When Barnaby Joyce suggested that Australia should ship those on board the Oceanic Viking back to Sri Lanka, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said "In advance of a proper assessment of their claims, that in my view would be in breach of our international obligations and in breach of the refugee convention"
While I am not suggesting that Barnaby Joyce is necessarily right or that Australia shouldn't provide refuge to asylum seekers, should we not consider abandoning the refugee convention as it seems to restrict our sovereignty (so long as we adhere to it) and prevents us acting in what may be the best interests of Australia.
I believe the convention was set up in the 50s (1951?) and was initially aimed at helping refugees displaced by the 2nd World War. But these are very different times.
I am not just talking about so called illegal asylum seekers but even in relation to genuine asylum seekers we need to be in complete control of our intake. As I understand it, if a refugee can make it on to Australian territory or in to Australian Territorial waters and is genuinely assessed as a refugee, then we are obliged to settle that person. But, using Afghanistan as an example, I would suggest that probably every Afghan person would genuinely qualify as a refugee because of the situation there. Ditto for Iraq and perhaps soon Pakistan. It is fairly clear that people smugglers are very aware of our obligations in regards to the convention and are exploiting it to their own ends. They, in effect, are determining our immigration policy, because our hands are tied.
The arguments that only a trickle make it here compared to Europe doesn't hold water in my opinion. From most accounts, it has already gone too far in some countries of Europe and using a policy that clearly has failed in these countries as the standard we should meet is nonsensical. Trickles can quickly become a flood, if Australian regulations can be seen to be exploited with ease.
I would suggest that we withdraw from the convention but, as a measure of good will, commit to increasing our refugee intake by say 20% or 30%, provided they are brought here under our terms. It would certainly be cheaper to take in 30% more refugees in a regulated way than the current method that sees resources being wasted looking for unseaworthy vessels that either accidentally or deliberately got into trouble, or resources such as the Oceanic Viking being held hostage for weeks on end.