I have recently read two new books about Australia’s policy in relation to boat people.

They are both excellent, they both contain a lot of facts which need to be understood, and they both deserve to be widely read.

Claire Higgins’ recent book Asylum By Boat, is published by UNSW Press.  It is a very good history of boat arrivals since the Fraser years.  It paints a remarkable contrast between the resolute generosity of Australia’s treatment of boat people escaping Vietnam and Australia’s current response to boat people.  It explains how the policy shifted over time, and how (back in the late 1970s) the government persuaded the public that mistreating asylum seekers was unthinkable.

Tony Ward’s recent book Bridging Troubled Waters is published by Australian Scholarly Publishing.   It is an excellent account of Australia and asylum seekers.  It is very rich in facts and it has a number of  very useful graphs and tables. It is superbly researched.  It discusses Australia’s various manoeuvres designed to avoid its humanitarian obligations and (of particular interest) it notes in passing that asylum seekers who arrive by air (with visas for tourism, study etc) have outnumbered boat people in all but one of the past 20 years.  And yet “aeroplane people” are not given a hard time, are not vilified and are not detained, even though they are far less likely to be assessed as refugees than “boat people” are.