2013/12: Should asylum seekers attempting to come to Australia by boat be permanently settled in Papua New Guinea?
What they said...
'As of today, asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia'
Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in an announcement made on July 19, 2013
'We're going to pay our most impoverished neighbour to take this problem away from us and get it out of sight out of mind'
Leader of the Greens, Christine Milne, commenting on the newly announced policy
The issue at a glance
On Friday, July 19, Australia's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced that any asylum seeker coming to Australia by boat would never be permitted into this country. Such asylum seekers will be transferred to Papua New Guinea to have their refugee claims processed and if successful will be able to remain in Papua New Guinea. They will never be allowed to settle in Australia.
The new policy has meet with a mixed reaction. Some commentators have suggested that it may succeed in preventing asylum seekers risking their lives at sea. Others have seen it as a cynical political ploy that offloads Australia's humanitarian responsibilities onto an impoverished neighbour state. Others have questioned whether the scheme will be practicable and whether it will succeed in reducing the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat.
1. Asylum seeker
'Asylum' is refuge or protection. An 'asylum seeker' is an immigrant from another country seeking refuge from persecution within his or her own country. An asylum seeker has to be formally assessed before he or she can be judged a 'refugee'. If the country to which the asylum seeker has come decides he or she is a 'refugee', that person will be given a visa that will allow them to remain legally in the host country for a certain period of time.
Currently, Asylum seekers in Australia are held in detention centres while their claims to be refugees are processed. This is referred to as 'mandatory detention'.
The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention gives a definition of refugee that forms the basis of most national definitions. Australia is a signatory to this Convention.
The Convention states that a refugee is someone who 'owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, ... is unable or ... unwilling to avail himself of the protection of [his or her native] country ...'
The Convention outlines how someone judged a refugee is to be treated within a host country.
Included in this list of appropriate treatments is that the host country, referred to, as the 'Contracting State' will 'facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees'. Thus, a refugee is entitled to become a permanent citizen of his or her host country and is to be helped to do so.
The host country is also expected to make available to refugees 'the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance as is accorded to ... nationals'. Thus the same welfare assistance is to be offered to refugees as to other citizens of the host country.
3. Illegal immigrant
Most of the estimated 60,000 illegal immigrants in Australia are not asylum seekers hoping to be judged as refugees. Most illegal immigrants arrive by air and overstay their visas.
They are generally tourists, students or people granted temporary-residence permits. They do not get much media attention and the Government does not appear to consider them a serious threat, though recently legislation has been passed compelling employers to be more scrupulous about determining the legal resident status of those they employ.
It is debatable whether unauthorised asylum seekers arriving in Australia should be termed 'illegal immigrants'.
The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention states that host countries 'shall not impose penalties ... on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened ... enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.'
Those who would have 'asylum seekers' termed 'illegal immigrants' tend to stress the 'coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened' component of the Refugee Convention and claim that many asylum seekers have already stopped at at least one other country before seeking to come to Australia.
Asylum seekers are in a transitional state. If their applications for refugee status are accepted then they are entitled to remain within their host country under the terms that country stipulates. (As outlined by the United Nations Refugee Convention this would be on equal terms to the nationals of that country.)
Only if they are rejected as refugees do they unequivocally become illegal immigrants.
The Gillard government's asylum seeker policies
Deaths at sea among asylum seekers and ongoing boat arrivals lead to a major Parliamentary debate on the issue in June, 2012.
The Gillard government then convened the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, chaired by Angus Houston, a retired senior commander of the Royal Australian Air Force and former Chief of the Defence Force, to consider further options.
The Houston Review found that 'onshore processing encourages people to jump into boats'.
In response to one of the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers the Gillard government has adopted what it terms the "no advantage" principle. This means that it has sought to put into place provisions that would discourage asylum seekers from attempting to come to Australia by boat.
The aim is to create circumstances which would give refugees who arrive in Australia by boat no effective advantage over those who stay in refugee camps or other depots and apply to come to Australia from there.
In implementing the "no advantage" principle, Australia has
a) re-opened offshore detention facilities on Nauru and begun negotiations to open similar facilities on Manus Island;
b) had mainland Australia excised from Australia's migration zone so that any asylum seeker who reaches the mainland can be transferred to an offshore facility and processed there, with no set period for the detention;
c) had asylum seekers judged to be refugees still have to wait several years before being given permanent protection visas to make their situation more comparable to that of those waiting in camps in other countries (these people would be given a pension but no work rights);
d) increased the annual refugee quota from 13,750 to 20,000, with priority places to be made available to those who apply from outside Australia.
