HISTORIANS have written a great deal about how Australia’s isolation helped shape the history of the first 200 years of white settlement and in the future no doubt a study will be made about the island continent’s impact on our refugee policy.
Sadly, history will not judge kindly an obsession with denying boat people entry at all costs.
The very nature of our isolation, where territorial waters take the place of land borders, has given us a huge advantage in the sovereignty stakes - and we have exploited it shamelessly.
While scores of countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa which share land borders with the world’s trouble spots have had no choice but to establish vast refugee camps and between them feed and shelter millions of refugees, we have always sought to regulate the flow through quotas and official channels like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
To be in a position where the nation is divided over whether we accept a few thousand refugees who ignore warnings and travel by boat is a luxury which would baffle nations bordering Syria, which in recent months alone have had to cope with hundreds of thousands.
Perhaps what is most disturbing is the way both sides of mainstream politics have converged on a hard-line position that sees shipping refugees who come by boat off to Nauru, Papua New Guinea or Cambodia as acceptable.
There was a time too when criticism from an arm of the United Nations such as the High Commissioner for Refugees would have shamed most Australians.
Today its concerns over the Sri Lankan repatriation have been drowned out by the shrill hysteria of political leaders selling the myth that we are in imminent danger of being swamped by an armada of terrorists and opportunists wanting to steal the good life.