Making the Right Decision

When you are a senior executive, it soon becomes apparent that your effectiveness is hugely dependent on your decision making ability. Delivering on the enterprise’s strategic plan, ensuring long term profitability, enhancing productivity and creating and sustaining an appropriate organisational culture, all rely on effective decision making.

As humans the two obvious impediments to good decision making by executives we must avoid are:

  1. Becoming too emotionally involved, and
  2. Taking short term benefits at the expense of the long term welfare of the organisation.

What if you are about to appoint another member of your management team? All the applications have come in and with the aid of competent others you have short listed perhaps a half dozen of those applicants for interview. During the course of the interviews you learn that one of the applicants, who is not the best qualified, has just lost her husband and now as a single parent is struggling to bring up a couple of children by herself. Of course we would like to give her a job. But if she lacks the skills necessary that will put an unfair burden on her peers. And in appointing her we will have done an injustice to the other, better qualified applicants. So such a decision has to be made very carefully, bearing in mind the likely downside.

Now I am not saying you shouldn’t opt to employ this person, but if you do so it should be with the full knowledge and consent of the team who might have to pick up the pieces if things go wrong. And of course, sometimes when you do make such a decision the beneficiary is grateful and becomes an ardent and loyal participant in the team. (I have a couple of special people in mind here!)

Or perhaps you are approached by an entrepreneur, who has a great business idea but needs capital and technology support from your enterprise to make it work. It is obvious that his idea will bring immediate benefits which will improve your bottom line in the short term and make your company look good in the eyes of its shareholders. But when you analyse the proposal it becomes apparent that this initiative will put you in conflict with a number of long term partners who have been instrumental in the enduring success of your business.

So here is a typical business dilemma. Should you take advantage of the immediate benefit and hope to transition your business away from its traditional business model or stay with the trusted historical approach.

These are not easy decisions to make. It is the ability to be able to handle these ambiguous circumstances that distinguish between the more competent executives and their less successful peers.

Of course these problematic decisions are not restricted only to business but must also be confronted by governments. Governments are always under pressure to satisfy the emotional responses of voters and to make decisions that win them kudos in the short term but which will invariably harm them in the longer term.

And it is with such an explanatory background that I would like to turn to a current issue the Morrison government is grappling with – the deportation of the Sri Lankan Tamil couple and their two children who had resided in Biloela.

The couple had arrived separately by boat in 2012 and 2013. His boat landed at Christmas Island and hers at the Cocos Islands. They were among 50,000 people who arrived seeking asylum in the period that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard led the government. The two were refused refugee status but were granted bridging visas that allowed them to live on the mainland. They made their way to the central Queensland town of Biloela were they were subsequently married and had two children. To their credit, rather than live off welfare they chose to find work. The male took up a job at the local abattoir and the couple were soon settled in and accepted in the Biloela community.

Now, I spent six years living in Biloela, and it is one the more pleasant places I have lived. The citizens are very community-minded and welcoming. So it is no surprise the Sri Lankan couple settled happily there and also no surprise that they were embraced by the community and made many friends. Consequently, it is inevitable that the community rallied behind the family to try to ensure that they were allowed to remain.

However, their case has been brought before the courts many times and on each occasion the courts found they had no legitimate claim for refugee status. Whilst the family and their lawyers have maintained that the family would be put in danger if they were forced to be repatriated to Sri Lanka, newspaper reports suggest that the husband in the intervening years since their arrival in Australia has returned to Sri Lanka several times without incident.

Not surprisingly, largely led by the good folk of Biloela, the family has garnered a lot of public sympathy. And it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for the young family, who apart from their repeated claims for refugee status, have otherwise been model citizens.

The courts have consistently thrown out their application for refugee status. But the minister, Peter Dutton, has the discretion, if he so chooses to, over-rule the court.

The government determined to repatriate the family back to Colombo. But the Sri Lankan family’s legal team was able to gain a last minute injunction from the High Court which to allow the status of the youngest child to be reviewed. Previous appeals to the high Court on behalf of the parents and the eldest child have all failed.

In order to allow this appeal to be made, the aircraft flying the family from Melbourne to Colombo was diverted to Darwin so that the family could be off-loaded. They have since been transported to Christmas Island while awaiting the outcome of this final appeal.

It is hard to be critical of the family in trying to exhaust all their legal options to stay in Australia. The parents, as most of us would do, are trying to secure the best future for their children as they can. And now, no doubt, after having spent a considerable time in Australia, they appreciate that they could most likely provide a better future for their children in Australia than in Sri Lanka.

Now I have no doubt there is a genuine fondness and concern for this little family by the people of Biloela. But there is also no doubt they have been aided and abetted by those who view Australia’s immigration policy as needlessly harsh. Their emotional appeals to make exceptions on behalf of these and others illegally seeking refugee status, render our laws arbitrary at best and foster false hope for many who should by rights be deported from our shores.

So let us return to my earlier comments on decision making and try to analyse how the government should react to this dilemma.