Previous mandatory detention of asylum seekers in Australia
Mandatory detention of asylum seekers in Australia was established by the Keating Government in 1992. Mandatory detention was introduced to 'support the integrity of Australia's immigration program' and 'management of Australian borders' and to distinguish between those who asylum seekers who have applied for entry to Australia prior to arrival (often from a refugee camp) and those who have attempted to come directly to Australia before applying for asylum.
Under the policy, asylum seekers are mandatorily detained while they 'undergo an assessment process, including security and health checking, to establish if they have a legitimate reason for staying in Australia'.
The 'Pacific Solution', 'Operation Relex' and 'Operation Resolute'
Controls on unauthorised arrivals were tightened under the Howard Government in 2001, as part of its so-called 'Pacific Solution' policy, which saw the excision of a number of Australian island territories from Australia's migration zone.
This meant that any asylum seeker arriving on one of these islands was deemed not to have reached Australian soil. Asylum seekers were then removed to other Pacific islands, primarily Nauru, to have their applications to enter Australia as refugees processed.
It was claimed this led to a sharp decline in boat arrivals and, consequently, to numbers of people being detained. However, the policy was highly controversial. It was condemned as an abnegation of Australia's international obligations to those seeking asylum as determined by the United Nations Refugee Convention. It was also criticised in terms of the length of time it typically took to process applications and the psychological harm done to those held in detention, including children. The Pacific Solution was dismantled by the Rudd Government in 2008.
Operation Relex was the name given to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) border protection operation conducted between 2001 and 2006. Assets of all three services of the ADF were committed to the operation to prevent the arrival of Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels (SIEV) in the Australian migration zone. Operation Relex operated mainly between October and December 2001 when ten SIEV were intercepted by HMA Ships Warramunga, Arunta and Leeuwin assisted by several Fremantle Class Patrol Boats. Operation Relex was incorporated
Operation Resolute began on 17 July 2006 and consolidated a number of previous ADF operations, including Operation Relex. It was commanded by the joint civilian-military Border Protection Command and the ADF which contributed Royal Australian Navy ships, Royal Australian Air Force aircraft and patrols from the Australian Army's Regional Force Surveillance Units.
Current situation (prior to the July 19. 2013 announcement)
There are currently thousands of asylum seekers held in immigration detention around Australia.
Several hundred asylum seekers are now also being detained on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea under third country processing arrangements.
Under the Migration Act 1958, asylum seekers who arrive in Australia, whether to the mainland or an 'excised offshore place', without a valid visa must be held in immigration detention until they are granted a visa or removed from Australia.
Immigration detention in Australia is indefinite - there is no limit in law or policy to the length of time for which a person may be detained.
Some asylum seekers and refugees spend long periods of time in immigration detention waiting for their refugee claim to be assessed; waiting for the completion of health, identity and security checks; or awaiting removal from Australia if they have been found not to be a refugee nor to otherwise be owed protection.
On July 19, 2013, the British newspaper The Guardian published a full transcript of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's announcement of his government's asylum seeker policy arrangement with Papua New Guinea.
The transcript can be accessed at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/19/kevin-rudd-statement-asylum-seekers
The same announcement can be found on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's official internet site at http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/australia-and-papua-new-guinea-regional-settlement-arrangement
On July 19, 2013, the Australian Government released a transcript of a joint press conference given by Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill. The full transcript of this conference can be found at http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/transcript-joint-press-conference-2
On July 19, 2013, The Conversation published a discussion of Australia's asylum seeker policies over the last several years. The piece is written by Sharon Pickering, Professor of Criminology at Monash University, who argues that Australia needs to adopt 'workable, just solutions that will prevent the deaths of asylum seekers seeking irregular entry into Australia.'
The full text of Professor Pickering's proposals can be found at http://theconversation.com/preventing-deaths-at-sea-asking-the-experts-on-asylum-seekers-8315
On July 19, 2013, the British newspaper The Guardian published a series of comments from Australia academics critical of the country's new policy in relation to asylum seekers. The piece is titled 'Is Australia's new asylum policy the harshest in its history?'
The full text can be accessed at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/19/australia-asylum-policy-harshest-policy
On July 20, 2013, The Townsville Bulletin published a report by Gemma Jones titled 'Rudd: PNG will take all asylum seekers'. The piece is presented as a news report; however, it adopts a perspective critical of the new policy.
The full text of the article can be found at http://www.townsvillebulletin.com.au/article/2013/07/20/385882_news.html
On July 21, 2013, a number of key members of the Australian government defended its asylum seeker arrangements with Papua New Guinea against accusations that they are illegal.
