Migration Compact – non-binding and unnecessary


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced his government won’t sign on to the United Nation’s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The Labor opposition, which looks set to win next year’s election, refused to say whether they will or won’t (I would guess they will but they might not necessarily announce it proudly before the election). Thus Australia joins about a dozen countries so far, including the United States, Poland and Israel, which have likewise declined to endorse the document.

The Compact is one of those well meaning pieces of paper, which brings tingles of joy to members of the “international community”. It is a result of years of work by no doubt thousands of bureaucrats around the world, and will create more jobs for high flying public servants into the future, but is unlikely to actually achieve any extra tangible results that would not have come about without it. It is over 30 pages of generalities, platitudes, motherhood and vagueness about migration and migrants and how we need to make the experience safer and better for everyone concerned. The Compact tries to be all things to all people, hence not surprisingly it is also non-binding.

The government is arguing that regardless, the Compact could be used to weaken Australia’s border control policies, including by the courts, which have a tendency to write in international treaties into domestic law. That might or might not happen – as I said the document tries to make everyone happy; on the one hand it acknowledges national sovereignty and the right of states to control their migration policies, on the other hand, for example, it doesn’t like migrant detention, which forms an integral part of Australia’s policies in relation to illegal entrants – but it’s not the main problem.

For me the main reason not to sign this and similar quasi-treaties is that it’s pretty pointless. The states most preoccupied about these sorts of things are generally the ones which have the least reason too; meanwhile numerous shitholes around the world sign on without any intention of being guided by the spirit of international agreements. This is yet another consequence of the international system having been built on a fiction that all states are equal. That’s why we keep seeing Saudi Arabia becoming the chair of human rights committee or Syria put in charge of non-proliferation. It’s also why the United Nations keeps obsessing about and condemning Israel more than all other countries of the world put together. And so it is with all the compacts, agreements and treaties; the developed world doesn’t need them and the developing world doesn’t care about them. Instead being the crutches for the vast majority, they are being used a cudgels to beat about countries like Australia by both the domestic and the international left for failing to live up to their ideals. It’s multilateral masochism.