Little coffins that should never have been used
Mark Dreyfus QC and Tanya Plibersek handing out more borrowed money today

The Australian's editorial - Suffer the Little Children

Suffer the little children

THE small white coffin, silhouetted by the rising sun, was being loaded on to a plane bound for the mainland. The great southern land of opportunity and hope would now provide nothing but a final resting place for Abdul, an Anzac Day baby, drowned off Christmas Island, now buried in suburban Melbourne.

His Afghan parents survived, to seek asylum. But at such a cost; a cruel and intolerable cost. Colin Murty's astonishingly sad photograph for The Australian provoked emotional reactions across the nation. The image encapsulated the national imperative to stop the flow of asylum boats to our Indian Ocean waters. For all the matters of sovereignty and immigration integrity, the safety issue takes precedence - the human toll.

Leaving aside the critical debate about which major party has the most comprehensive plan and strongest resolve to again put an end to the people-smuggling trade, we need to confront those who continue to argue that this crisis is confected. Refugee advocates such as Julian Burnside QC argue we should not be concerned about the number of arrivals. Even in the midst of the current crisis, he told Chris Kenny on Sky News that politicians are seeking to create "fear" over asylum-seekers. Pressed on whether any number would create a problem, he suggested a rethink might be appropriate if annual arrivals reached 50,000. As arbitrary as that may seem, it is also not far-fetched; with more than 1000 arrivals in the past week, we are already seeing a rate that could top that figure.

Mr Burnside and others who preach a "let them come" mantra, insist that there is no "queue". Yet in vast refugee camps in Sudan, Somalia, Jordan and elsewhere, not a single penniless refugee can hope for a place in our humanitarian quota because it is filled by boat arrivals. Under current arrangements the greatest barrier for refugees hoping to come here is not our lack of generosity or tough laws, or even a dangerous ocean journey; it is the price of a people-smuggler's fare. Ultimately, this is the equation that can be changed by effective border controls. Even with our generous quota, only a small share of the world's refugees can settle here. But let them be chosen by the UNHCR and our officials - on the basis of need - rather than be filtered by the smugglers' black market before risking leaky boats and a perilous sea.

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