Government backflip on asylum policy

Following an independent report on asylum seekers, produced by an expert panel, the Government has decided to adopt all 22 recommendations and will today aim to reintroduce its migration bill to Parliament.

The expert panel was put together following the recent spate of asylum boats getting into trouble off the coast of Australia. It was tasked with coming up with a solution for a safer and faster option for processing asylum seekers. The main recommendation of the panel, led by former Defence Chief Angus Houston, is that asylum seekers should be processed on Manus Island and Nauru. It has also been recommended that the Malaysian people swap should be built on further. Removing the family reunion concession for people who arrive by boat, as well as stopping onshore processing where possible, should see a reduction in the number of people jumping on boats to reach Australia.

Julia Gillard also agreed in principle with a recommendation to increase the humanitarian intake from 13750 to 20,000 people per year. In order to reach an agreement on the way in which Australia processes asylum seekers, the Government is prepared to be more flexible on its position.

However, it won’t be all plain sailing for the Government’s migration bill, with the Greens rejecting the offshore processing recommendations and the Coalition yet to respond.

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Time for action

Former Defence Chief Angus Houston and the panel of experts, which was tasked with recommending solutions to Australia’s asylum seeker issue, have delivered a report which will hopefully see an end to unnecessary death at sea for the poor unfortunates who seek refuge. The members of the independent panel were “deeply concerned” about the loss of life at sea and have sought solutions which are “hard-headed but not hard-hearted”.

For my mind, the recommendations seem to be on the money. Sure, they are tough and they are not perfect, but if adopted and implemented, they would provide Australia with a much better framework to help those desperately in need. The panel has adopted a “no-advantage” principle “whereby irregular migrants gain no benefit by choosing to circumvent regular migration mechanisms”. Surely this is what most people want? No body wants to see anyone who has a genuine cause for seeking asylum simply sent back to where they have fled from, but neither do they wish to see an advantage given to anyone who simply has the gall and the means to pay for a one way ticket on a shonky boat bound for Australia.

In accepting such recommendation the Government has done an almighty backflip and for this they should be applauded. Yes, applauded. This is people’s lives we are talking about. Not an extra tax, or petty bureaucracy, but a decision on whether people live or die, reach safety or are turned away without a thought or care. There are some policies which should simply be bi-partisan, where the common good should overcome the political one-upmanship and snippy comments to which we have become so accustomed.

And the loss of life is becoming increasingly worrying. Since October 2009, 604 people have died at sea while en route to Australia, compared to 360 in the eight years before that. The number of people reaching our shores has also increased, with 7500 arriving in Australia this year alone, when the number for the whole of 2011 was only 4500.

So, to our politicians, I implore you to put your petty prejudices aside and consider the migration bill which will pass though Parliament today with fresh eyes and an open mind. Don’t say no simply for the point of saying no.

Are the recommendations a step in the right direction, or is Australia still being too lenient on asylum seekers? Is it time for all parties to work together to find a humanitarian solution to the issue of asylum seekers?

You can read the full report from the panel of experts at

Written by Debbie McTaggart