The irony regarding asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters, is that Australians themselves could have been the boat people. During World War 2 it was rumoured that the Australian government under Prime Minister Menzies had a plan to allow Japan to take the northern part of Australia had they successfully invaded. This plan was known as the Brisbane Line. Whilst there is some conjecture about whether or not the Brisbane Line really existed, I want to suggest a hypothetical.
Imagine that Japan had invaded Australia and that the Brisbane Line was invoked. Northern Australians would have been the ones seeking refuge. Their applications for refugee status in Southern Australia would have been treated with suspicion and derision from their southern counterparts. Those Northerners who felt they needed to escape the brutality of their new overlords and who decided to jump the newly constructed fence separating Northern Australia from Southern Australia would have found that the Southerners were not waiting for them with open arms. in fact, the exact opposite because of the very suspicion that we saw between East & West Germany: neighbours one day, enemies the next. The reason for suspicion would have included rumours such as: "the Japanese are holding their families hostage and they are only down here to spy on us".
Those northern Australians who managed to jump the fence into Southern Australia would have been imprisoned and most likely deported back to Northern Australia because of the need to "maintain a good relationship with our new mainland neighbours; the Japanese government".
So where to for the Northern Australians? North! Indonesia. Leaky boats, putting their families lives at risk in order to escape a brutal and inhumane regime if we base it on the way the Japanese ran their prison camps during WW2.
Or.... would have those Northern Australians been happy for them and their families, their children, to endure the brutality, the torture just so that they could take a number and apply for refugee status to other countries such as USA, UK or the limited refugee intake of Southern Australia.
We should have a more compassionate approach to refugees, we should not be demonizing these victims of terror and brutality, we should not be subjecting them to further abuse and dehumanizing treatment by incarcerating them in remote, hostile areas of Australia or off-shore centres.
Boat people are not the threat that some people believe. The vast majority have been found to be genuine and are now living productive lives in Australia.
Our attitude to asylum seekers should be summed up in the words of John Bradford:
'There but for the grace of God, go I'.