Right: as political claims and counter-claims are publicised in the print and electronic media, the Rudd government's "PNG solution" has been praised and condemned, mainly along party lines.
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.