By common agreement, Australia’s political impasse on boat-borne asylum seekers is increasing the number of people risking their lives to come here. As a result, people are dying.

Onshore processing, which is the Greens’ policy, has become the de facto Australian government policy because of the intransigence of the Coalition and the Greens, and the High Court’s overruling of the government’s Malaysian deal. Plainly, it doesn’t work in deterring asylum seekers from attempting to reach here by boat. Some form of offshore processing, under which asylum seekers who reach Australia by boat don’t have any guarantee of being resettled in Australia, is the only seemingly effective solution.

This rules out Nauru, which is onshore processing by another name. Short of leaving asylum seekers permanently locked up on Nauru, or finding other countries to take them, Nauru is simply a transit point to Australia, like Christmas Island is.

Nor do temporary protection visas work. Indeed, the evidence is they only encourage more families to attempt to reach Australia by boat. Only the ignorant or the immoral can argue for temporary protection visas.

Nor does a policy of turning the boats back to Indonesia, which even the Coalition struggles to credibly maintain is a serious option.

In the absence of workable, moral policies from the Greens and the Coalition, the government has offered a suite of policies — transferring asylum seekers to Malaysia to remove the incentive to come by boat, increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake so there is a little less pressure on the alleged “queue” in refugee camps in the region, providing additional funding to the UNHCR to help it increase its rate of resettlement of those unable to travel by boat. The much-maligned Chris Bowen has also begun the process of removing families from mandatory detention, another policy that was plainly not working as a deterrent.

For all the calls of bipartisanship and the need to find a solution in the aftermath of the latest boat sinking, the risk is that public pressure will see Parliament reach for a solution that simply won’t work — like Nauru. This issue needs a policy resolution, not a political resolution. Or more people will continue to perish because Australia’s politicians prefer putting political advantage over human life.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW