The Expert Panel's approach to asylum seekers should be adopted.
On 14th August the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers presented its report, making 22 recommendations for how Australia should respond to the challenge of asylum seekers, particularly those arriving by boat.
The most controversial component of the approach is that all asylum seekers arriving by boat should be processed offshore, initially at Nauru and PNG's Manus Island. The approach is therefore a variant on the Howard Government's "Pacific Solution." It is also broadly in line with the Coalition's policies.
The panel stressed that their recommendations form an integrated package, and warned that "cherry picking" - accepting some parts and rejecting others - may result another failed approach to the complex problem of asylum seekers.
The Labor Government immediately indicated that it accepted ("in principle") all the recommendations, and would introduce legislation immediately to put the Panel's approach into effect.
The panel's approach offers a way to break the political deadlock.
The recommendations were produced by independent experts relying on expert submissions from a wide range of individuals and organisations. In moving to accept them all, Julia Gillard has shown a willingness to compromise in order to produce a stable, pragmatic national response. No other approach currently provided has anything like the same chance of allowing Australia to "move forward" on asylum seekers.
The approach will stop asylum seekers attempting to arrive by boat.
The report recommends a mix of "incentives and disincentives" intended to discourage asylum seekers from making the risky journey in a boat. In particular it introduces a "no advantage" principle such that a person arriving by boat will not receive any kind of preferential treatment as compared with those applying in other countries. Asylum seekers will then see that it is pointless to pay the costs and take the risks of a sea journey.
The approach is humane and fair.
The report recommends an increase in Australia's refugee intake to 20,000 and eventually to 27,000. It also urges a range of measures for protection of asylum seekers. Importantly, it is fair in this sense: all refugees hoping to reach Australia are treated equally in terms of their prospects for timely processing and acceptance; those seeking to arrive by boat don't secure an advantage for themselves.
The approach amounts to indefinite mandatory detention for asylum seekers.
Asylum seekers arriving by boat will be shipped to a remote offshore location where they will be for all practical purposes in detention for an indefinite period while they await processing in the same time frame as others elsewhere. The panel has conceded that it does not know how long processing will take under these conditions. This is cruel and unjust.
The approach violates Australia's international human rights obligations.
As a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, Australia is obliged to offer protection to vulnerable people asking for our help. Providing "disincentives" (deterrents) to even approach Australia, and putting them into what is effectively an indefinite period of detention in third world countries which are not signatories to the Convention, falls far short of meeting that obligation.
The centrepiece of the approach - the regional processing system - may never be delivered.
The regional framework will be difficult and costly to create and will take many years. If the offshore processing in Nauru and Manus Island does stop the boats, then the political imperative to create the framework will be lost. This is especially true if an Abbott/Coalition government comes to power.
- Open Letter to the Prime Minister by a coalition of human rights and refugee advocate groups and individuals. "We are united in our opposition to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill currently before Parliament..."
- A change of heart. Panel member Paris Aristotle explains why he now supports a "Pacific Solution" approach.
- Greg Sheridan - PM's fig leaf of regional work on refugees has zero chance.
- Houston panel offers a circuit breaker in regional asylum crisis
- Houston panel ignores the evidence on asylum seekers
- Refugee Council of Australia fact sheets
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