Be honest: would this satisfy you?

13 Jul

Say the government announced a new asylum seeker approach which had the following policy priorities:

  • Continuing to discourage boats (to prevent deaths at sea) – perhaps even though the current policies
  • Improving conditions for asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru
  • Working to quickly organise resettlement of all refugees (including those on Manus and Nauru) who arrived after 13 August 2012 in developed countries (other than Australia) and return those who are not assessed as having refugee claims – with the goal of finalising all cases within 6 months
  • Setting up a whole new framework (separate from and alongside the existing refugee and humanitarian program) that targets displaced people, including those in transit to Australia, who cannot access a safe UNHCR-run refugee camp and arranges for their assessment and resettlement in Australia and other developed countries. (I.e flying them to safe countries rather than leaving them with no options)
  • Pursuing a media strategy that moved this issue off the front pages

Would that satisfy you? (Be honest)

16 Responses to “Be honest: would this satisfy you?”

  1. Marilyn July 13, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    No, your little immigration brain cannot get around the simple fact of law – everyone has the right to seek asylum. It’s not up to any country to decide what transport they can use and if you seriously think Australia ever gave a damn about refugees dying you are seriously strange.

    Every refugee who drowned clearly did so because we let them.

    • Mel July 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

      Marilyn, that’s really quite offensive to Greg and to immigration officials – most of us actually do give a damn and do the best we can to implement government policies in a manner that does the least amount of harm. If you think it’s bad now, perhaps you should imagine a dept where no one actually gives a shit, and thank whatever god you pray to that for the most part, we generally have good people in the positions that can influence day to day conditions for detainees. It gets a whole lot bleaker in that scenario.

    • lakeliveslife July 13, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

      I wonder if being offensive/rude has every actually managed to help change someone’s mind… I doubt it very much.

  2. Helen July 13, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

    Firstly – Marilyn – I think you misunderstand the point of Greg’s proposed policy framework. Asylum seekers come by boat because they have no other options, not because it is their first option. If we gave other viable alternatives (as this policy suggests) then there would be no need for them to come by boat, and their lives would not be in danger. Yes – they have the right to seek asylum and this policy does not deny them that right. I know it’s a very emotive issue, but calling people names doesn’t help and just further alienates the decision makers from the activists, which is counter-productive.

    Greg – I think this policy goes in the right direction for the following reasons;

    1) The refugee crisis is an international policy problem that Australia has been trying to solve with domestic policy, so it hasn’t been working at all. This policy at least addresses the international nature of the problem.
    2) It actually deals with the boat issue with a carrot and not just a stick – (as I said above) asylum seekers will always travel by boat if it’s their only option, so other viable options must be provided.
    3) Seems to meet international obligations – but I am no expert in that area.

    Drawbacks as I see it;

    1) Resources – because the existing programs will be largely maintained intact a huge injection of resources will need to be provided to implement points 2-5.
    2) Diplomacy – requires Australia to be a leader on this issue to implement 3 & 4 and I fear our international reputation may be too tarnished at the moment for this to be successful.
    3) This policy still relies on the maintenance of detention centres, which are a PR nightmare at the moment… but the mood of the centres will improve markedly if conditions are improved and detainees can see that the system is working and they are not in limbo. The government will need to show leadership in this area.
    3) I can see how activists may not support this as it still maintains detention of children (regardless of the centres’ conditions) and may result in some asylum seekers being returned. No viable policy could reasonably accept all asylum seekers regardless of their refugee status, but I think that activists do not trust Australian immigration officials to make those determinations. Perhaps abandoning the screening process will make this more palatable.
    4) It would be wonderful to get this off the front page, but I fear that any strategy with this aim in mind might be construed as further secrecy.

    All in all, I would support this policy as a good first step – as with anything we’d just have to see how it works out in practice, but it seems solid on paper. It ticks a major requirement for me in that in engages with the international community on this issue.

    I really hope this makes sense… this response was all a bit rushed. Perhaps I’ll have more coherent things to say once I’ve had time to think about it…

    Before I go – Greg – thank you so much for taking on the role that you have in the asylum seeker debate in Australia. Your contribution is invaluable.


