Foreign Aid Boost Can Stem Human Tide : Report

Foreign aid boost can stem human tide: report

By Meredith Griffiths for PM
Posted Mon Jun 29, 2009 8:44pm AEST
Audio: Government told to help neighbours if it wants to stop illegal migration (PM)

Nearly 200 people from a boat intercepted by the Navy yesterday are on Christmas Island having their claims for asylum assessed.

But the Federal Government says Australia should expect many more refugees fleeing from wars and unrest across Asia.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute says the key to reducing the number of people coming here is to help improve living conditions in poorer countries.

It has released a new report recommending that Australia expand its aid program in the Asia-Pacific region and do more to try to slow population growth in countries like East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

The Federal Opposition says yesterday's arrival of asylum seekers is proof the Government has softened Australia's border protection laws.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans, however, says it is due to unrest in several parts of Asia.

His argument is supported by Dr Mark Thomson from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

“The principal cause of people seeking refuge is events which cause them to seek refuge; unrest in one part of the world or another,” Dr Thomson said.

“Will this stop in the future? No. There will always be parts of the world where there are problems and where people will try and seek safety offshore.

“Hopefully though, as globalisation spreads around the world and prosperity improves, the number of such circumstances will decrease.”

Social responsibility

On Monday Dr Thomson published a report called The Human Tide, which looks at the implications of development and demographics for Australia's strategic environment.

It predicts seismic economic changes in the developing world and a large increase in the populations of poor countries.

But he says there is no evidence that illegal migration will increase. He believes it could actually decrease.

“As prosperity has been spreading itself around world in last 40 or 50 years, the imperative for people to seek a better life from one country to another has in general, on average, reduced,” he said.

“And in the future, with the sort of projections we have for economic development in many parts of the world that favourable circumstance will continue.”

While being optimistic about globalisation's ability to improve living conditions around the world, Dr Thomson warns that some of Australia's closest neighbours are not keeping up.

He says if East Timor, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands do not see improved economic growth, people will want to leave those countries and come to Australia.

Help needed

Dr Thomson says as the largest and most prosperous country in the region, Australia must help those countries.

“If there's unrest, if there's starvation, if people are living at subsistence levels on our doorstep, that's not something that I think is going to be sustainable for any government in Australia to allow,” he said.

“The second thing is, that when those sort of circumstances emerge in a country, there's also a range of other adverse outcomes that occur.

“They can become a hub for transnational crime. Drug trafficking can emerge and they can be influenced by external powers whose interest might not align with Australia's.”

Family planning

The key recommendation in the report is that Australia's international aid program prioritise family planning.

“If we were to put a greater emphasis on family planning; an emphasis on empowering people in developing countries to control their own fertility, it would have a multiplier effect in their prosperity in the longer term,” he said.

“If we can avoid the sort of pressures that high population growth will put on countries in terms of demand for resources, demand for services, increasingly large urban areas, we're heading off problems in the future and getting best value for money for our aid dollar.”

Dr Thomson also says Australia should increase its aid program.

He has suggested that the Federal Government look at expanding the Pacific Guest Workers Scheme and do more to encourage Australian investment in the poorer countries of the region.