Interview Outtakes (IV): Andrew Markus, Peter Lewis and Andrew Leigh on asylum policy

In February, I interviewed a range of politicians and other figures mostly about immigration, population and social cohesion (see Part 1 here).

However, in many of the discussions, the topic turned to asylum seekers. I don’t plan to write about asylum policy in this particular series of articles, but I think whenever you get considered comment on contentious policy, it is better to make such contributions public than kept hidden.

Below are some comments from Andrew Markus (Professor, social research Monash), Peter Lewis (Executive Director at Essential Media) and Andrew Leigh (Shadow Assistant Treasurer). Tomorrow I’ll post Tim Watts and Sam Dastyari.

Andrew Markus:

“There is a notion that the public is easily swayed by whatever gets reported. Asylum seeker advocates tend to run the line that the media misreports and demonises asylum seekers, people don’t understand what is going on and if they did then there would be a more sensible and compassionate response to the asylum seeker crisis.”

(Me: Do you believe that?)

“No, I don’t believe that, because I think that on issues like asylum and border protection it’s values that drive attitudes rather than facts, people seek out the facts which are consistent with their outlook. A good example is a program like ‘Go Back to Where you Came From’ on SBS which challenged stereotypes. It was a brilliant program, but I do not see any evidence that it had a sustained impact on public opinion.”

Peter Lewis:

“I don’t think this is a moral issue anymore. Boats sinking and people drowning muddied the moral high ground. I think this is a complex policy, where the need for deterrence of people smugglers is a legitimate objective. My view has changed on this over the last 18 months.”

“What sickens me is the politics around the policy – Morrison and generals, a constructed moral panic feeding a public whose engagement with the issue has been manipulated in order to avoid tough conversations on population growth. That is what I find immoral, not the policy.”

Andrew Leigh:

The asylum seeker debate has been ugly, but there is something to the notion we ought to appreciate the fact we are debating the migrant intake which is typically less than 5 per cent of the total intake in any particular year.”

“Small l liberalism is important in how we do refugee resettlement, in how we have strong migrant intakes in Australia, about the importance of a humane asylum seeker debate. I don’t think it’s small l liberal to talk about peaceful invasion and illegals. That doesn’t recognise the other as equal to ourselves. You must never change the notion that they are as an important human being as you are.”

There are a few other outtakes from these interviews, which can be found here.

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