Asylum policies: How we got into this mess and how we can do better


In reviewing the asylum policies of respective Governments over the past 15 years it can be seen that there are several key elements that have endured across both sides of politics. These are offshore processing, mandatory detention and more recently turning back boats. The approach towards people seeking asylum has become cruel and secretive earning Australia sustained criticism from the United Nations and human rights organisations. The policy efforts of both major parties while in Government to deter people from travelling to Australia by sea have resulted in the creation of an excessively punitive system which violates the basic human rights of women, men and children who are seeking our help and protection.

Despite the intentions of the Rudd Government to have a more principled and humane approach to mandatory detention, principles eventually gave way in the face of increased boat arrivals and pressure from the Opposition for a ‘tougher stance’. There are existing mechanisms such as the Bali Process that the Government could substantially invest in, and cooperatively work with other countries in the region to increase legal protections and create safer living conditions for people while their refugee status is determined.  A return to a moral framework such as the Women’s Trust ‘Six Point Safety Plan’ that puts the safety and rights of people seeking asylum at the centre of our policies and practices would be a good place to start.