An editorial from the Sydney “Daily Telegraph” below, referring particularly to the recent capsize and sinking of an illegal immigrant boat

THE current refugee crisis – and that often-overused word is sadly justified, with at least 16 people presently unaccounted for in the waters off the Cocos Islands – has effectively paralysed Australian politics.

Decisions are difficult to make in circumstances where so many lives are at stake. An error could lead to a further massive increase in the number of deaths of those seeking unauthorised entry. Yet decisions must be made. An absence of authority on this issue guarantees yet more attempted arrivals, and with them the attendant deadly risks.

The decision-making process would be far easier if the atmosphere were not so charged with allegations of racism. These accusations ought to be put aside. Australians, including those who argue for strong border protection, are not – in the overwhelmingly majority – racist. It is not racist to insist on orderly procedures for immigration, be it formal or through requests for asylum.

Nor is it racist to make Australia a difficult target for people-smugglers and others who would exploit both this country’s welcoming nature and the desperation of those who wish to come here. In fact, a case can be made that deterring people-smugglers is a humanitarian act, in that it exposes fewer people to the dangers of rogue sea travel. By some counts, more than 50 have perished since the recent upsurge in attempted arrivals.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has faced criticism over his claim to be both tough and kind over refugee issues, as though it is impossible to be both. This is not the case. By maintaining the toughness of our approach – for example, by not caving in to those who threaten self-harm unless their immigration demands are met – Australia is extending a kindness to others who might be inspired to attempt the same thing.

In response to the current situation, Rudd must add steel to Australia’s border protection policies. It matters little that some opponents may make capital from this. Lives are in the balance. Some issues are more important than politics.