These arguments were reported in an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald and titled 'New refugee policy is legal, insists Labor'. The full text of this article can be found at http://www.smh.com.au/national/new-refugee-policy-is-legal-insists-labor-20130721-2qc4i.html
On July 21, 2013, the ABC's current affairs program The Insiders included a wide-ranging discussion of the government's new policy in relation to asylum seekers. Included among those giving opinions were the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O'Neill, and the Australian Opposition leader, Tony Abbott. A full transcript of this discussion can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/insiders/content/2012/s3807515.htm
On July 23, 2013, The Conversation published an analysis of the number of asylum seekers who have died attempting to reach Australia by boat during the Prime Ministership of John Howard and in the period since. The piece was written by Sara Davies, Senior Research Fellow, International Relations at Griffith University
The full text of this analysis can be found at http://theconversation.com/factcheck-have-more-than-1000-asylum-seekers-died-at-sea-under-labor-16221
On July 21, 2013, The Courier Mail ran a report titled 'Campbell Newman predicts wave of asylum seekers escaping PNG across Torres Strait to Queensland'. The report details the Queensland premier's criticisms of the new policy.
The full text can be found at http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/campbell-newman-predicts-wave-of-asylum-seekers-escaping-png-across-torres-strait-to-queensland/story-fnihsrf2-1226682432822
On July 22, 2013, Mamamia, the women's current affairs site published a comment by the site's editor, Mia Freedman, presenting arguments both for and against the recent development in Australia's policies regarding asylum seekers.
The full text of this comment can be found at http://www.mamamia.com.au/election2013/asylum-seekers-stop-the-boats-bigotry/
On July 23, 2013, The Conversation published an analysis of the attitudes and objectives that appear to have informed Australia's asylum seeker policies. The piece looks at these in relation to Australia's obligations under international law. It is titled 'Defining "success" in the asylum seeker debate' and is written by Melissa Phillips, an Honorary Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. The full text of this article can be found at http://theconversation.com/defining-success-in-the-asylum-seeker-debate-16296
On July 23, 2013, the ABC's political commentary site The Drum published a comment by Peter Reith, a former minister in the Howard government titled, 'Asylum seeker policy is now out of our hands'
The piece criticises Australia's new asylum seeker policy arguing it leaves Australia at the discretion of Papua New Guinea.
The full text of this comment can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-23/reith-asylum-seeker-policy-is-now-out-of-our-hands/4835676
On July 29, 2013, The Age published a comment by former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Howard, critical of the asylum seeker policies adopted by both the Government and the Opposition and arguing for a more humane and wide-ranging approach. The full text of this comment can be found at http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/vietnamese-refugees-were-a-boon-not-a-burden-20130728-2qsh4.html
Arguments in favour of those seeking asylum by boat being settled permanently in Papua New Guinea
1. The new policy will help prevent asylum seekers drowning at sea
In his address to the Australian people announcing a new asylum seeker policy, Kevin Rudd stated, 'Australians have had enough of seeing people drowning in the waters to our north.'
Supporters of the new policy argue that something has to be done to reduce the number of asylum seekers drowning in their attempts to come to Australia by boat.
In an article published in The Australian on July 20, it was claimed that some 1,100 asylum seekers had drowned trying to come to Australia by boat since Kevin Rudd relaxed Australia's border protection regime in 2008.
In an article published in The Conversation on July 23, 2013, Sara Davies, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of International Relations at Griffith University, stated, 'The 1000 deaths of asylum seekers at sea figure regularly cited by politicians and the media is broadly correct. The best official figure is just under 900, but there is no doubt that deaths at sea have occurred and have not been recorded.'
In a press conference given on July 19, 2013, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, stated, 'With each vessel that comes, there is a continued risk of drownings, and we've seen too much of this already.'
Numerous supporters of the new policy have stated that it is needed because it supplies the sort of deterrent required to ensure that asylum seekers will stop putting their lives at risk in unseaworthy vessels. On July 22, 2013, Mia Freedman., the publisher and editorial director of Australia's leading women's website Mamamia.com.au., stated, 'I know that a major deterrent is needed to stop people risking their lives and the lives of their children by clambering aboard leaky boats. I know it's no longer black and white because the rate of asylum seeking boat arrivals has become out of control - quite literally.'
2. The new policy will protect Australia's border security and its defence force personnel
The Australian government has claimed that it is concerned to regulate the manner in which refugees come to Australia so that only those whom the country has assessed to be refugees are accepted and then in the numbers that Australia has determined
In 2012 The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet released 'Strong and Secure: A Strategy National Security'. The document included a section dealing with border security which noted 'With around 60,000 kilometres of coastline, we have one of the largest physical border environments in the world.' The document went on to state 'Australia's border integrity is...challenged by irregular maritime migration facilitated by people smuggling. Responding to people smuggling and irregular maritime migration-including through
the implementation of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers recommendations-remains an important focus of the Government.'
