Bring Out Yer Dead Policies: The Coalition’s Asylum Strategy

Abbott has pledged to stop the boats at all costs but his policies have been tested by previous Coalition governments — and failed. Real questions remain about the effectiveness and implementation of the Coalition’s line on asylum seekers, writes Kate Gauthier

The Coalition’s election policy on boat arrival asylum seekers has three key elements: bring back temporary protection visas, reopen the detention centre on Nauru, and, where possible turn back boats.

The ultimate goal for these policies is not to improve the system of regional protection for asylum seekers, nor is it to make the system faster, cheaper and more humane, nor is the goal to improve quality of protection visa assessments. The goal is simply to “stop the boats” regardless of the consequences on people who have fled persecution, war or torture, regardless of the impact on children who will be detained and often sent back home to danger, and regardless of the financial cost of such an enterprise to the Australian tax-payer.

Coalition policy is to bring back temporary protection visas (TPVs) because, according to Tony Abbott, “only by denying people smugglers a product can we cripple their business and stop the flow of illegal arrivals.” What has not been articulated is how this policy will be implemented. Will refugees remain on temporary visas for their whole lives, or eventually be moved to permanent visas if the security situation in their homeland remains unstable?

There are so many reasons why a TPV policy is both stupid and cruel. When TPVs were introduced under the Howard government, the policy increased actually boat arrivals because the visa denied access to the family reunion program.  This means that for men found to be refugees, the only way to bring their wives and children to safety was to bring them in on boats.

If we allow refugees to live here, it is in our own best interest to ensure they can integrate well into our society, and not be forced to live on the fringes. For example, it is very hard to get a job or seek employment training if the employer has no guarantee you will even be in Australia next year.

The TPV policy was eventually wound back by Howard in 2005 as it required endless re-processing of claims which was expensive and unwieldy. To be resurrected now, when it has already been tried and tested by a previous Coalition government, is bad policy.

Turning back boats is an unrealistic option that was eventually abandoned under Howard after a mere seven boats were turned back. Boats began to be scuttled and sabotaged so they were unseaworthy and unable to be returned. This leads to endangering the lives of the asylum seekers and the Australian customs or navy personnel involved.

Finally, the policy of sending asylum seekers to Nauru may be feasible, but past evidence shows that it does not achieve its policy objective. In the previous Pacific Solution, 96 per cent of those found to be refugees were settled in Australia or New Zealand. Both Abbott and Gillard have claimed that to stop the boats you must ensure that people smugglers “have nothing to sell” in the form of entry to Australia. If Australia sends people to Nauru, they will still remain the ultimate responsibility of Australia, meaning if nowhere else can be found they will settle in Australia. Only 46 refugees were diverted to other settlement countries. An economic rationalist would have to ask if it is an appropriate expenditure of taxes to divert only 46 people, considering that an Oxfam study found that the Pacific Solution policy as a whole cost over $1 billion.

Overall, these are tired policies that have been tried before and failed before. They are costly, cruel and do not achieve the objective of stopping boats. The only thing they do is to perpetuate the hysteria around boat arrivals and perhaps win a few extra votes. Australians deserve better.