Address to the Danube Institute
The working title for these remarks is what Australia can teach Hungary on border protection. In fact, Australia has very little to teach Hungary on border protection. In fact, no country has much to teach Hungary on border protection. But Australia does have much to teach Europe on border protection – as does Hungary, which has provided Germany, France, Spain and Sweden (just some of the countries that have struggled with border protection) with an object lesson in how to handle it.
Just as Australia has shown the world how to protect a maritime border, Hungary has shown the world how to protect a land border – so between our two countries, there’s no end of a lesson for Europe which has now been subject to what amounts to a peaceful invasion for about four years.
Yes, because of the fence that Hungary erected in 2015 to stop the hundreds of thousands marching towards Germany; and because of policy changes to mimic Hungary’s in some other central and eastern European countries; and because of deals that the EU has done with Turkey, that particular flood has become more-like-a-trickle. But there are still many tens of thousands of people taking to small boats across the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life. Thousands are still drowning but most are making it across, where they add immensely to the economic and social problems of Europe.
The people smuggling trade simply has to be stopped. To save lives it simply has to be stopped. That’s what Australia has shown the world how-to-do. That’s what the countries of Europe could do if they were prepared to follow Australia’s example. But to save lives in the short run, and to save themselves in the long run, the countries of Europe would have to adopt some of Australia’s attitudes – and Hungary’s attitudes too – because you can’t put effective protections in place unless you first believe in yourselves enough to make them work.
Yes, there are at least four million people who have been displaced by the war in Syria and Iraq. But only about half of the nearly four million people who’ve shoved their way into Europe over the past four years have come from war zones. In fact, they’ve converged on Europe from all over the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, not because they were the victims of fighting but because they’ve believed that Europe was open to everyone, thanks to the German chancellor’s “we will cope” initial response to this human wave.
Of course, a well-organised country of some 80 million people can cope with a million arrivals. The question is not “can it cope?” but “should it have to cope?” That’s the difference between Australia and Hungary, on the one hand; and most of the countries of Europe, on the other. Australia and Hungary are quite clear that being poor and being able to benefit from life in a rich country confers no right of entry. Most of the countries of Europe, though, are not so sure. They don’t want people to arrive illegally by boat; they don’t want people to cross borders illegally; but they’re not sure that they have the moral right to stop them.
There’s no doubt that people in immediate fear of their lives should indeed be able to claim sanctuary. Of course, civilians threatened by war should be able to cross a border to seek safety. But there’s a world of moral difference between people who cross one border to be safe and people who cross multiple borders to have a better life. No one can blame them for wanting a better life but no one has a duty to give it to them, unconditionally, and with no questions asked. A person who crosses one border to be safe is a refugee whom the host country has a duty to protect. A person who crosses multiple borders for a better life is a would-be economic migrant whom the host country has every right to refuse.
Australia and Hungary accept this – although unlike Hungary, Australia also has the world’s largest refugee programme, on a per capita basis, and since stopping the illegal migrant boats has actually increased its intake of refugees who come the right way. But most importantly, Australia and Hungary haven’t allowed rich-country guilt to obscure their duty to their own citizens to maintain strict control of their borders in order to keep their countries’ character.
Make no mistake: a rich country that takes the view that “anyone who can get here can stay here”, even if it’s 80 million strong, will eventually find that it can’t cope with the numbers that have the inclination and the ability to come, especially when the newcomers are effectively breaking in rather than joining in.
We have to face facts here: some of Turkey’s leaders have urged Muslims to take back parts of Europe; and as Europe has discovered, among the would-be migrants are soldiers of the caliphate bent on mayhem. Many of those who have taken boats across the Mediterranean, or clamoured at Europe’s gates, look set to join an angry underclass. Too many have come, not with gratitude but with grievance, and with the insistence that Europe should make way for them. If allowed to continue unchecked, over time, this could hardly-not-turn into an existential challenge.
Thanks to better transport and greater knowledge on-line, there is virtually no limit to the numbers that can and will turn up on your doorstep if they think they might be welcomed. That’s the key to controlling your border: declaring that you have the right to do so, because it’s only once you’ve done that, and mean it, that sensible measures can be adopted.
And that’s exactly what Australia did, under my government. We stopped illegal boats at sea and escorted them back to Indonesian waters. As well, we had arrangements with the governments of Sri Lanka and Vietnam to fly back anyone who had made the much longer journey from there by illegal boat. And if the boats were scuttled, we had big orange life rafts on hand so that people could be safely returned to whence they’d come. I knew the risks to our personnel; I knew the strain this could put on relations with Indonesia; I knew the outcry it would spark from well-meaning people but it simply had to be done.
Effective border protection is not for the squeamish, but it is absolutely necessary to save lives and to preserve nations. That, indeed, is the truly compassionate thing to do: to stop the boats and to stop the deaths – indeed, the only way to stop the deaths is to stop the boats – and for more than five years now, there have been almost no illegal arrivals by boat in Australia and the drownings have totally stopped.
