This article examines legislative changes to the meaning of persecution in Australia in the context of refugee law. In particular it considers the level of harm that a person must endure to be eligible for refugee status. The reflexive humanitarian response is that even relatively low levels of harassment and discrimination should suffice. However, it is argued that this approach is flawed. Given the limited number of refugees that states are prepared to accept, a narrow definition of persecution should be adopted, such that only asylum seekers whose subsistence is imperiled should qualify as refugees.