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Election 2016: Asylum Seeker Policy


ESSA Publications

By

July 2nd, 2016


Australia’s asylum seeker policy has always been a hot topic of political debate. ESSA’s Eloise Hesse explores how each major political party intends to tackle the controversial issue.


Liberals Asylum Seeker Policy

The main focus of the Liberals’ asylum seeker policy continues to be border protection. The Coalition government have been successful in stopping boats by adopting a hardline approach centred on turn-backs and offshore detention. This has engendered a mix response. Some, including legal and health experts, have condemned this policy. Others consider it an ideal model to ensure strengthened border protection.

The Coalition’s Australian Border Force was established to integrate and focus related agencies on border protection. By stopping the boats, the Government closed 17 detention centres, making $3 billion of budget savings. However, the cost of Abbott’s Operation Sovereign Borders is spread across multiple departments and most information is withheld for ‘operational reasons’. Since its implementation, there have been no known asylum seeker deaths within Australian waters.

The Coalition reintroduced Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and there is no resettlement in Australia for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. These arrivals also face restrictions on family reunions. Children have been removed from mainland detention centres, though some remain in the facility on Nauru.

The Coalition has pledged to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake marginally, from the current 13,750 places to 18,750 in 2018/19. This remains less than the 20,000 places when it came to government. Additionally, the Government recently committed to a special humanitarian intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Labor Asylum Seeker Policy

A Labor government would remove children from detention, end Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), and increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 27,000 refugees a year by 2025. As with the Coalition, Labor has committed to maintain offshore processing. They would also continue boat turn-backs, with the aim of deterring asylum seekers risking death at sea. Labor’s policy on Asylum Seekers was adopted at last year’s National Conference. However, several MPs have publicly spoken out against it since, demonstrating that there is some disagreement within the party.

Although they will be removing children from detention centres, Labor has also promised to incorporate an independent children’s advocate and legislate for mandatory reporting of child abuse in detention. Labor would alter the Migration Act to reinstate the principles of the UN Refugee Convention. They would also return access to the Refugee Review Tribunal, to replace the Independent Assessment Authority introduced by the Abbott Government. Labor has promised to end TPVs, including for asylum seekers who had arrived by boat during the previous Labor government.

They plan to reintroduce the ‘90-day rule’ for processing, meaning the Department of Immigration and Border Protection must report on the percentage of claims processed within this time. A Labor government would attempt to negotiate bi-lateral agreements with each of Papua New Guinea and Nauru to provide independent oversight of those facilities. Additionally, the Commonwealth Ombudsman would be given more oversight and measures would be taken to protect whistle-blowers. Labor has emphasised their commitment to regional cooperation and to contributing $450 million over three years to the UNHCR, which would make Australia one of the top five contributors. They would attempt to implement work rights for asylum seekers similar to those in the 2011 Malaysia Agreement.

Greens Asylum Seeker Policy

The Greens aim to shut down Australia’s offshore detention centres, on Manus Island and Nauru, and to remove all children and their families from detention immediately. Asylum seekers would instead be placed in community detention in Australia while their claims are processed. Under the Greens asylum seeker policy, the lower cost of community detention arrangements would help see $2.9 billion in savings over the forward estimates and $8.5 billion over the next 10 years (Parliamentary Budget Office).

As part of their wider migration policy, the Greens are seeking to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake from 13,750 to 50,000 per year – including 10,000 under a Skilled Refugee visa program. As with Labor, they plan to abolish Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) to allow for permanent protection regardless of mode of arrival. The Greens have also called for a Royal Commission into children in detention.

The Greens would seek to allocate $500 million over four years to speed up processing and provide asylum seekers with interim access to education and work rights as part of a ‘dignity package.’ They would attempt to implement a 30-day time limit to process the claims of those in onshore detention. In contrast to the Coalition, they argue that increasing the refugee intake while funding safer channels will deter boat arrivals. The Greens envisage a regional arrangement (working with the UNHCR) whereby asylum seekers are processed in Malaysia and Indonesia, then flown to Australia.

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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