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Federal election 2019: A primer on immigration policy


Conor Yung

By

May 12th, 2019


Immigration is an ever-present issue in the political debate. Discourse on immigration policy has still been dominated by the need to find a solution to the 950 refugees, currently stuck on offshoring processing centers[1]. This issue is complicated by the need to counterbalance resettlement, whilst, preventing the practice of ‘people smuggling’. According to the UN, […]


Immigration is an ever-present issue in the political debate. Discourse on immigration policy has still been dominated by the need to find a solution to the 950 refugees, currently stuck on offshoring processing centers[1]. This issue is complicated by the need to counterbalance resettlement, whilst, preventing the practice of ‘people smuggling’. According to the UN, people smuggling is the ‘procurement’ of a person ‘for financial or material reward’, to a state in which they are not legal[2]. Opening up borders creates demand for people smuggling services by refugees. Other issues affected by immigration, such as, overpopulation and the ‘black economy’ remain sidelined by the issue of border security.

Liberal

The incumbent’s policies on immigration have been quite reserved. As the party in power, the Liberals are tasked with outlining a plan as part of its Budget Review. This is designed to establish how many permanent residency visas it wishes to grant. Visas fall under either the Migration Program or Humanitarian Program[3]. The Migration Program is for those seeking permanent migration, while, the humanitarian program is for refugees. These are the two key policy levers for the government on immigration[4]. The government’s recent plan has largely remained unchanged. The 2018-19 Migration Program will allow 190,000 visas, a figure that has been unchanged for the last seven years[5]. This is then further divided into skilled and family migrants, with over 120,000 falling under the skilled migrant category. The Budget Review did amend the Migration Program figure from a ‘target’ to a ‘ceiling’, indicating a desire to reduce skilled migration. The Humanitarian Program has seen a steady increase in visa grants, with 18,750 granted last year. However, the issue of resettling refugees placed on offshore detention centres remains. The Coalition has not stated a policy on refugee resettlement[6]. In the meantime, the Coalition continues to support Temporary Protection Visas (TVs)[7], which grant refugees a three year stay, with the option of work and study and the ability to renew their visa or upgrade to the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV)[8]. The SHEV, offers a five year stay for refugees. Debate is contested as to whether temporary visas will increase or reduce the scale of people smuggling[9], with some arguing it will increase the demand for people smuggling services[10][11].

Labor

Labor has not officially released any policies[12], and have faced great difficulty clarifying their stance on refugees detained on Manus and Nauru Islands[13]. Labor’s one immigration ‘resolution’, as listed on their national platform, is to resettle ‘eligible refugees currently on Manus and Nauru to US and New Zealand and other third-countries’[14]. The New Zealand government has offered to settle 150 of the refugees on Manus and Nauru Islands’, however fears that people smugglers’ would use New Zealand as a backdoor to entering Australia has caused it to stall[15]. The support of this deal is perhaps the key difference between the two parties on immigration.

In their National Platform from 2018, Labor has made a number of stances on immigration. Labor is seeking to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake by 27,000 per year, over 10 years[16]. It is also seeking to institute a Community sponsored refugee program, which will grant 5,000 refugees entry per year[17]. Labor does plan to maintain offshore processing sites, however, it will ‘strive to ensure’ that unauthorized arrivals who enter will be detained for ‘no longer than 90 days’[18]. It also plans to strengthen its stance on people smuggling, preempting harsher penalties[19].

Labor has also stated support for international cooperation, supporting multiple refugee conventions. Critically, Labor has posited significant increases to its funding of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees[20], which is an arm of the UN that deals with the issue of refugees on a global scale. This may pressure the Coalition to resettle the refugees in offshore processing centres in an attempt to fall in line with UN human rights law.

Inter-party debate on immigration

Initially, Labor’s inability to clarify their stance on immigration has raised fears that it is not committed to maintaining a strong border. Labor passed the Medevac Bill with the assistance of the crossbench, affording doctors more power in allowing refugees that need urgent medical assistance entrance. The Coalition jumped on this, claiming that ‘paedophiles and murderers’ would make their way from Manus and Nauru[21]. However, the Coalitions criticism of Labor has since softened, following the Christchurch mosque shooting and the revitalization of a report from eight years ago, which claimed PM Scott Morrison planned to use Muslim assimilation problems for political point scoring[22]. Since then, the Coalition’s criticism of Labor’s policies have become more reserved. The Coalition have argued against the expense of Labor’s humanitarian intake program, estimating that it will cost $6 billion over 10 years[23]. However, in light of recent events, immigration has tempered on the political debate, as both parties continue their reserved stance in fear of electoral backlash.


[1] Bolger, R. (2019). What we learned from the third and final leaders’ debate. SBS News. Retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/what-we-learned-from-the-third-and-final-leaders-debate

[2] Barker, C. (2013). The people smugglers’ business model Parliament of Australia: Parliament of Australia Retrieved from https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/library/prspub/2262537/upload_binary/2262537.pdf;fileType=application/pdf.

[3] Sherrell, H. (2018). Budget Review 2018-19: Immigration. aph.gov.au: Parliament of Australia.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Liberal Party of Australia, (2019). Policies. Retrieved from https://www.alp.org.au/policies/

[7] Department of Home Affairs, (2019b). Temporary Protection Visa (Subclass 785). homeaffairs.gov: Australian Government Retrieved from https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/temporary-protection-785.

[8] Department of Home Affairs, (2019a). Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (Subclass 790). homeaffairs.gov: Australian Government Retrieved from https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/safe-haven-enterprise-790.

[9] Liberal Party of Australia, (2019). Policies. Retrieved from https://www.alp.org.au/policies/

[10]Barker, C. (2013). The people smugglers’ business model Parliament of Australia: Parliament of Australia Retrieved from https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/library/prspub/2262537/upload_binary/2262537.pdf;fileType=application/pdf.

[11] Dobson, M. (2019). Federal election 2019: Immigration is hot again but changed Shepparton’s cultural fabric long ago. ABC News. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-07/federal-election-how-immigration-has-changed-shepparton/11084462

[12] Labor Party of Australia, (2018). Labor’s National Platform. Paper presented at the ALP National Conference, Adelaide. https://www.alp.org.au/media/1539/2018_alp_national_platform_constitution.pdf

[13] Lewis, R. (2019). Shorten forced to clarify immigration policy’. The Australian. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/federal-election-2019-campaign-day-29-bill-shorten-repels-climate-change-attack/news-story/e75117df98f85d19d4e4951da06e8fdd

[14] Labor Party of Australia, (2018). Labor’s National Platform. Paper presented at the ALP National Conference, Adelaide. https://www.alp.org.au/media/1539/2018_alp_national_platform_constitution.pdf

[15] Bolger, R. (2019). What we learned from the third and final leaders’ debate. SBS News. Retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/what-we-learned-from-the-third-and-final-leaders-debate

[16] Labor Party of Australia, (2018). Labor’s National Platform. Paper presented at the ALP National Conference, Adelaide. https://www.alp.org.au/media/1539/2018_alp_national_platform_constitution.pdf

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Liberal Party of Australia, (2019). Policies. Retrieved from https://www.alp.org.au/policies/

[22] Where the major parties stand on immigration. (2019). SBS News. Retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/where-the-major-parties-stand-on-immigration

[23] Where the major parties stand on immigration. (2019). SBS News. Retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/where-the-major-parties-stand-on-immigration

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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