As our politicians return to Canberra for the next session of Parliament, at the top of everyone’s mind is the asylum seeker issue. The last parliamentary sitting week basically left Australia at an impasse – with neither side of politics being willing to negotiate a solution that would deter asylum seekers from making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat.
How did we end up at this political roadblock?
There was passionate debate on the floor of the Parliament, that made absolutely clear that all sides of politics are anxious to see a system that will prevent more deaths at sea.
But with the Coalition determined to maintain the political advantage they have with the electorate in this policy area and the Government desperate to claw back some ground – the political deadlock was never going to be broken.
Unable to legislate as it wished to, the Government established an expert panel, who have spent the last 6 weeks coming up with 22 key recommendations which – taken together – are intended to address Australia’s asylum seeker challenges.
What is the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers and why does it matter?
The panel was chaired by former Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is respected on both sides as a hard-working, intelligent and fair minded man.
The panel’s report was released today and Air Chief Marshal Houston described their approach as “hard-headed but not hard-hearted. realistic not idealistic,” and “driven by a sense of humanity as well as fairness.”
What does the report say?
In their report, the panel has set out to do is to re-balance the incentives that currently exist, that are driving desperate people to make the dangerous journey to Australia, in order to achieve an orderly and better managed system.
The panel’s recommendations are guided by a principle of ‘no advantage’, that is, an asylum seekers’ chances of being resettled in Australia as a refugee should not be improved because of they have arrived by unauthorized boat.
The key recommendations are:
1. That Australia’s humanitarian program be immediately increased to 20,000 people each year, with 12,000 places allocated exclusively to refugees (which is double the current refugee intake). Australia should also commit to increasing its overall humanitarian intake to 27,000 per year by 2017.
2. That a regional cooperation framework be established, which would see Australia working more closely with other countries throughout South East Asia to address the asylum seeker issue in a more integrated way. In particular, Australia should seek too immediately improve our cooperation with Indonesia in regards to law enforcement and surveillance.
3. That the Government should introduce legislation to allow for offshore regional processing to be reintroduced as a matter of urgency. This would see countries like Nauru and Papua New Guinea (both signatories to the Refugee Convention) re-emerge as options for the processing of asylum seekers.
4. There would be no different status at law for those who arrive in Australia’s excised territories (for example, Christmas Island) to those who arrive on the Australian mainland.
5. That right to sponsor family members to come to Australia for refugees who arrive here by unauthorized boats would be restricted. This was a key element of the temporary protection visa scheme that existed under the Howard Government.
What happens next?
While the panel’s recommendations fall closer to existing Coalition policy than it does to Labor’s, the Government has accepted all 22 of the report’s recommendations. With broad support from the Coalition for the report as well, it appears that there will be fast action in the Parliament to begin legislating for a new policy position.
The Greens are concerned by many of the recommendations made in the report – calling it a return to the Howard era approach to immigration – but have confirmed they will maintain their support for the Labor Government.
We will keep you updated through the day.
You can read the recommendations in full here.
And here is are some of the questions and concerns of the Twitter world in response to the release of the report:
Do you think this report will break the political roadblock on this issue?