    • lakeliveslife July 13, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

      Thanks for your reply Helen! Thats exactly what I was looking for…

      I’ve actually thought about some of those issues as well – both whether they’re insurmountable as policy outcomes and whether they’re politically realistic.

      I havent yet fully resolved point 2 on diplomacy, but I’m about to start a new job which will hopefully give me a chance to get to know quite a few of the people currently involved in DFAT and the Foreign Minister’s office. fingers crossed I can learn some stuff from them

      On point 3, I’ve been wondering whether it might be possible to actually sort out a resettlement arrangement for the people on Manus and Nauru within 6 month in a country like Canada or New Zealand. I havesome ideas on how to get this done that I’m floating by some current Lib members to see how they feel about it. Early days tho, so we’ll see what happens…

      On point 1, I agree, that’s a big thing for this Gov. They’re trying to send a message that there’s a budget crisis – true or otherwise, every policy that is pitched to them needs to include a consideration for the costs both across the forward estimates and in the lead up to the next election.

      Anyway, I’m still thinking about all this, so I really appreciate you taking the time.


      • Helen July 13, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

        My pleasure :)

        The Canada/NZ thing will work if Australia can see itself as a world citizen with responsibilities. If we do our fair share, surely other nations will get on board. Good luck with convincing the right people!! It’ll be great if that could get some traction.

        Keep throwing the ideas out there – there has to be an acceptable policy response to the refugee problem somewhere, we all just have to keep chipping away at it. I’ll probably respond to any idea you float… I’m always thinking about these things…

        All the best with the new job!


      • Marilyn July 14, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

        But Helen, the refugee problem is only in the minds of the people who are not refugees and don’t have a problem.

        The point is we are still trying to use humans to suit us and not recognise their rights. Resettlement is not a legal treaty right or obligation, we only pretend it is. Even the DIAC website though states that it goes beyond our legal obligations to those who seek asylum here.

    • Marilyn July 14, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

      But everything is rubbish. It”s not up to us to dictate how people travel or who they pay, if we want them to be safe we let them get visas instead of shutting them out incase they seek protection. The whole debate idea is complete and utter nonsense.

      We ratified the convention in 1954 which brought it into force, it became domestic law in 1992 at Article 36 of the Migration act.

      All the talk and blather over the last 13 years has been to try and find ways around that fact, not to help refugees.

      We set a tiny little quota for refugees as migrants, then abuse the only people we have an obligation to because they upset the tiny little quota by asserting their legal rights.

      There are no two sides to the law which states everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution. Whether they are found to be refugees or men dropping in from mars that right is not expunged with lazy policy talk.

  3. Tim July 13, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    I have no problems with this approach. There is one key issue that may be in the too-hard-basket. The nature of the ‘right to seek asylum’ is derived from the UN Convention, along with the standards and processes it proposes. Signatories, (or even non-signatories) then attempt to meet those requirements in domestic law. It’s quite obvious that the current Executive would like to act as if the Legislature had never passed laws about this, and wants to do whatever it wants.

    At a minimum, you would need the Legislature to set up the framework as you mentioned above, in order to constrain the Executive from making politically motivated decisions. The only way you could get the Legislature to set up the framework, to the extent that it diverges from the UN Convention, Australia should revoke its membership from that Convention, and if we somehow believe that the new approach is ‘the way to go’, then Australia should also lead discussions on changing the Convention.

    As long as our signature is on that Convention, we will have to let our yes be yes and follow through with it.

    • lakeliveslife July 14, 2014 at 6:11 am #

      Yeah, you’re right Tim. Part of me wonders whether my suggestion would be any better or worse than the current situation in terms of it’s compliance with both the letter and spirit of the international conventions we’ve signed. Do you think it’s worse?

      Of course, that shouldn’t be the test – is it better than what we’ve got. We should really be striving for better than that. But I wonder how realistic that is in the current political climate?

      • Marilyn July 14, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

        It should never be political though, the convention is domestic law and time and again the High court have pulled the executive into line for breaking that law.

