Indecent, Inhumane, Unhappy – the Coalition’s asylum seeker policy

First there was Labor’s Papua New Guinea Solution. Then there was the Coalition’s ‘Pacific Solution 2.0’. Both were harsh, and both rightly attracted criticism from asylum seeker advocates, human rights organisations and the public. Now the Coalition’s one-upped itself, with today’s announcement targeting the approximately 30,000 asylum seekers currently in detention – or, as Liberal leader Tony Abbott called them, the ‘old arrivals’.

Here’s a sample of the preamble to this policy announcement:

‘Illegal arrivals … if you can’t stop the boats, you’re not capable of governing this country … stop the boats … stop the boats … 30,000 who have come illegally by boat … we’ve always said people who come illegally by boat will not be granted permanent residency … those who come illegally by boat will get Temporary Protection Visas … come illegally … people who are here illegally by boat’.

That was in less than three minutes.

Of course, none of that was news to anyone who’s ever heard Abbott blow this particular dogwhistle. The Coalition runs on the theory that a lie repeated often enough will be accepted as truth. Asylum seekers who come by boat are not ‘illegal’. They are referred to in both international treaties and our Department of Immigration and Citizenship as ‘irregular’ or ‘unauthorised’ maritime arrivals:

‘The preferred terms for boat arrivals as used by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) are ‘unauthorised boat arrivals’ or ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ and, as noted above, people arriving by such means who then claim asylum are entitled to do so.’

Not that this has ever deterred the Coalition from pushing their lie. And yes, it is a lie. Coalition members, including Abbott, have been repeatedly informed of the truth, and deliberately choose not to speak it.

To return to today’s announcement …

The Coalition apparently decided that putting in place new policies to deal with further arrivals wasn’t enough. It announced retroactive strategies aimed at clearing out what it described as a ‘legacy backlog’ of asylum seekers waiting in detention centres for their claims to be processed. Kicking off with a paraphrase of former Prime Minister John Howard’s infamous slogan – ‘This is our country and we determine who comes here‘ – Abbott described what would happen to those 30,000 people (who, he asserted, were hoping for a Labor victory so that they could settle here permanently).

Their claims will be ‘fast-tracked’, under a ‘triage’ system. What that boils down to is that after a fast pass, anyone who might not be granted refugee status would be quickly processed, have their claim looked over and then ‘put on a removal pathway’. This includes anyone in community detention; if, during ‘triage’, they appear likely to be denied refugee status, they would be immediately returned to detention centres.

After that, ‘likely’ claims would be processed. Anyone finally granted refugee status would be given a Temporary Protection Visa for up to three years, assessed on a case by case basis. For the entirety of that time, TPV holders who were granted a welfare payment would be required to be in a Work for the Dole program. They would also be denied family reunion.

When their TPV expired, their refugee claims would be assessed again and if a Coalition government decided they no longer had any fear of persecution, they would be deported.

Almost as an aside, the Coalition’s Immigration spokesperson, Scott Morrison added that anyone even suspected of throwing away identifying documents would automatically be denied refugee status. ‘They won’t just go to the back of the queue,’ he said. ‘They won’t be in the queue at all.’

The final part of this ‘streamlined’ process would be the abolition of the Refugee Review Tribunal. Abbott noted that under the current system, 80% of those initially denied refugee status had their cases overturned on appeal. ‘That’s why Australians are questioning whether this a fair system,’ he said.

In response to questions, Abbott said he was confident that this plan, together with Operation Sovereign Borders, would see the number of boats drop to three per year by ‘well into’ his first term, certainly by 2016. He described this as ‘the happy situation that was brought about by the Howard government’.


There is nothing, nothing happy about this.

This is a system designed to do only one thing; kick as many people as possible out of Australia. It’s not intercepting a boat and processing asylum seeker claims offshore, or even settling people offshore. It’s targeting people who are already here.

And why? Purely so that the Coalition can say it’s ‘fixed the boat problem’. Not only will they stop the boats, they’ll punish those who already got here by boat. Asylum seekers would be entirely at the mercy of a system for which there is no independent oversight, no independent review, no recourse to even the most basic of rights.

DIAC would not have to prove that someone deliberately destroyed documents; it would be enough to be suspicious.

The ‘fast-track’ process (which Abbott likened to the system under Howard) virtually guarantees that grievous mistakes will be made, potentially sending people back into situations that would endanger their lives – but neatly avoiding the accusation that we are breaking our non-refoulement obligations, because after all, it was a mistake. Oops.

Remember Cornelia Rau? OrVivian Solon?? They were just the high-profile ‘mistakes’ under Howard’s plan.

