Refugee and Asylum Seeker Policy in the Federal Election Part.2

By: Charlotte Lever

Part 1: Introduction to topic, context and policies of Liberal, Labor and Greens.

Part 2: In this second half, I’ll be covering One Nation’s policy on asylum seekers, summarising the different policies by each party and provide some resources for you to explore and get involved further.

One Nation

One Nation has arguably the most divisive and controversial policies of any party or candidate in this election when it comes to refugee and asylum seeker policy. The notoriety of the party is due to the fact that since its creation in the early 1990’s, One Nation’s policy has been based around protectionism, nationalism and anti-immigration. In the past, One Nation has argued that Australia is a multicultural failure and all forms of migration, including humanitarian migration, should be drastically reduced.

Here are some of their key policy proposals:

  • One Nation proposes to reduce the humanitarian visas made available each year. They do not say by how much they want to reduce these numbers.

  • One Nation wants to remove Australia from the United Nations Refugee Convention (a piece of international law that sets out the rights of refugees and those seeking asylum) as it is ‘no longer in Australia’s interests’.

  • The party would like to impose a travel ban modelled on US President Trump’s policy. They state that a travel ban on people travelling or migrating to Australia from ‘known extremist countries’ should be put in place. No further detail is given on the party’s website.

Credits: Mashable/Giphy

Credits: Mashable/Giphy

The Medevac Legislation

The recent passing of the ‘Medevac’ legislation has been used by all the major parties to highlight their own policies going into the Federal election.

The Medevac legislation, which became law on 28 February 2019, allows for ill detainees on Manus and Nauru to be evacuated to Australia for treatment. The Coalition strongly opposed the laws, while the Greens and a number of independents voted for it. Labor also voted for the legislation after insisting on a number of amendments.

The Coalition promises to repeal the Medevac law if it secures a victory in next month’s election.

If you’d like to learn more about how the major parties have voted in the past and their policies towards refugees and asylum seekers during the 2016 Federal election, have a look at the Refugee Council of Australia’s Resource here.

The Verdict

Refugee and asylum seeker policy is an extremely thorny topic and one that is not only very complicated, but is often used by the major parties as a political football to capture votes and win elections.

When considering which party best reflects your views heading into this election, it may be useful to ask yourself:

  • Are the topics of border security and human rights mutually exclusive? What policies best meet my expectations of both?

  • Am I comfortable with policies of deterrence that have been shown to have an extremely negative effect on asylum seekers under Australia’s care, if this potentially means less people making a dangerous boat journey to Australia?

A simplified way of thinking about the three major parties and their policies on this issue is the Government on one side, Labor occupying the middle ground and the Greens on the other side.

The Coalition’s approach is based around 3 main policies: mandatory and offshore detention, temporary protection visas and boat turn backs. The logic of these policies is to secure Australia’s borders and reduce the people smuggling trade.

Occupying the middle ground is the Labor party who essentially agree with the Coalition’s policies of deterrence, but aim to balance this with a more globally minded, humanitarian view.

Directly opposite to the Coalition are the Greens, who see the issue as a humanitarian one. They want to radically change the Coalition’s 3 main policies and enact further changes, in an effort to ensure Australia is both acting in a humanitarian way and providing positive outcomes for all asylum seekers who are under Australia’s care.  

The Greens want to make the asylum seeker and refugee process more humanitarian. They aim to get rid of detention centres and temporary protection visas in an effort to ensure Australia is both acting in a humanitarian way and providing positive outcomes for all asylum seekers who are under Australia’s care.  

This election may not be decided on the issue of refugee and asylum seeker policy, but there is little doubt these issues will continue to remain prominent in Australian politics. Debates will continue on whether Australia’s deterrence policy is acceptable and if it meets international legal obligations and human rights norms.

Whoever you vote for in this election, make sure they reflect your views when it comes to policies on refugees and asylum seekers. And if there are no parties that you agree with in their entirety, there are other ways to get your view out there. How about contacting your local Federal member and letting them know how their party could address this issue in a better way? Or how about looking into the various community groups who are involved in the issue and seeing what they have to say?

Infographic about Australia’s refugee Intake. Credits: Refugee Council of Australia, UNHCR, Thomas de mAIZIERE/fACT cHECK

Infographic about Australia’s refugee Intake. Credits: Refugee Council of Australia, UNHCR, Thomas de mAIZIERE/fACT cHECK

Here are some great resources so you can do your own research too:

Timeline showing the history of Australian asylum seeker/refugee policy:

The Messenger podcast –

Australian journalist Michael Green trades voice messages with Abdul Aziz Muhamat, who arrived in Australia by boat in 2013 and has been detained on Manus Island ever since.

The podcast gives an invaluable insight into the experience of seeking asylum and the conditions in the Manus Island detention centre.

ANU’s Policy Forum Pod – The Policy and Politics of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

A deep dive into Australia’s policy responses to refugees and asylum seekers over time, with some very experienced guests from ANU’s faculty.

SBS – A History of Australia’s Offshore Detention Policy

A recent article from SBS that details Australia’s offshore detention policy since the 1990’s.

Robert Manne – ‘Australia’s Uniquely Harsh Asylum Seeker Policy – How Did It Come to This?’.

A thought provoking article on the how’s and why’s of Australian asylum seeker policy from public intellectual Robert Manne.

Factsheets – Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW.

Detailed and easy to read factsheets on everything from international refugee issues to policies applying to asylum seekers both in Australia and in offshore detention centres.

Parliament of Australia, ‘A Comparison of Coalition and Labor Government Asylum Policies Since 2001’.

Does exactly what the title says – gives an extended background into the policies enacted by the two major parties since 2001.

Human rights advocates have been at the forefront of calling for alternate policy around refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. For two examples see:

Amnesty International, ‘A Better Plan: Human Rights-Based Policies for the Protection of Refugees and People Seeing Asylum’.

Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘Pathways to Protection: A Human Rights-Based Response to the Flight of Asylum Seekers by Sea’.

Journalists and advocates have also been at the forefront of reporting on conditions in offshore detention.

The Guardian’s ‘Nauru Files’ are a set of leaked incident reports from the detention centre, filed between 2013 and 2015.

The Kaldor Centre at UNSW has categorised a number of reports into conditions in offshore detention by both Government and civil society groups, which can be accessed here.

Credits: UNHCR

Credits: UNHCR

Who’s Impacted by this?

The potential stakeholders that have an interest in policies surrounding refugees and asylum seekers is almost limitless; it includes various religious denominations and church groups, hundreds of community and advocacy groups and medical and health related peak bodies, the media, among many others. Some of the major ones include:

  • The Government (Coalition)

  • the Labor party

  • the Greens

  • all elected members of Parliament

  • Local and State governments

  • The Australian Human Rights Commission

  • Amnesty International Australia

  • The Refugee Council of Australia

  • Various arms of the United Nations including the UNHCR

  • The Governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru

  • the citizens of Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island

  • the Indonesian government

  • The 915 asylum seekers and refugees in offshore detention on Manus and Nauru

  • the 30,000 asylum seekers on visas currently residing in Australia

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