        Our so-called debate is about not helping anyone at all if we can help it.

  4. Claire Bell July 13, 2014 at 11:01 pm #

    I’m pretty happy with your ideas, Greg, and really glad you’re putting them out there so that there can be some constructive discussion. I’m tired of people saying there’s no better solution when to my knowledge there hasn’t actually been a genuine public debate on this.

    Like Helen, I think that money is going to be a huge factor. The other issue I see with the current government is a ‘face-saving’ need, since they want to send a strong message about the sovereign right to choose who comes here. I’m also concerned that, from my limited reading of the material I can find, there seem to be issues with the Migration Act of 1958 such as no reference to limits on length of detention. Should there also be some intention to review that Act as part of your raft of proposed policies? Sine it was drafted during the White Australia days, I’m suspicious of the attitude inherent in it. But I might just be under-informed :)

    Thanks for what you’re doing, and blessings on your new job and what you hope will come from it. Also on the discussions you’re having with politicians.

    • lakeliveslife July 14, 2014 at 6:07 am #

      Thanks Claire

      I think the politics of it will be important too, for sure. And the timing of when changes would be introduced would also be critical.

      On the migration act thing, that’s something I think about a lot too. I would love to do it for them! Haha. But seriously, it’s something that’s been considered before by both governments…

      Anyway, thanks!


  5. David July 14, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    Given what we spend on running offshore detention centres, my (politically impossible) solution would be to take your 4th idea and super-charge it: set up a framework which, at the expense of the Australian Government and other willing governments and humanitarian NGOs, actively seeks out the displaced and persecuted and offers them safe transport to secure destinations around the world. To the extent taht the direct beneficiaries have means to pay (some currently can and do pay people smugglers under the existing non-arrangements) could also be encouraged to contribute financially ex-post…

    The Australian government’s financial contribution to such a scheme would be more than adequately covered by the savings from shutting down Christmas Island, Nauru and Manus Island; my only real addendum to your 5-point plan above is that, instead of “improving conditons” for those on Manus/Nauru, we should simply closing them down. Yes, there need to be some sort of arrangements in place to work out what we are doing with those in detention at present, but I see no good reason to continue adding to the number of detainees in either location, or on Christmas Island.

    just my $0.02, which I suspect you already knew anyway :)


  6. Tim Y July 14, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    David’s reply also reminded me of the other policy option above about improving conditions on Manus and Nauru. My personal view is that any detention should only be on the basis of a risk assessment. If it is deemed necessary to detain someone, then the detention (i.e. the assessment process) should be as short as possible. Our detention centres should be well run and safe and ‘humane’.

    My problem with Manus and Nauru, is that a government is unlikely to improve conditions unless they are the subject of considerable more scrutiny. Such scrutiny seems unlikely for remote places like Manus and Nauru. My leaning therefore is to close offshore processing, not because there is something inherently wrong with it, but because I don’t really trust the Government to actually improve things there.

    But my guess is that these centres are offshore to put the asylum seekers out of reach of certain obligations Australia may have to them under the UN Convention. If that is that case, then indeed revoking the convention may be the lesser of two evils if it actually facilitates closing down offshore detention centres to be replaced by ‘better’ onshore processing.

  7. Tim Y July 15, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    Marilyn, I don’t believe the Convention is domestic law, at least in its entirety. A person’s rights only come into being when domestic law is enacted to give effect to the obligations set out in the Convention. Signing the Convention alone does give people rights, perhaps only a “legitimate expectation” that the Government would act in accordance with it, but no rights.

    For example, the discrimination against “unauthorised maritime arrivals” in section 46A of the Migration Act 1956 likely violates Article 31 of the Convention. I’m unaware of cases where the High Court has pulled the Executive into line with the Convention itself (I could be wrong however, feel free to correct me). I think the High Court tends to strike down Executive action as being unlawful, that is, not in accordance with the Migration Act (rather than the convention). For striking down law as being unconstitutional (rather than being inconsistent with the Convention). Again, I could be wrong, but that is my current understanding.

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