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, stated on June 19, 2013, 'Our responsibility as a government is to ensure that we have a robust system of border security and orderly migration.' The new policy is said to be a means of ensuring border security by reducing the pull factors, that is, it removes Australia as an attractive destination for asylum seekers coming by boat.
It has also been claimed that asylum seeker deaths and the rescue attempts undertaken to prevent them have put Australian defence personnel under great strain. In an article published in The Australian on July 20, it was claimed, 'At present almost 8 per cent of sailors involved in Operation Resolute report post-traumatic stress, similar to rates on overseas military deployments such as Afghanistan. This week, the crew of the patrol boat HMAS Albany launched small boats in 3m swells in the dark to save the lives of 144 people, including mothers and children who were scrambling for life in the foam.'
In his address to the Australian people announcing a new asylum seeker policy, Kevin Rudd stated, 'We are sick of watching our servicemen and women risking their lives in rescues in dangerous conditions on the high seas.' The new policy is intended to reduce the number of asylum seekers attempting to come to Australia, without having to involve Australia's defence personnel. It is thus aimed at limiting the pressures placed on Australian defence force personnel.
3. The new policy will destroy the operation of people smugglers
In the policy newly-announced by the Rudd Labor Government, an emphasis is placed on reducing the risk to would-be boat-arrivals of drowning at sea. People smugglers are presented as exploiting the desperation of asylum-seekers and much of the policy is intended to remove their customer base.
In his address announcing the policy, Prime Minister Rudd stated, 'Our country has had enough of people smugglers exploiting asylum seekers and seeing them drown on the high seas.'
Mr Rudd went on to assure people smugglers that the government was determined destroy their operations. Mr Rudd stated, 'The people smugglers themselves are constantly changing the way they operate and we need to be flexible enough to anticipate and match their actions to avoid the terrible consequences of this trade.'
Mr Rudd further stated in a later comment, 'These folk [people smugglers] are merchants in death and their business model needs to be dismantled. Part of this policy response is to do just that.' In a television advertisement Mr Rudd warned people smugglers, 'Your business model is broken'.
Mr Rudd has stressed that the purpose of his government's policy is to make Australia an impossible destination for those who come by boat. If his government is successful, he intends that people smugglers will no longer have a customer base.
Mr Rudd has stated, 'No doubt there will be some people smugglers who now encourage asylum seekers to test our resolve.
Be in no doubt. If people are paying thousands and thousands of dollars to a people smuggler they are buying a ticket to a country other than Australia.'
4. The new policy is legal
Though the Labor Government has not given a detailed legal justification of its policy of transferring asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea, it has repeated given assurances that the policy is legal.
Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, has declared he is confident that Labor's policy of refusing to accept any asylum seekers who arrive by boat will survive legal challenge.
Mr Dreyfus has claimed that the policy complies with Australian law and with Australia's obligations under the refugee convention. The Attorney-General has stated, 'We have the advantage of recent decisions of the High Court on which to base the course that we're adopting here.' Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has also said, 'We've designed this with the High Court response to the Malaysian arrangement very much in mind.'
The High Court rejected Malaysia as a destination to which asylum seekers could be transferred because it is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and other international human rights treaties. It is also not bound to grant protection to recognised refugees under its domestic law. Further, Malaysia has no legislative or administrative framework for processing refugee applications.
Papua New Guinea is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Australian government must be confident of the protections Papua New Guinea can offer under its domestic laws and of how it will process refugee applications. It is probable that Australia will provide assistance in these matters.
It is also probable that the Government will rely on recent changes of law which have resulted in mainland Australia being excised from Australia's migration zone so that any asylum seeker who reaches the mainland can be transferred to an offshore facility and processed there, with no set period for the detention.
5. The new policy is humane and more just to those refugees waiting in camps
The new policy has been defended on the basis of its humanity. Some of its supporters note that it is far from an attempt to deny Australia's humanitarian obligations to assist asylum seekers. Instead, they claim, as already discussed, it is an attempt to prevent those trying to reach Australia by boat from taking this risk.
It is also noted that the policy is an humane one because it preferences those asylum seekers in refugee camps currently waiting for another nation to offer them a home. At the moment, Australia has an humanitarian intake of 20,000 and the Prime Minister has announced that this maybe increased to 27,000.
Mr Rudd has stated, 'We are a compassionate nation and we will continue to deliver a strong humanitarian program.
If the measure announced today and the international meeting on the convention that has been flagged lead to a significant change in the number of people arriving by boat, then the government stands ready to consider progressively increasing our humanitarian intake towards 27,000 ...'
It has been claimed that accepting asylum seekers who arrive by boat has effectively discriminated against asylum seekers waiting in refugee camps without the money or the opportunity to pay a people smuggler to take them somewhere else.