Even if someone is found to be a refugee, they would have no opportunity to build any kind of life here in Australia. Assuming they would qualify for welfare, they would need to work for the pittance they’d receive. (Funny thing – if you have to work for it, it’s hardly welfare.) It sets up a whole new lower class who would be dependent on relatives or charity organisations just to survive.

Perhaps they could serve in Abbott’s Green Army.

The Coalition knows what it’s doing. Morrison said, ‘We want to end the process where “no” becomes “yes” under an appeal’.

You read that right. The Coalition doesn’t want there to be any chance that a decision made by DIAC might be found to be wrong.

Morrison added, ‘The UNHCR says you don’t have to have both judicial and administrative processes’. The Coalition wants to go back to a pure administrative system; ‘it works better for us,’ said Morrison. ‘We’re not obliged to give [asylum seekers] the same rights as we are our citizens’.

There you have it. And while it’s possible there could be more inhumane asylum seeker policies, short of actually locking people up in the equivalent of Abu Ghraib, it’s hard to see how.

And yet Scott Morrison says the Coalition will deal with people ‘in accord with basic human decency’.

And yet Tony Abbott says the Coalition will ‘discharge its humanitarian obligations’.

This plan is neither ‘decent’ or ‘humane’. And for Abbott to describe it as bringing about a ‘happy situation’?

Words fail me.

6 Responses to Indecent, Inhumane, Unhappy – the Coalition’s asylum seeker policy

  1. […] heard it thousands of times. It’s a three word slogan, a caricature, and recently, a shorthand way of describing Coalition policy both inhumane and in violation of our international […]

  2. Harping on the word ‘illegal’ weakens your argument. Preferring ‘unauthorised’ or ‘irregular’ is a mere language choice and has no bearing on the issue. Calling a language choice a “lie” is character slur and lowers your credibility, particularly since the UNHCR also uses ‘illegal’ to describe unlawful entry in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees:
    “Article 31
    1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”

    Now, I do understand many readers think they need only point and laugh to demonstrate their moral superiority. If that’s who you’re writing for, carry on.
    But if you’re hoping to reach those people who are looking for reasoned analysis there are plenty of stupid, unfair and unworkable things in the Coalition’s policy you could explore that have more significance than a mere word choice.

  3. JenniferGJ says:

    The rich, and those who aspire to being upper middle class, really need to take up the burden of caring for desperate asylum seekers. those poor desperate people don’t need more than a minuscule proportion of richer Aussies’ wealth and income to make a huge difference to their destroyed lives. Look at Egypt right now. People are going to need safe haven in ever increasing numbers. It is not for the poorer members of our society to take this burden. And after the obscene profits recorded by the Commonwealth Bank just now, I have to ask what sort of people are aspiring to rule Australia?

  4. People in Australia should be & will be repulsed by this neo-conservative, very nasty political party. How dare they think that those of us who really care about what happens to asylum seekers – those of us who want to see that refugees get a fair go in this country, would stand by and let this happen. REALLY?

    We have a real choice now to make. Do we want to be branded by the rest of the world as an inhumane country. The answer should be NO WE DON’T.

    Even if you don’t like how the ALP is handling trying to stem the flow of People Smugglers, or the fact that they have had to resort to offshore processing in Nauru or Manus Island & PNG, at least genuine refugees will at least have some choices as to where they will end up. It looks pretty reasonable compared to what the LNP/Morrison plan will be.

    We should all stand up & voice our disgust at the LNP. The Greens are an idealistic party, but at least they care about refugees & with a bit of luck they will hold the balance of power in the Senate at least. Labour supports need to think very carefully where & to whom they give their preferential votes to.

    WE SHOULD ALL STAND UP & PROTEST LOUD & CLEAR. We can do this on September 7.

  5. JenniferGJ says:

    Leigh sales did not challenge the “illegal” tag which these guys attached to asylum seekers. Why not?

  6. Thank you for this post. Once more you provide fine analysis and demonstrate the importance overall of blogs to public discussion and social democracy.

    What on earth is happening to Australia? The spiteful, cruel, callous attitude adapted by the mainstream politicians. The repugnant noise coming from mainstream media.

    Tony Abbott is a pathetic man desperately doing all he can to assuage his puppet-masters on the ultra-far-right (such as the embittered American billionaire Rupert Murdoch) who wish to advance corporatism and dumbed down nightmarish neo-liberal economics that serve no purpose other than to divide & conquer, leading to domination & submission, the old fashioned master and slave scenario. That’s not ‘freedom’ as the IPA (further sponsors of Abbott) would have us believe.

    Fairness in Australia is fast being replaced with a new form fascism. Abbott’s latest piece of hysteria is simply a foretaste of more disturbing things to come.

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