Europe’s challenges are on a larger scale and the geography is different but with the right will and the right organisation there is no reason why there could not be similar success. What it needs, though, is a conviction among the continent’s leaders that stopping people smuggling, stopping deaths at sea, and protecting Europe’s way of life is the right and the moral thing to do. You have to match the conviction of those demanding entry with the greater conviction that you have a right to say “no”. What’s needed is an end to the self-doubt about the entitlement of European nations, individually and collectively, to stand up for themselves.
Of course, Europe’s navies must do their humanitarian duty and rescue people who might otherwise drown; but subsequently taking them onto Spain, Italy and Greece – the destinations they were always making for – just guarantees that more will make this dangerous journey. So long as people think that arriving in Europe means staying in Europe, they will keep coming. Sending them to more European countries won’t solve the problem; it will just spread it around. People in no immediate danger just have to be turned back at Europe’s borders. People intercepted in the Mediterranean just have to be returned to their starting point.
You see people smuggling can’t be managed; it just has to be stopped. And if that means European naval personnel delivering people back onto the beaches of Libya, so be it. The morning early in 2014 I saw a photograph all-over-the-front-page of our biggest selling newspaper of an orange life raft washed up on an Indonesian beach, I knew that we had the people-smuggling trade beaten. Likewise, a photograph of European naval personnel putting people ashore, not in Italy or in Spain but in Libya, would finally prove that these countries had rediscovered the will needed to say “no” to moral blackmail. Because that’s what this is: foreigners saying to us that you’ve no right to stop us; and people in our midst agreeing that because we’re relatively rich and they’re relatively poor we have to let them in.
Perhaps the most unseemly aspect of this now-drawn-out crisis has been the NGO flotillas cruising the Med looking to “rescue” those in leaky boats and to take them safely to Europe. They claim to be good Samaritans but they’re actually just unpaid assistants to the people-smuggling trade. What’s more, they’re confirming the moral entitlement of everyone getting on a boat in Africa or in Asia to a new life in Europe. They’re effectively accessories to crime and in Australia could probably themselves be charged with people smuggling offences. But in Europe they seem to be regarded as misguided “do-gooders” at worst.
Then there’s the pervasive reference to these would-be illegal immigrants as “asylum seekers”. They might be asking for asylum but they’re hardly ever entitled to it. The vast majority have deliberately chosen a course of action that’s outside the law; and anything that tends to depict them as having little or no choice is misleading, even morally corrupting. It amounts to an attempt to condition, even to coerce our reaction by deliberately mis-describing what’s actually happening.
No doubt many of the believers in “open borders” are good people who just want the right thing for those who are worse off. But it’s hard not to detect a political agenda here: those who-most-insist-on-letting-everyone-in must at some level want to force the changes on Europe (and on other Western societies) that uncontrolled migration will bring – or are at least indifferent to them, perhaps because they think that these changes will only be noticed in someone else’s neighbourhood.
At some level, they must want to see economies weakened, social cohesion reduced, and governments distracted because you can’t will the cause without also willing the effect. Of course, most would prefer not to acknowledge the downsides of uncontrolled immigration. But again, it’s hard not to discern a deliberate stratagem to change the nature of European countries as much as to exhibit post-Christian compassion.
If you’d concluded that voters would never buy the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and would never support confiscatory levels of taxation, maybe uncontrolled borders is a back-door-way to reducing the relative wealth of the West and increasing the relative wealth of the rest.
Likewise, the high-sounding climate change policy that activists push on rich countries, but not on developing ones like China and India, is a very effective way to make rich countries poorer and poor countries richer. The old socialists couldn’t win an economic argument for the equalisation of wealth within countries, so the new socialists are now trying a moral argument for the equalisation of wealth between countries.
With climate change, uncontrolled immigration has become the left’s preferred way to weaken the strength and self-confidence of the West – and it’s quite clever because it’s an appeal to our ideals, not just a challenge to our best interests.
In his powerful book on the immigration crisis, The Strange Death of Europe, Douglas Murray attributes the confusion of the elites and the paralysis of governments to a collapse of cultural self-confidence linked to the loss of Christian faith. There’s no doubt that it’s real: the loss of religious faith and even of religious knowledge; it’s real in Australia, no less than in Western Europe; if perhaps less so in Eastern Europe. Yet at least one increasingly religion-free country, Australia, has brought the problem of illegal migration under control, even if we’ve not yet really tackled excessive legal migration.
That suggests to me that countries that retain a strong sense of national pride, like Australia – and the US and the UK – as well as Hungary and the other newly free countries of Eastern Europe are those most likely to keep their borders strong. Countries that kept their freedom, or have won it back, seem more inclined to defend their borders than those that have in relatively recent times surrendered their freedom or misused it. Perhaps there’s a lesson here: once you give some of your national freedom away and forfeit some of your national pride, you risk losing much of what you have left.