In an opinion piece published in The Age on July 24, 2013, Danijel Malbasa, an industrial lawyer and a former refugee, argued, 'I...believe in fair and equitable processing of asylum applications. The UNHCR estimates there are 40.1 million refugees languishing for decades in refugee camps in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and south-east Asia, many living in the same deplorable conditions I endured in Serbia.'
Danijel Malbasa has further argued, 'These people [in refugee camps] are following fair and due process waiting in transit for a spot to open up to come to countries such as Australia. It is unfair and unjust for these refugees to have their spots taken by those who risk their lives and the lives of their children by forcefully making their way onto Australian soil by boat.'
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has stated, 'Access to our humanitarian program must be through the international organisations which resettle people around the world, not through criminal operators who have pushed people on to unseaworthy vessels with tragic consequences.
The new arrangements will allow Australia to help more people who are genuinely in need and help prevent people smugglers from abusing our system.'
Arguments against those seeking asylum by boat being settled permanently in Papua New Guinea
1. The new asylum seeker policy is not legal
The United Nations refugee agency has warned Australia that its decision to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea could breach international law and its human rights obligations.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a statement on July 26 which pointed to 'significant shortcomings' in Papua New Guinea's ability to legally and humanely process asylum seekers.
The UNHCR listed a range of concerns about the legality of attempts to have refugee claims processed in Papua New Guinea. The statement said, 'These include a lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions within open-ended, mandatory and arbitrary detention settings.'
The UNHCR has also claimed that Australia cannot permanently transfer its legal obligations for those who come to its shores seeking asylum. UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle has stated, 'If protection cannot be found in Papua New Guinea, and if protection can't be found through any other resettlement options to any other country, then we would think it logical that the residual responsibility rests with Australia.'
Richard Towle has further stated, 'We're concerned that the net effect of the measures is that for all intents and purposes Australia ceases to be an asylum country under the convention for anybody coming to the country other than by air.'
Critics have argued that as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention Australia cannot simply determine that the means by which a refugee arrives on our shores determines whether that person will receive our assistance. The international human rights organisation Amnesty International has stated, 'This policy flouts key articles of the Refugee Convention, including Article 31, which forbids discrimination against asylum seekers due to how they arrive.'
It has also been noted that the legal rights of refugees are likely to be violated if they are forced to remain in Papua New Guinea.
PNG does not meet basic standards for asylum seekers as laid out in the refugee convention. Abdul Karim Hekmat, a youth worker and recipient of this year's Refugee Council of Australia's John Gibson refugee community leadership scholarship, has argued, 'As a predominantly Christian country, PNG - through its Parliament - passed a motion to ban non-Christian faiths. Most of the asylum seekers travelling by boat to Australia for protection are Muslims often fleeing religious persecution. Not being able to practise your religion in the country of asylum is a breach of the convention. It does not matter if one lives under the theocratic regime of Iran or Taliban rule; lack of religious freedom is a violation of human rights.'
Abdul Karim Hekmat has also noted, 'PNG is one of the world's worst places for women. Violence against women is so high it puts the country on an almost equal footing with Afghanistan. Recent data claims 50 per cent of PNG's women have been raped in their homes and on the streets, and 68 per cent have been subjected to physical violence. Gang rapes are common. Even taxis are too dangerous for women because of the fear of rape by raskol gangs.' Thus the fear of persecution which asylum seekers are seeking to escape may well confront them in Papua New Guinea. This is a violation of their rights under international law.
2. The new asylum seeker policy is not feasible
Critics of the new asylum seeker policy have claimed that it cannot be put into practice.
The international human rights organisation Amnesty International has been highly critical of plans to transfer refugees permanently to Papua New Guinea. It has claimed the policy is simply not practicable.
Amnesty International states,'The UN Department of Development Programme's Development Index measures national income per capita, availability of education and average life expectancy. Under this index, Australia ranks 2nd in the Asia Pacific, whereas PNG ranks 156th.'
The implication here is that Papua New Guinea is simply not wealthy enough, nor does it have the facilities or infrastructure which would enable it to deal appropriately with a large influx of refugees.
Amnesty International has stated also stated that Papua New Guinea is a country that does not have a good record with regard to protecting the human rights of its own citizens. The organisation is sceptical that it will be able to protect the human rights of refugees. Amnesty International has argued, 'PNG is not exempt from ensuring human rights standards for asylum seekers - but this is a country facing significant human rights problems, where 50% of women have been raped and homosexuality is still considered a crime.
The one asylum seeker processing facility in PNG - on Manus Island - has been widely criticised for failing to protect the rights, health and welfare of the 200 asylum seekers detained there.
Now the Government wants to send thousands upon thousands of desperate people to PNG. This is why we have serious concerns about PNG's ability to ensure the rights of thousands of asylum seekers and refugees.'
