Originally published by me on the PRI Forum.
On the lead up to the recent election, the asylum seeker debate turned into a race to the bottom. Julian Burnside referred to it in his piece in The Guardian today as a “spectacle … to outdo each other in their promises to be cruel to boat people”.
Burnside, a long-time asylum seeker advocate who opens his own home to refugees, proposes the Tasmania and Rural Solutions. Take a place that is in economic strife, so Tasmania and many rural towns across the country, and place asylum seekers in these communities whilst their refugee status is assessed. The money will be spent in these communities, revitalizing the local economy, and the Federal Government will save a substantial sum, even if each asylum seeker receives a Centrelink entitlement for the full assessment period.
I think Burnside’s proposal is a great one. The Rural Solution is something I have been pondering about for years. It seems to obviously win-win. But I propose we go a step further.
Intentional communities and asylum seekers aren’t spoken about in the same sentence very often. But I propose housing asylum seekers in intentional communities built in regions in decline as a more comprehensive solution to Burnside’s. The Federal Government would fund the purchase of appropriately zoned (or zonable) land within targeted regions. Permaculture and other specialists would be brought in to help design and develop the land, along with the asylum seekers themselves who would provide input and help build the communities. The contributions of the asylum seekers would be remunerated by way of Centrelink payment and / or equity in the development – which would be structured as a cooperative or similar. Housing would be well-designed tiny houses with self-contained and / or communal facilities. Once developed the communities would encourage entrepreneurism especially in the agriculture sector, with potential for further permaculture teaching opportunities and all manners of knowledge based vocation.
Once an asylum seeker has their refugee status approved they have the option to sell their share in the cooperative and settle elsewhere as they please or to stay in the community indefinitely.