Monday night Q & A: Asylum Seeker Policies


Satyajeet Marar, Member of the Macq Liberal Club

I’m writing this on exchange in Vienna amidst the worst migrant crisis in Europe’s recent history. Yesterday, news emerged that over 700 migrants are feared dead following a disaster in the Mediterranean sea. Meanwhile, public frustration and backlash against a minority of the new arrivals responsible for serious crimes has been exploited by a resurgent European hard-right that claimed nearly half the votes in relatively liberal Austria’s recent presidential election on a primarily anti-immigrant platform. These developments illustrate the real cost of reckless, open-borders policy which ultimately lets down or even leads to the demonisation of legitimate refugees and demonstrates why a majority of Australians are right in voting to support our government’s current border protection regime.

During the disastrous pre-2013 Labor government era which largely favoured on-shore/domestic processing – 800 people smuggler boats brought over 50,000 asylum seekers. Shockingly, 30,000 of these claims are still being processed with many of people continuing to languish in detention centres. Under the coalition government, children in detention now number less than 75 – a far cry from 1500+ under Labor.

The coalition policy upsets the Left mainly because it is so effective. By eliminating the market for people smugglers to peddle their illegal product – billing those who can afford it for thousands of dollars, their exploitative business model dissipates. This means fewer people in detention and near-total elimination of loss of life at sea. We now have greater control over who enters out country – allowing us to prioritise those with better, more attestable claims of persecution who can be chosen through legitimate channels such as UN camps. Taking more individuals and families through these avenues is far more desirable than favouring illegal maritime arrivals who tend to disproportionately include able-bodied men and who are sometimes incentivised to destroy identity documents to increase chances of resettlement.

The potential human cost of a return to the former Labor government’s policy was driven home by heart-wrenching images of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi who washed up on European shores following an accident at sea. This was a direct result of the child’s father’s decision to seek better economic opportunities in the west despite having obtained asylum/protection in Turkey. One can hardly blame anyone for wanting these opportunities, but encouraging a perilous journey for desperate individuals and families is inexcusable and illustrates which policy alternative is genuinely ‘tougher’.

Fortunately, even Labor acknowledges the superiority of the coalition asylum seeker policy with Shorten admitting their own policy is now nearly identical. It however, differs in that Shorten favours an end to Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). TPVs provide a pragmatic solution for individuals who are at lesser long-term risk of persecution or danger in their home country and strongly discourage economic migrants from entering Australia through streams meant for refugees – allowing us to process and grant asylum to more refugees.

History is filled with abhorrent government policy pushed under the guise of compassion. When it comes to the asylum seeker issue, pragmatism and consequence must be favoured over moral outrage or posturing. Detention centre conditions could be improved, so too could processing times and resettlement options for genuine refugees. But the coalition policy continues to be the best alternative for addressing the migrant crisis and favouring those with the better asylum claims over those with more ambiguous claims.

Lizzie Green – President of MQU Labor

Australia prides itself
on being a country full of multiculturalism. We are a nation of migrants and refugees.

For example, I live in Blacktown where we have
154 different nationalities living in our city, which
creates an incredibly vibrant city.

But let’s not ignore what is happening offshore, and that is people who are refugees are risking their lives at sea.

Tony Burke was immigration minister towards the end of the Labor Government in 2013. Every time I hear Tony speak on this issue, I get goosebumps and tears in my eyes. You can feel the emotion every time.

It’s incredibly hard to think that 33 people died while making the dreadful trip to Australia, but imagine it happening under your watch like Tony.

He reflects on how the youngest person in the 33 people who risked their lives for a better place was ten weeks old. His name was Abdul Shafari.

And every day after that incident, Tony Burke has had that little innocent boy’s name on his desk to remember all the innocent lives lost while making the
trip to Australia in terrible conditions.

And he says “We have to
show compassion not just to those in our line of sight, but to everyone who is affected by our policies. I want us to help more people than we’ve ever helped before – but I want every single one of
them to get here safely.”
And Labor’s policy addresses exactly that.

Let’s be real – this debate
isn’t about asylum seekers.
It’s about stopping people smugglers from taking desperate people’s
lifesavings to travel dangerously to another country.

It’s about bringing refugees
to Australia in a humane way.

Desperate people will do anything – it’s a natural
part of human life. But the people smugglers take advantage of this, particularly when it’s families with small children.

We can’t stand by and watch people drown at sea because they’re coming to Australia
on a leaky boat. These
people are innocent and desperate.

Before you start saying “There’s no difference between the two parties on this issue,” there is.

Ending indefinite detention
is a key part of our policy
that separates us from the Liberals.

Why should people remain in detention indefinitely? A Shorten Labor Government wouldn’t let innocent people stay locked up, they will be swiftly processed and let out of detention. The Liberals will keep people locked up. A humane approach to this
issue is important and Labor has that in their plan to end indefinite detention.

Let’s remember the people who these policies are about, and not make it political.

Let’s ensure we remain humane, and stop people smugglers from getting desperate people onto leaky boats to make a terrifying trip that will more than likely end in death at sea.

And let’s bring more people to Australia in a humane way, and increase our refugee intake.

To watch Tony Burke speak on this topic at last year’s National Conference, visit THIS LINK.


Toby Hemmings, President of the MQ Greens Club

Once again, the complex issue of asylum seekers has hit the front pages during the election campaign. The Opposition Leader and the media publicly decried Peter Dutton for his South Park-quoting commentary regarding the illiteracy and innumeracy of refugees. What is interesting though is that, despite Labor’s condemnation of such comments, both major parties seem to be in agreement with each other in terms of the policy regarding asylum seekers.

In the 15 years following the Tampa affair, the Liberal Party has repeatedly used simple slogans and scare campaigns to sell their hardline position on asylum seekers, which has predominantly involved offshore processing. This rhetoric helped John Howard and Tony Abbott win elections. As a result Labor has become cowed, choosing their short-term political future over their long-term ideological standing. The twin political forces of opportunism and weakness has led to the Australian asylum seeker policy being viewed as the most severe system in place in the developed world, backed by centrist consensus.

We have become acclimated to the inhumanity that successive governments have sanctioned at the Nauru and Manus Island sites. Stories of hunger strikes, child abuse and self-immolation appear in the media far too frequently. People gather and peacefully protest, they speak out and call for change. International bodies and institutions decree that we are going against human rights conventions and our standing in the international community falls. So why do our major parties hold firm and continue to fail regarding this issue?

The Greens are the only party that offers an alternative to the entrenched and morally repugnant policies in place. We are proposing to shut down all offshore detention centres and to instead increase the number of refugees Australia takes in. We will also set up a system that allows for refugee claims to be processed within 30 days in intermediary countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. This serves as a safe, fair and humane policy that will remove the choice on a leaky boat.

The basis for this policy stems from Malcolm Frazier’s government and their past actions in resettling Vietnamese refugees. Think of the vibrant cultural and economic contributions these people have gone on to make to Australian society. Unemployment and resettlement costs may be initially high, but the long terms benefits far outweigh these.

Modern Australia was built on the backs of migrants. Our ancestors all came to this country seeking a chance at a better life. We believe that Australian borders should be protected, but not at the expense of the rights of others. Our security should not jeopardise our collective humanity. Nauru and Manus Island must be closed. There is a better way.