Kevin Rudd’s deal with PNG depends on the assumption that it will stop the flow of immigrants within a month or two. Papua has no interest in becoming “Nuginistan” to allow its former colonial master to escape it’s refugee “problem”, so there has to be a limit to how many refugees it will take.
I suspect that limit is in the thousands, as in much less than the tens of thousands. At the current rate, that is probably less than two months of illegal immigration to Australia. To know the real figure you’ll have to know what winks and nods, or something more substantial, were exchanged in the meetings between O’Neill and Rudd.
What does this mean for the people smuggling trade?
It may mean nothing. It’s possible that the deal will be found to be illegal by the courts. That’s what happened to the Malaysian solution.
But the Malaysian solution had a problem that the PNG one doesn’t – PNG is a signatory of the refugee convention and Malaysia isn’t which was the primary reason the challenge succeeded.
If a legal challenge succeeds, then the people smugglers aren’t affected at all. However, they don’t necessarily need to wait for a legal challenge to be heard.
If they can bring enough people into Australia to overflow the PNG limit, then the trade will still achieve its aim, but only for those who arrive after the limit is breached. That means any refugees between now and then will fail in their aim of reaching Australia.
How might they convince enough refugees to form the bridge over this gap?
It might not be that difficult. If the PNG solution only encompasses a couple of months’ illegal immigration, and all those after that time are then effectively eligible for asylum in Australia again, then pressure could be applied for those in New Guinea to get the same treatment.
Indeed the people smugglers will probably head down this path, because that’s what they are doing already.
While it might make more sense to try to keep Labor in power by stopping the boats until after the election, that is a high risk bet, and the smugglers have obviously decided to offer a once only, illegal immigration, closing down sale as the low risk way of maximising their profits.
In which case the Rudd plan may be neutered even before he is in a position to pass a law.