Former Liberal Minister for Migration, Peter Reith, has suggested that Papua New Guinea will not be able to accommodate the likely numbers and further that the plan will foment religious and political instability in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Reith has argued, 'The agreement with PNG is for a year. The current facilities hold a few hundred people. It has taken nearly a year to organise that much. Rudd's suggestion that detention centres could pop up all over PNG seems fanciful...
And if there are resettlements...the idea that there will be no political or practical issues with thousands of Muslim and other religious groups living in Christian PNG - with the benefit of health, education and schooling, provided by Australia whilst the locals miss out - seems politically unlikely.'
3. The new asylum seeker policy will not be an effective deterrent
It has been claimed that Kevin Rudd's new policy on asylum seekers is for local consumption, intended to win his party support within the electorate and that it will not be an effective deterrent to prevent asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat.
The premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, has claimed that it will be a relatively simple matter for refugees placed in Papua New Guinea to travel by boat across the Torres Strait to Australia.
Mr Newman has stated, 'What Kevin Rudd is doing is creating a launching pad for a wave of additional ongoing immigration from PNG into Queensland, either legal or illegal. Torres Strait is a porous border right now. It's only 4km from PNG on to the soil of Queensland. You can go from PNG into Queensland across the Strait in a row boat.'
Queensland Local Government Minister David Crisafulli has claimed that it was unbelievable that asylum seekers who had risked their lives travelling to Australia from Sri Lanka or Afghanistan would not try to do so again from PNG.
Mr Crisafulli has stated, 'The Federal Government has tried to end a political headache and in the process thrown Queensland to the wolves.'
It has also been claimed that there is nothing in the agreement Australia has reached with Papua New Guinea that guarantees that refugees will not later be resettled in Australia. Scott Morrison, the Oppositions immigration spokesperson, has stated, 'So what we have here is the Prime Minister saying big words, big announcement, never ever, can't be resettled in Australia - but the agreement does not back that up. So what this is is just Kevin Rudd's promise - it's just Kevin Rudd's talk, it's not an actual agreement.'
Finally it is argued that no policy based on deterrence is likely to work as the persecution from which asylum seekers are fleeing is far greater than any disincentive an Australian government can provide.
This point has been made by former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, who has stated, 'The fact remains that, however unpleasant the Australian government tries to be, it cannot match the terror from which those who are genuine refugees are fleeing. That remains the fundamental flaw in the policy of deterrence.'
4. The new asylum seeker policy is inhumane
Critics of Australia's new asylum seeker policy for those who seek to come to Australia by boat have condemned it as a cruel and inappropriate way to people who have already suffered greatly.
Sue Nuttall from Bendigo's Rural Australian for Refugees group has described the new agreement, which will allow the resettlement of asylum seekers in PNG under a regional arrangement, as 'very sad'.
Ms Nuttall has said, 'It's a fairly sad indictment on our country that we have to go to this extent to stop people coming here. In Australia, in 2010 we were ranked 69th, per 1000 population, for the number of asylum seekers that we received and that's pretty low.
I think you'd have to say we're a very inhumane country... why do we seem to be a country that is so unaccepting of the problems of others?'
Alison Gerard, senior lecturer in justice studies at Charles Sturt University, has stated, 'It stands out as one of the most reactive and punitive asylum seeker policies, lacking in both compassion and a sophisticated understanding of migration in the Asia Pacific.'
Critics have looked at the way in which the current asylum seeker detention facility in Papua New Guinea (on Manus Island) has operated and conclude from that that the new system is likely to impose unacceptable hardships on the asylum seekers sent to live permanently in New Guinea.
Azadeh Dastyari, an associate of the Castan Centre for human rights law and a lecturer in the faculty of law at Monash University has stated, 'We know, from UNHCR reports, that the detention facility in Manus Island is "harsh" and inhumane. So inhumane and unacceptable in fact, that as acknowledged in the announcement by the Minister for Immigration, children have recently been removed from the centre.'
5. The new policy will be unsustainably expensive
It has been claimed that setting up detention and processing centres overseas to deal with asylum seekers is very expensive.
Prior even to Kevin Rudd's most recent proposal regarding Papua New Guinea, a range of experts had suggested that off-shore detention and processing was the most costly option available.
In April, 2013, Sienna Merope, of Right Now, an Australian human rights organistaion, stated, 'I t is difficult to calculate the exact financial cost of our policy of mandatory detention. What is clear, however, is that it is exorbitant. In May 2012, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship estimated that the cost of running detention centres for the 2012-2013 financial year would be over $1 billion dollars. According to the Department, this figure was based on an average number of 8,400 people in the system throughout the year, so roughly speaking that is around $119,000 per asylum seeker, per year. By February 2013 this estimate had risen to $2.124 billion dollars, reflecting both the increase in numbers and the greater cost of administering detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea than mainland Australia. Unsurprisingly, the more remote the place where you lock people up, the more expensive it is.'
