into account, even if there are intellectually persuasive reasons for taking the people who arrive by boat (including the argument made by several on the right that boat arrivals are on average likely to be better bets than people plucked out of refugee camps, because the former’s ability to raise money and initiative are likely to be proxies for general skills).

  • 8
    James Simpson
    November 4th, 2009 23:07

    I suppose I am looking at it from a legal/formal perspective – as a believer in the rule of law, I think that’s important – and I don’t like failing to discharge obligations we have agreed to. You may be entirely right on the philosophical issue (I normally think you are), but rather than try to fudge a way around the legal issue, I’d rather be upfront and say “we don’t think this convention is relevant anymore, so we will revoke it” or whatever is the case.

  • 9
    Sinclair Davidson
    November 5th, 2009 07:20

    The compromise between James and Andrew would be to require that all international conventions be ratified and incorporated in Australian law by the parliament. Then any subsequent legislative changes automatically change the application of the convention. Of course, some will argue that this constitutes sovereign risk when signing a convention; yes it does. It would also be honest.

  • 10
    derrida derider
    November 5th, 2009 10:38

    We’re not supposed to say this, but sometimes the electorate is simply ignorant. Of course such ignorance will be reinforced by sleazy politicians and tabloids telling them only what they want to hear.

    How can you simultaneously hold the following in your head?
    (1) “we should admit genuine refugees”
    (2) “the great majority of boat people are found to be genuine refugees”
    (3) “we should send all the boats back where they came from as they contain terrorists and other scum of the earth”

  • 11
    Jack Strocchi
    November 5th, 2009 15:11

    Andrew Norton says:

    From this perspective, the most important proposition put by Essential Research was:

    The federal government should be allowing legitimate refugees to enter the country and contribute to our nation.

    A plurality (45%) agreed, and a minority (25%) disagreed. A surprisingly high 30% of respondents did not have a view.

    I disagree, this is not “the most important propostion” on this poll because it is a vague motherhood question which few would disagree with. And yet we find that 25% did disagree with it along with 30% who were ambivalent or didnt care.

    This is pretty shocking since it implies that 55% of the population do not explicitly support allowing legitimate refugees into the country under any circumstances, despite our international treaty obligations to do so. Phew, I stand second to none on hard line political incorrectness but I have to side with the Left wing minority on this one.

    The other questions posed on this poll shed more light on how hard-line the AUS public is becoming on the question of border protection All answers point in the same direction, showing the public to be opposed to taking a softer line on border protection.

    The Federal Government is doing the right thing in discouraging people-smuggling and turning back the boats
    Agree 66% Disagree 14%

    There is a real prospect that terrorists are on board these boats so the Federal Government must prevent them from entering the country
    Agree 56% Disagree 16%

    The Federal Government is weak on border protection which is why more boats are entering Australian waters
    Agree 52% DisAgree 21%

    The recent influx of asylum seekers on route to Australia are people fleeing persecution and their refugee status should be
    processed immediately by the Australian Government
    Agree 31% Disagree 37%

    The Federal Government should be showing more compassion towards the current influx of refugees and asylum seekers in the same way the Fraser Government did in the 1970s when it allowed refugees to immigrate to Australia at a quick pace after the Vietnam War
    Agree 23% Disagree 48%

    This should not be such a mystery for pundits to figure out, I mean there are a number of high-rating shows dedicated to this issue. Yet one sees the usual suspects in the Left Ozblogitariat and punditariat all trotting out the same lame excuses and putting their most hopeful spin on the results.

    At the same time we see a pronounced anti-ALP swing in the polls. Maybe its a rogue, or maybe just a coincidence. But Occams Razor suggests that the governments mixed policy signals on border protection is leading to a bad result in public opinion.

  • 12
    Son of the Ratpack
    November 5th, 2009 16:31

    It’s just as well the AUS public aren’t aware that last financial year Iraq and Sri Lanka were the fifth and sixth largest source of migrants to our boundless plains. (Though they would be awareif they looked at the immigration Department website.) We took in 8000 of the buggers. Even if only 1% of them are terrorists, that’s 80 terrorists. Then there’s the 16000 Indians. They’re not all innocently driving taxis in Melbourne …

  • 13
    Andrew Norton
    November 5th, 2009 18:48

    S of R – This has always been the big hole in the argument that opposition to boat arrivals is based on prejudice against people of the particular ethnicity or religion of the arrivals. If that is the case, why is there almost no opposition to much larger numbers arriving legally?

  • 14
    john malpas
    November 6th, 2009 08:12

    Public opinion and rights probably don’t count.
    See the action of Nulabour in the UK – after all they are blood brothers of the ALP.

  • 15
    Son of the Ratpack
    November 6th, 2009 12:52

    “why is there almost no opposition to much larger numbers arriving legally”

    Because people aren’t aware of the numbers, unless they start wandering Kensington (Melbourne) and Dandedong and ask themselves, “Gee, there are a lot of Somalians around here. Where did they come from?”

  • 16
    Andrew Norton
    November 6th, 2009 13:31

    Quite a few Somalis in Carlton too. Maybe the Somalis are geographically concentrated, but you can’t miss the huge increase in people of Indian/Sri Lankan etc background across the major cities. Apart from a few teenage muggers, there has hardly been a reaction.