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ALP: in retreat « Previous | |Next »
May 7, 2011

One of the first acts of the newly elected Labor government in 2007 was to affirm its policy never to institute the discredited Pacific Solution again.In a speech delivered at the Lowy Institute on 6 July 2010, Prime Minister Gillard raised the possibility of establishing a “regional processing centre” for asylum seekers in East Timor.

Now, reports in the media say that the Gillard government is sounding out the Papua New Guinea government about reviving the Manus detention centre, thereby retreating to Howard's Pacific Solution it had previously rejected.


Labor 's argument was that it ended the Pacific Solution, the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands such as Manus Island, because it was costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle. Labor did not accept that Nauru or Manus Island had played any significant or any role in deterring unauthorised arrivals from trying to come to Australia. What detered people coming to Australia, it argued, was effective border protection and sensible regional arrangements with Australia's neighbours to deter secondary movements.

That was then. This is now. The centre will cater to between 400 and 600 asylum-seekers.

It would appear that it is not possible to develop sensible regional arrangements with Australia's neighbours to deter secondary movements. So we have a political fix---a “repackaged Pacific Solution”--- not a serious regional solution to the asylum-seeker problem; a political fix to address an increasingly hostile reaction in the electorate to asylum seekers.

Nothing from Papua New Guinea yet. However, Australia will forcibly return 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia to be processed in return for taking 4000 declared refugees at a rate of 1000 a year over four years, increasing the annual quota from 13,750 to 14,750.

Malaysia is known for its harsh treatment of refugees and is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. Malaysia has assured Australia that it will treat asylum seekers with dignity and respect and will not be forcibly repatriated back to unsafe countries or stuck there waiting for resettlement after being assessed as refugees without being able to work.

Labor's argument against re-opening Nauru is undercut because Malaysia is not a UN human rights signatory and it gives every indication of not doing so. Malaysian law does not distinguish between refugees, asylum seekers and other irregular migrants. All are considered to be illegal and are subject to the same penalties--fines, imprisonment and caning. In Malaysia, forced migrants are frequently and arbitrarily arrested, detained and deported.

Malaysia’s sixteen immigration detention centres are already overcrowded. Inmates lack regular access to clean drinking water, appropriate medical care and proper sanitation. It is difficult to see that the 800 asylum seekers being treated any differently ie., “treated with dignity” when Australia itself has no effective ability to protect the civil and political rights of the people it transfers to Malaysia.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:29 AM | | Comments (12)


No no Gary you don't understand. Gillard Labor is utterly opposed to the Pacific Solution. It was wrong in principle and they won't have a bar of it. It's important you understand that.

The proposal under consideration is a REGIONAL solution, which would see Australia send asylum seekers sent to Manus Island in return for bribes to PNG. Nothing like the Pacific Solution at all.

I trust that has clarified the situation for you and your readers.

Hey... wait on a sec, GST!

What's that about finding a "solution to the asylum-seeker problem"???

Is there really an "asylum-seeker problem"... or are you simply referring to the POLITICAL side of the issue?

to help you all understand the subtle differences alluded to by the senior Labor source, --here is the Nov. 2010 Regional Assessment Concept.

The paper explains that the Regional Assessment Centre, or RAC, is intended to be a “central component” of a Regional Protection Framework. It then goes on to deal with the construction and operation of the RAC, the assessment of protection claims at the RAC, and the final disposition of cases. Last but not least, it sets out the supposed benefits for East Timor in hosting the RAC.

The object of the government, in seeking to establish such a framework, is to protect Australia’s borders. From the Australian government’s perspective, therefore, the key regional countries are potential processing centre hosts, asylum seeker source countries and countries through which asylum seekers travel to reach Australia.

That should help to clear up some of the confusions.

the problem is that theoretically, people who are assessed at the Regional Assessment Centre (RAC) and found not to be refugees, can be returned to their country of nationality.