Mr Merode has further claimed, 'All together, the Department of Immigration says that over the next four years, setting up and running Nauru alone will cost $1.9 billion dollars. That's $1.9 billion, to lock up 750 desperate people who have committed no crime, in conditions recently described as "cruel, inhumane and degrading" by Amnesty International. Or, to look at it another way, more money than will be allocated to mental health reform in this country over the next five years.'
Critics of the Papua New Guinea option argue that its costs are likely to be even greater than those of our current policies. Gemma Jones in an opinion piece published in The Townsville Bulletin on July 20, 2013, stated, 'Papua New Guinea has been given a blank cheque by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to resettle all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat, in a bid to solve the border protection crisis.
In return Australian taxpayers will half-fund university reforms in the Pacific country, the redevelopment of a hospital in Lae and its ongoing costs, and law and order initiatives as well as all resettlement costs for refugees.'
It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that Australia's current asylum seeker policy has a large political component, that is, the Rudd Labor government has developed a policy which it believes will be popular with the electorate and win it votes.
Mr Rudd seems to have been a success, at least in the short-term, as the Galaxy poll released on July 28, the most recent poll since the government's announcement of its Papua New Guinea solution, showed Kevin Rudd ahead of the Opposition leader , Tony Abbott, in terms of perceived ability to handle the asylum seeker issue. The vote was 40% to 38% (which suggests that more than 20% of the population believes that neither is competent to address the issue).
It has long been argued that a more holistic and solution-centred approach is what is required. By this is meant that Australia has been too focused for too long on making itself an unattractive destination for asylum seekers in the belief that this would prevent asylum seekers trying to come here. Critics argue that 'pull' factors, that is, the attractiveness of a destination, are not the principal ones that induce refugees to leave one country and attempt to reach another. Rather, it is claimed, 'push' factors, the danger and distress they experience in their current setting, is what drives most refugees to try to find somewhere else to live.
Thus, Australia would have to adopt incredibly draconian measures to have asylum seekers believe that they would be worse off here than in the countries from which they are fleeing. Similar claims can be made in relation to those detained within refugee camps in South East Asia and elsewhere. Under the Gillard government, the Australian government sought to adopt a 'no advantage' policy, which means that those asylum seekers who leave camps and are accepted into Australia are to be at no perceived advantage over those who remain within camps. The intention of this policy is to deprive those living within refugee camps of any incentive for making the trip to Australia. The policy has resulted in such dubious decisions as having asylum seekers judged to be refugees still have to wait several years before being given permanent protection visas to make their situation more comparable to that of those waiting in camps (these people are, for example, given a pension but no work rights). Again, such refugees would have to be treated incredibly harshly to have their situation be as bad as that of those living for years in refugee camps.
Those who call for a more holistic and solution-centred approach urge that Australia pay greater attention to the 'push' factors. This means that we pay more attention to reducing the dreadful circumstances that refugees are attempting to escape. Such new policies would involve developing regional initiatives that would improve conditions within camps, speed the processing of asylum seekers within those camps and work with other signatories to the United Nations Refugee Convention to offer places more promptly to those judged to be refugees. It may also mean that we adopt a more pro-active foreign policy aimed at remedying or at least drawing attention to those international hot-spots from which refugees seek to escape.
It is uncertain that such pro-active policies would be popular with the electorate. Their effectiveness would be relatively slow to manifest itself and they rely on wide-ranging co-operation with others. They would not have the immediate appeal of apparently decisive measures such as the Howard Government's 'Pacific Solution'; the Rudd Government's 'Papua New Guinea Solution' or the current Opposition's 'turn back the boats policy' recently rebadged 'Operation Sovereign Borders'. The interesting thing about the afore-mentioned policies is that an examination of arrival figures during the Howard era seems to suggest that 'push' factors are not as significant as the advocates of these policies argue. If the electorate demands push-focused policies, perhaps one of the jobs of our political leaders is to educate voters as to why a broader approach is required. This change in attitude would have to be bi-partisan so that neither a government nor an opposition could gain political advantage by promoting a more aggressive, simplistic 'solution'. To this point the only initiatives that appear to have gained bipartisan support are the more simplistic ones. Thus the Opposition indicated on July 28, 2013, that it is likely to retain Kevin Rudd's Papua New Guinea plan should it be elected to government later in the year.
Newspaper items used in the compilation of this issue outline
H/SUN, July 25, 2013, page 30, editorial, `Boat policy lost at sea'.