I am sure all the main players in the government have some compassion for these people. It would be easy to make an emotional decision in favour of granting them refugee status or citizenship. But what would be the consequences of that?

During the Rudd/Gillard years the Labor government relaxed the stringent border protection regime that John Howard had initially put in place resulting in a huge influx of illegal refugees arriving by boat. That has created a substantial backlog of almost 6,000 asylum seekers on bridging visas pursuing legal challenges against deportation. Along with these there are almost 8,000 waiting to have their refugee claims processed. Setting the precedent of relaxing our standards with respect to the acceptance of refugee status for this family would certainly heighten the expectations and increase the resolve of many others in the system to challenge the rejection of their refugee status.

Under the Abbott government, secure borders were restored and Australia, in order to cruel the business model of the people smugglers, declared that nobody who arrived illegally in Australia by boat would be allowed access to the mainland. This was reinforced, when Scott Morrison was the relevant minister, by the interception of and towing back of boats of the people smugglers. As a result the arrival of illegal immigrants by boat was severely reduced.

But every time an illegal immigrant who has come by boat is granted refugee status and allowed to live in Australia the people smugglers have another carrot to place in front of those wishing to illegally seek residence in Australia.

Consequently the government has sought to be extremely vigilant to ensure that the previous influx of illegal immigrants is not repeated,

One of the advantages the Sri Lankan family has in gaining our emotional support is that we have got to know them. That creates an immediacy to our compassion. The real tragedy of the relaxing of our borders and exposing our shores to the people smugglers was the more than twelve hundred people who were lost at sea trying to reach Australia. Most of those were lost in the remoteness of the vast oceans. We never saw their faces or knew their personal stories. So inevitably their loss was not so dramatic to us. (Of course this was a full on and immediate tragedy for the border force people who had to try to rescue people and retrieve bodies from the sea.) But this was a great human tragedy that our government, wisely, sought to prevent reoccurring.

In this respect, the strict immigration regime that has prevailed since then is a far more humane policy than justifying exceptions for individuals because they have become close enough to us to tug our hearts strings.

It is too easy for those seeking populist support to argue that such an exception would hardly be noticed. Scott Morrison, when then the responsible minister, learnt this lesson to his chagrin. Young girls in the off-shore detention centres were, reportedly, carrying out self-harm. Psychologists advised they should be brought to the mainland. As soon as they were, many others adopted self harm as a strategy to also be sent from the detention centres into Australia. (As the good Dr Phil taught me, behaviour is often better understood not by what happened before but after such behaviour! There are a number of articles in my blog archives elaborating on this.)

And although the illegal boat trafficking of prospective migrants has largely stopped, reports indicate that there have been at least six boat turn-backs of boats leaving from Sri Lanka since May. The media coverage of the family from Biloela was no doubt a factor in encouraging more desperate folk from Sri Lanka to take the risk of embarking on the perilous journey.

Now, however favourably we might view the case of these Sri Lankans, it cannot be denied that their repeated appeals have resulted in huge legal costs that could no doubt been better spent on advancing the cases of genuine refugees.

Almost every asylum seeker can manufacture a story that will tug at our heart strings. But if we yield to the emotional appeal of these people’s stories our laws become meaningless and their application, unfortunately, arbitrary. The Morrison government’s response has the advantage of being consistent and therefore predictable which I believe is attractive to most of the Australian electorate. And, even more importantly, provides a real impediment to the people smugglers.

As Chris Kenny has recently written:

We entrust governments and their agencies to implement the rules dispassionately on our behalf: the fair and orderly way.

At the time of writing the final appeal lodged by this family has been extended to allow more information gathering, so it may be yet a few weeks before their ultimate fate is known.

But in summary, I would suggest that the decisions that Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison have made with respect to this dilemma are entirely appropriate. They have resiled from a knee jerk emotional response and have taken a more disciplined response that should provide greater long-term benefits to the Australian community.

Time and again the courts have found that the Tamil family are not genuine refugees. In order to preserve the integrity of our immigration policy they should be deported.

The pathetic attempts of Kristina Keneally and others to imply that Scott Morrison is somehow compromising his Christian beliefs in taking this stance is a deplorable tactic that demeans the fact that these decisions ultimately have a greater collective benefit than taking the short term populist approach.

This is a strong principled approach that taken to its conclusion is not only a benefit to Australia but minimises the damage we might do to those aspiring to illegally enter our country.

And we should never forget, that despite the protestations of Labor and the cohort of extreme liberals who denigrate our immigration stance, we are still one of the most generous nations on earth when it comes to our acceptance of refugees.

I commend Scott Morrison on making the right decisions with respect to our immigration policies!

2 Replies to “Making the Right Decision”

  1. Thanks Ted for your thoughts on this matter and I fully agree with your stance.
    The subject for discussion at the recent monthly Friday Forum of our local U3A group, was Immigration, and so this current incidence of the Biloela family became the prominent talking point with some members being critical of our Government’s inhumanity and absence of compassion. Sadly, their information is based on the what they have gleaned from what the numerous news media corporations have issued in their news bulletins, and so they do not know the full picture.

Comments are closed.