May 4th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY What counts is who you have in your corner

EDITORIAL Political unrest over man-made drought in Murray-Darling Basin

FEDERAL ELECTION The ALP's climate policies will devastate our very way of life

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Labor to people traffickers: "We are open for business"

GENDER POLITICS Radical gender laws rushed through Tasmanian Parliament without Government backing

RURAL AFFAIRS Tiny PhD study used to assess live sheep trade

ENVIRONMENT Ocean is a brake on the climate

EUTHANASIA Helter skelter is already working full time

ART AND CULTURE Taipei preserves China's 5,000-year heritage

POLITICS AND SOCIETY What the future holds for the right side of history

HUMOUR This can't be right ... even in politics: The Shorten Run

MUSIC East West: Earthy sounds of Eastern liturgy

CINEMA Missing Link: Stop-start Victoriana

BOOK REVIEW Milligan's revised hit on Cardinal Pell

BOOK REVIEW Top secret history told from the inside

BOOK REVIEW Foretaste of a bloody century



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Labor to people traffickers: "We are open for business"

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 4, 2019

Because of the extraordinary success of the Coalition Government since 2013 in stopping the trafficking of boat people to Australia, the issue is unlikely to figure highly in the current election campaign, despite the fact that over 300,000 illegal immigrants are currently living in Indonesia.

The Coalition’s policy of tow-back
worked; Labor’s won’t work.

But the policies of the Australian Labor Party, while professing to maintain Australia’s border security, will undoubtedly lead to a resurgence of people trafficking into Australia.

If you read the first line of Labor’s policy, it seems unequivocal.

It says: “Labor’s policy on asylum seekers is clear – we will never let the people smugglers back in business … Labor’s resolve on this issue is absolute – the way to Australia through irregular means by boat is closed, and it will remain so under Labor.”

However, Labor’s policy is both ambi­guous and equivocal, copying aspects of the Greens’ policy, to prevent defections from Labor to the Greens.

Labor’s policy that boats will be turned around “when safe to do so” is an invitation to people smugglers to disable or even sink their boats when approached by Australian maritime vessels, as has happened in the past.


One of the reasons that Australia’s strong border policy worked under the government of Tony Abbott, when Scott Morrison was Immigration Minister, was that the Australian Navy even transferred boat people to life rafts, before towing them back towards Indonesia.

The rescue of boat people immediately transfers them into Australia’s responsibility.

The option of transferring boat people to Manus Island is now closed, due to a decision of the Papua New Guinea High Court, so the only options for offshore detention are now Christmas Island and Nauru.

The combined capacity of these two facilities is about 2,000, far fewer than the number of boat arrivals during the Rudd-Gillard years, which rose from about 100 in the last year of the Howard government to about 8,000, arriving on more than 100 boats, during 2011–12.

Labor’s policy will also expand the grounds on which asylum seekers can remain in Australia.

Labor proposes to make a substantial increase in Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake, currently below 20,000 a year, to 27,000 a year. This could be used to give Australian residency to about the same number of people who arrived from Indonesia by boat at the height of the boat-people saga.

Further, as part of its “humane and compassionate” refugee policy, Labor has promised to weaken the government’s capacity to handle an influx of boat people by reinstating asylum seekers’ access to the Refugee Review Tribunal and abolish the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA), established by the Abbott government.

The IAA was established in April 2015, as a separate office within the Refugee Review Tribunal. From July 1, 2015, the IAA became an independent authority within the Migration and Refugee Divi­sion of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The IAA is independent of the Department of Home Affairs and of the Minister of Immigration.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is also proposing the abolition of Temporary Protection Visas, which were used to discourage asylum seekers from coming to Australia, for fear of being returned to their countries of origin.

Labor also proposes appointing an independent children’s advocate to represent the interests of children seeking asylum, adding a further pressure point for the entry of boat people into Australia.

The Labor Party’s attitude to border protection was shown recently in the move by independent Kerryn Phelps to legislate to have sick asylum seekers from Manus Island or Nauru brought to Australia, from where they would have easy access to Australia’s refugee program.

It is a matter of record that few of those who have come from Nauru or Manus to Australia for medical treatment have been returned to offshore detention.

The so-called Medivac Bill, an amendment to the Migration Act carried in February, gave medical practitioners the right to override the Home Affairs Minister, to allow for the medical evacuation of asylum-seekers from Manus Island and Nauru to Australia for medical or psychiatric treatment.

At the time the legislation was passed, it was recognised as a new gateway for boat people to get to Australia.

Dr Phelps’ bill was supported by the ALP and a number of other crossbenchers, and won a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

However, the legislation was rendered ineffective when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an upgrade to the hospital at the Christmas Island Detention Centre, and that asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island would be transferred to Christmas Island for medical or psychiatric treatment.

Despite opposition from the ALP and the independents, the issue promptly died a natural death.

However, it shows that a Shorten government would reset Australia’s policy towards boat people, despite claims that it supports strong border protection, and reopen the floodgates, as happened under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm