At heart, asylum seeker ethics is simple

Manus Island

When governments treat asylum seekers harshly, people ask whether what they are doing is right. This is the ethical question, and it will receive one of three responses, writes Andrew Hamilton SJ in Eureka Street.

Many will say that government policy making has nothing to do with ethical reflection. What a duly elected government does with majority support is by definition right. The strong do what they wish, and the weak suffer what they must. This position should be respected for its honesty even though it will corrupt a society.

Many will engage with the questions of right and wrong and draw conclusions. Some will argue that the harm inflicted by government policy is ethically defensible. Others will deny it.

Finally, some people will withhold judgment, arguing that the question is ethically complex and even confusing. Asylum seeker policy, for example, must take into account many issues, such as the protection of borders, the number of refugees Australia can take, the deaths at sea, the behaviour of people smugglers, the attitude of the community to refugees and the cost of receiving asylum seekers.

An ethical judgment on the any part of the policy must await consideration of all these factors. In other words we must offer an acceptable alternative policy before judging elements of an existing policy to be unethical.

I would argue that this position is mistaken. When we are considering the harm inflicted on people by governments the ethical questions are quite simple. The complexities and confusions arise properly only after we have answered them. They concern how to shape a policy that is both effective and ethically defensible, and how we are to handle living in a society whose government we believe to act unethically.

FULL STORY Asylum seeker ethics is simple (Eureka Street)