AUST, July 25, 2013, page 12, comment by Greg Sheridan, `PNG plan is a dangerous game of bluff'.
AUST, July 25, 2013, page 13, editorial, `Comprehensive measures could ensure PNG works'.
AGE, July 25, 2013, page 20, editorial, `A matter that should weigh on our conscience'.
AUST, July 24, 2013, page 6, comment by Chris Kenny, `We need turnbacks to stop the incomers'
AUST, July 24, 2013, page 12, comment by Jim Molan, `We can hope it works, but PNG is no solution'.
AGE, July 24, 2013, page 70, comment by former refugee Danijel Malbasa, `PNG policy is harsh, but it's the right way forward'.
AGE, July 24, 2013, page 18, letters incl, `Taking advantage of an unequal relationship'.
AGE, July 24, 2013, page 7, comment by M Gordon, `Attack puts Abbott right into no man's land'.
H/SUN, July 23, 2013, page 20, editorial, `Rudd's boat plan leaking'.
AUST, July 23, 2013, page 13, editorial (with cartoon), `PNG deal is just one strategy'.
AUST, July 23, 2013, page 12, letters incl, `Boats plan is simply a short-term election fix'.
AUST, July 23, 2013, page 12, comment by George Brandis, `Asylum scheme is all show, no substance'.
AUST, July 23, 2013, page 12, comment by Nick Cater, `Still waiting for the left's condemnation'.
AGE, July 23, 2013, page 20, comment by Paul Komassaroff and Suresh Sundram, `How to solve the boat problem without cruelty'.
AGE, July 23, 2013, page 18, editorial, `Using taxpayers' dollars to trumpet policies'.
AGE, July 23, 2013, page 4, comment by Mark Kenny, `Don't let political opportunism hide an idea that may work'.
AGE, July 22, 2013, page 20, comment by Amanda Vanstone, `Labor: the home of hot and cold-running policy'.
AGE, July 22, 2013, page 21, comment by Victoria Stead, `Rudd's hard-line approach will be disastrous'.
AGE, July 22, 2013, page 21, comment by Maria O'Sullivan, `The PNG solution: as harsh as it is unprecedented'.
AGE, July 22, 2013, page 18, letters (with Petty cartoon) incl, `Legally, morally and financially unsound'.
H/SUN, July 22, 2013, page 13, comment by Andrew Bolt, `New tricks won't fix a Ruddy mess'.
H/SUN, July 22, 2013, page 13, comment (ref to Islamic / Muslim religion and racism) by Andrew Bolt, `ABC's Papua charade'.
AUST, July 22, 2013, page 13, editorial `PM's tough talking must be backed with resolve' (with letters incl, `PNG plan goes one step further than Howard did').
AUST, July 22, 2013, page 12, comment by Scott Morrison, `PNG "solution" a poll fix'.
AUST, July 22, 2013, page 12, comment (on illegal immigration via Torres Strait islands) by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, `Blind spot on our border'.
AUST, July 22, 2013, page 5, comment by Dennis Shanahan, `Overreach and bluster tarnish audacious plan'.
AUST, July 22, 2013, page 6, comment by Greg Sheridan, `Don't demonise a sensible, hopeful plan'.
H/SUN, July 20, 2013, page 32, comment by Laurie Oakes, `Turning back the tide'.
AUST, July 20, 2013, page 23, editorial (with cartoon), `After years of failure, a refugee policy with merit'.
AUST, July 20, 2013, page 17, comment by Greg Sheridan, `PNG solution has to bridge the credibility gap'.
AUST, July 20, 2013, page 15, comment by Cameron Stewart, `Fatal shore of Rudd's making'.
AUST, July 20, 2013, page 15, comment by Paul Kelly, `PM's Tampa, his plan to redraw the political map'.
AUST, July 20, 2013, page 1, comment by Dennis Shanahan, `PM lurches in bid to right Labor's ship'.
AGE, July 20, 2013, page 21, comment by Michael Gordon, `A bold step by Rudd, but is it his Tampa moment?'.
AGE, July 20, 2013, page 18, editorial, `PNG: Australia's dumping ground'.
H/SUN, July 19, 2013, page 37, comment by Joseph Wakim, `Don't turn your back on refugees'.
AUST, July 19, 2013, page 11, editorial, `Instead of making excuses, PM must act on boats'.
AUST, July 19, 2013, page 10, comment by Dennis Shanahan, `Point scoring leaves Jakarta caught in the middle'.
AUST, July 19, 2013, page 1, background news item by Peter Alford, `Jakarta's visas let Iranians flow free'.
AGE, July 19, 2013, page 22, comment (on UN refugee convention) by Ben Saul, `Humane policy thrown overboard by dry souls'.