Author: Janet Phillips, Social Policy Section
- Both Coalition and Labor governments have adopted and maintained a variety of border protection and anti- people smuggling measures in response to several waves of asylum seekers arriving unauthorised in Australian waters by boat since 2001.
- Both major parties are in general agreement on many of the key measures that have been put in place to deal with these issues. This includes mandatory detention for unauthorised boat arrivals introduced in the 1990s by the Keating (Labor) Government, and offshore processing arrangements in the Pacific first introduced by the Howard (Coalition) Government in 2001.
- However, there are some policy differences, in particular whether asylum seekers should be offered temporary or permanent protection and what size Australia’s formal annual intake of refugees and other humanitarian entrants should be.
- An Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers was established in 2012 to advise the Australian Government on ‘the best way forward’ to address these issues. Subsequently, the Panel noted that there ‘were no quick or simple solutions’ but argued for an integrated set of short-term and long-term proposals. The short-term proposals included both disincentives (such as the re-introduction of an offshore processing regime) and incentives (such as an immediate increase in Australia’s Humanitarian Program). Long-term proposals included recommendations that the Government create better migration pathways and protection opportunities for refugees coordinated within an ‘enhanced regional cooperation framework’.
- Many stakeholders favour a similar approach and have urged the Australian Government to work towards creating better protection opportunities for refugees in the region under a variety of burden-sharing arrangements. It is argued that this could be negotiated within existing regional cooperative arrangements such as the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime.
- Over recent years many short-term deterrence measures have been introduced by both Labor and Coalition governments, but many more long-term incentives or proposals along the lines of those recommended by the Expert Panel have largely not been pursued or are yet to come to fruition.
- While many argue that Australia’s annual humanitarian intake is relatively generous, the magnitude of the issues arising from the growing number of people seeking protection globally is daunting and poses huge challenges to all the destination countries, including Australia. Many stakeholders argue that one of the biggest challenges for the government of any destination country is to develop asylum policy that focuses on international, not domestic, concerns and offers sustainable long-term solutions.
SOURCE: Phillips, Janet. “A Comparison of Coalition and Labor Government Asylum Policies in Australia since 2001.” Parliamentary Library [Updated 2 February 2017]
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