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

The Rudd Government - a new approach?

The Rudd Government came into power with a commitment to make significant changes for people seeking asylum and refugees including an end to the ‘Pacific Solution’.  While the Government acted promptly to end offshore processing on Nauru and Manus the retention of the migration excision policy and use of the processing centre on Christmas Island left it open to criticism that the fundamentals of the ‘Pacific Solution’ had remained intact. In 2008 the Government took a significant step in abolishing TPVs and replacing them with permanent residency for refugees.(13)

A new policy overhauling mandatory detention was introduced which included seven values that would guide new detention policy and practice. While the policy stated that mandatory detention was an essential component of strong border control, the policy aimed to shift the focus so that people would be detained as a ‘last resort’, for the shortest possible time and in a way which ensured the 'inherent dignity of the human person'. The onus would be on the Department to justify why a person should continue to be detained once identity, health and security checks had been completed. (14)

 While people seeking asylum without documentation would still be subject to mandatory detention they would receive publicly funded advice and assistance, access to independent review of unfavourable decisions (although not via the Refugee Review Tribunal) and external scrutiny by the Immigration Ombudsman.  This was a change from the previous system where there was no access to independent review or external scrutiny, but it still did not give the same rights as those who arrived and were processed onshore with access to merits or judicial review through the Refugee Review Tribunal and the Courts. Under these principles, children and their families (where possible) would not be held in a detention centre.(15) Other initiatives during the Rudd Government included the introduction of a merit-based appointment process for the Refugee Review Tribunal; the abolition of the 45 day rule bar on access to work rights and basic health care; the replacement of the previous Government’s Community Care Pilot with an ongoing program to support people seeking asylum who were living in the community; and the abolition of the policy of charging people the cost of their detention which had been introduced by the Keating Government back in 1992. The total Refugee and Humanitarian Program was also increased from 13,000 to 13,750.(16)  

Despite the stated change in policy, long-term mandatory detention continued and the Government expanded the capacity of detention facilities in response to a significant increase in the number of boat arrivals during 2009-2010.  



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13, Phillips, Janet, 2014. ‘A comparison of Coalition and Labor government asylum policies in Australia since 2001'. Research Services 2013-14. Parliamentary Library, Canberra, p. 9.
Phillips and Spinks, op. cit., p. 12.
15. Ibid., p. 13.
Refugee Council of Australia. 2010. ‘Refugee Policy in the 2010 Federal Election Campaign: What the Parties are saying’. Viewed 4/12/15.