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SUMMER 2014 |2015
There’s more to asylum policy than stopping the boats,
says Reconciliation Australia founder, 2014 Senior Australian
of the Year and Perth local, Fred Chaney.
FRESH APPROACH ON REFUGEES
AThe debate on refugee policy
within Australia has become
a toxic political issue. All
sides could be accused of
playing politics rather than
making policy. However, over
the last 12 months, the boats
have stopped arriving and
some heat has gone out of the asylum debate. The
Government can rightly claim credit for the fact that
the boats have stopped, probably in combination
with policies enacted by the last Labor government.
Regardless of whether you support or oppose
it, what the Government has done is create
a cooling-off period. The Australian people are
strongly supportive of immigration, as long as they
feel it occurs through an orderly and controlled
framework. Accepting controlled immigration as
a starting point, the government has significant
flexibility in how it deals with asylum seekers and other
immigrants. This presents a window of opportunity.
Now is the time to carve out a viable long-term
policy for refugees and asylum seekers.
In October 2014, I launched a new report,
Beyond the Boats, a joint production by the
Centre for Policy Development, Australia21 and
the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law
at the University of New South Wales. I suggested
that the last year had furnished Australia with
a chance to create a sustainable and viable asylum
and refugee policy for the long term.
At the launch, my friend and former colleague
Russell Broadbent MP said it would be a ‘long walk,
not a short walk’ before Australia could approach
the issue from a position of genuine bipartisanship,
and warned that politicians had become ‘deaf’ to the
community in regards to it. I admire Mr Broadbent but
do not share his pessimism. Indeed, we could look
to him as an example that the community supports
politicians who take a principled stand on this issue.
He has crossed the floor three times to vote against
his own party on asylum issues. Warned he would
lose his seat, at each election his vote has increased.
The Beyond the Boats report offered a nine-
point framework for a system of asylum policy that is
realistic about regional dynamics (including people
smuggling), supports those seeking asylum, and
reflects Australian values. It builds on a roundtable
held in Canberra in July 2014. A select but diverse
group of 35 policymakers and experts participated,
including those from the main three political
parties, the region (Malaysia and Indonesia), former
politicians with direct policymaking experience,
legal experts, academics, and refugee advocates.
There is far more to asylum policy than
‘stopping the boats’.
Currently, there are
51.2 million displaced people in the world,
the highest number since World War II, with
800,000 people requiring resettlement every year.
Refusing boats means pressure must be relieved
elsewhere in the system, ideally in key source
countries. This means creative (and expanded) use
of pathways for humanitarian resettlement, including
quickly processing high-risk cohorts (such as Hazaras
from Afghanistan), and in-country processing.
Increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake
would relieve some pressure, as well as
demonstrate to source and transit countries that
Australia is serious about working to reduce the
burden on other countries. This is why the report
advocates an increased humanitarian intake from
13,750 to 25,000.
Working with our regional partners is also vital.
Everyone wants a regional framework, but that will
not happen without considered and respectful
dialogue. One only has to look at the projections to
realise forced migration is a growing, not a receding
issue, especially in our region. This is inescapable.
Yet there is no forum for a comprehensive
discussion of forced migration issues.
Given the sensitivity of this policy area, there
needs to be a forum where officials and stakeholders
can speak freely – in a private capacity – and
contemplate the long term. These dialogues have
been productive elsewhere, especially in defence
and security, but have been absent on this policy.
Government backing and the involvement of senior
officials from source, transit and destination countries
will be a necessary condition. Other stakeholders
also need to be present, including the UNHCR.
More can be done to directly improve areas
directly under Australia’s control – including how
we treat people in our care and settle people in
the community – such as assisting with language
difficulties. Much must be done to improve
conditions in Nauru, Manus and for the caseload in
Australia, particularly when it comes to work rights
and detention. Mandatory detention, apart from
initial screening, is unnecessary. Research indicates
that it does not provide a deterrent to arriving by
boat, and has a negative psychological effect.
Australia has a rich history of migration. We
have thrived upon the intake of migrants, whether
it is through working, family or humanitarian
visas. The debate surrounding refugees needs
to be refreshed. New approaches and greater
discussion from both political sides are
required to create a non-partisan solution.
There is no quick fix to the issue, nor
does one person or political party have
all the answers. The three organisations
behind Beyond the Boats have worked
through the issues in a respectful,
forward-looking fashion, and have
sought to involve regional partners.
The recommendations are worthy of
broad support. S
“Australia has thrived upon the intake of migrants,
through working, family or humanitarian visas. The
debate surrounding refugees needs to be refreshed.”
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