In practice, things get tricky when rejected asylum seekers refuse to repatriate voluntarily or there is no state to which they can be repatriated because either they are de jure stateless or their nationality cannot be satisfactorily established.

Some questions for the senior Labour source:

(1) would Australia consider the manner and circumstances of return as being none of its business? That it is PNG who would need to establish a returns program whereby returns would only be undertaken where the failed asylum seekers could return to their country of origin safely and the return itself would not expose them to a violation of their fundamental human rights.

(2) what happens to those asylum seekers who are assessed at the RAC and found to be refugees? Presumably it is crucial that those who are found to be refugees don’t all end up being resettled in Australia. Where do the others go? NZ?

(3) If the search is futile does that mean the majority of refugees’ would spending years in undesirable conditions in Papua New Guinea before eventually being brought to Australia?

it's a political issue. Julia Gillard’s proposed Regional Processing Centre for asylum seekers is Labor’s answer to Tony Abbott’s mantra about stopping the boats. The regional processing centre is all about the Labor government avoiding its obligations to asylum seekers arriving by boat.

If Gillard gets her way, PNG will get a detention centre. All boat arrivals in Australian waters would be transferred to PNG to be processed off-shore, with no guarantee of resettlement in Australia.

The Prime Minister’s proposal for an Asia-Pacific Regional Protection Framework is different as many nation states in the region agree that regional and international cooperation is vital to any significant change to the circumstances of people seeking protection from persecution.

However, given the often self-serving and highly distorted nature of the Australian
political debate about asylum seekers, many in the region are sceptical about whether Australia is genuinely interested in seeing an improvement in refugee protection. They fear that any efforts to change current circumstances will be aimed only at achieving domestic political goals by shifting its responsibilities to its Asian neighbours.

Sorry, Peter. But, for me, the main "problem" is that there is no problem.

The people arriving in leaky boats are vastly outnumbered by those illegally in Australia... who arrive by other means. A ratio of something like 4:1, if I remember correctly. Where is the hysteria about THOSE "illegals"? Where is the media outrage? Will they be shipped to PNG if they are caught?

This is a shabby political exercise. Nothing more.

Its more of a racial issue. People don't want them because they don't want those types. Most aussies are basically racists. It was the same with the vietnamese boat people.

I just don't get it.

What exactly are "those types" and what have they done to deserve such vilification?

Re your comment: "for me, the main "problem" is that there is no problem."

The Gillard Government is bleeding to death over border protection and detention in terms of its electoral support. Both the right and the left are critical and the middle is declining.

The problem is the Australian processing arrangement. It takes far too long because of ASIO and its security checks. It needs to be speeded up. That is what Gillard has argued for the last five years.

Sounds like a good system to me. Outsourcing works especially for government departments. Apart from the "forcibly return" part it would mean the issue would not be in the news all the time. Then we would see the 1000 a year who are genuine coming off the planes with happy smiling uncovered faces, families with kiddies in colourful clothes on the news and not buildings burning or shock jocks making news.
There may be some deterant for boats to come here if they think they may be taken straight to Malaysia.
But as a way of a government trying to water down a problem issue and turning it around so it becomes a winner in voter terms then its a winner alright. If Labor plays this right it could gain many votes from it.

Good grief George!

Do you really think "the problem is the Australian processing arrangement"? Okay, it might be a problem... but it's not THE problem.

As I see it, THE problem is opportunistic Australian politicians (from all corners of the swamp) turning a relatively minor issue into a political football.

We are NOT being overrun by scruffy boat people and they are NOT an existential threat to our nation.

As long as the lazy pollies play the populist point-scoring game, they are going to keep painting themselves into a smaller (and uglier) corner.

But I suppose they're just playing to an audience... as most posters here have pointed out. And the asylum seekers are just a stage prop. That's a f@&*ng shame!

the big problem is putting in place a Regional Cooperation Framework re migration flows. What is needed is a regional solution for forced migrants in the Asia-Pacific.