Right: a boat packed with asylum seekers is wrecked on Christmas Island rocks, with scores of men, women and children drowning or disappearing. In the background, an Australian warship holds position while navy rescue boats do what they can to rescue survivors. It is images like this that many politicians - on both sides - say influenced their decisions to "stop the boats".
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.'