Julia Gillard achieved her “year of decision and delivery” in relation to carbon pricing, health reform and the mining tax, but her self-appointed task of resolving the issue of asylum seekers remains unfinished at year’s end.

While the government has taken commendable steps to move away from mandatory detention, it has no policy to address the need to reduce the risk of asylum seekers risking their lives to reach Australia.

Nor does the Opposition, or the Greens. The Opposition insists that three demonstrably ineffective policies — towing boats back to Indonesia, processing on Nauru, and temporary protection visas — will deter boat arrivals. The insistence on temporary protection visas, in particular, given they encourage people to risk their lives to join family members in Australia, borders on immoral.

The Greens insist onshore processing is the humanitarian response, without specifying how it deters people from risking their lives to reach here and take advantage of it.

Meantime, too many people wait in refugee camps, declared by the UNHCR to be genuine refugees, but unable to secure permanent resettlement.

Refugees are a global problem, and Australia can only play a limited role in resolving it in our region. But it can do more. And in particular, as a civilized society we need to find ways to prevent people from risking their lives while extending protection to as many people as we can. Our politicians, collectively, are failing us and failing their moral obligations.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey