The flow of asylum seeker boats to Australia continues unabated more than seven months since an expert panel led by former defence chief Angus Houston handed down its report on asylum seeker policy. Over 3000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia by boat so far this year, more than double the number for the same period last year.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called on the Coalition to end its “belligerence and negativity” by allowing her to implement the Houston review’s 22 recommendations. Review panel member Paris Aristotle this morning said more deaths at sea are “absolutely certain” unless every component of the package is put into place.

A Crikey analysis of government announcements since the Houston review was released has found that 17 of the 21 applicable recommendations have been achieved, partly achieved or started. The major omission is the lack of action on the Malaysia “people swap” agreement, which is opposed by the Coalition and key crossbenchers …

Recommendation 1: Australia should work towards a regional cooperation and protection framework for asylum seeker arrivals. This should be underlined by a “no advantage principle” to ensure no benefit for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. When asylum seekers arrive, Australia should comply with all international obligations.

  • Response: In November the Government announced that all asylum seekers who arrived by boat after August 13 would be processed under the “no advantage principle”. This means they will not be granted asylum any quicker than if they had registered offshore. Exactly how long this will be remains (deliberately) unclear. The broader aim of a comprehensive regional co-operation program, however, remains more rhetoric than reality.
  • Verdict: Partly achieved.

Recommendation 2: Increase Australia’s humanitarian program to 20,000 places a year — including 12,000 for refugees. The program should be focused on asylum seekers moving through South-East Asia.

  • Response: The government has committed to increase the humanitarian program from 13,750 to 20,000 within the 2012-13 financial year. The intake will include over 3000 Burmese and 600 Middle-Eastern refugees who are in Malaysia. Expert Review panel member Paris Aristotle this morning said the government had done “extraordinary” work in this area.
  • Verdict: Underway.

Recommendation 3: Expand “capacity-building initiatives” in the region, including a significant funding boost for people smuggling and border control operations in the region.

  • Response: The government has allocated $10 million for regional capacity building projects with a special emphasis on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • Verdict: Partly achieved.

Recommendation 4: Advance bilateral co-operation with Indonesia by: a) increasing the number of Humanitarian Program places from the country, b) enhancing co-operation on search and rescue missions and c) changes to people smuggling law regarding minors.

  • Response: Australia announced it would accept an additional 400 refugees from Indonesia as a goodwill gesture following the report’s release, and will accept more this year. Co-operation on search and rescue missions has been increased.
  • Verdict: Partly achieved.

Recommendation 5: Continue to develop co-operation with Malaysia, including by accepting more refugees from the country.

  • Response: Australia will accept 1350 Burmese, Afghans, Iranians and other refugees from Malaysia this year.
  • Verdict: Underway.

Recommendation 6: Implement a “whole-of-government” strategy to engage with source countries and increase resettlement places from Asia and the Middle East.

  • Response: Australia will accept 3800 Iraqi refugees from Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon this financial year under the humanitarian program, as well as 2000 Afghan refugees. As explained previously, the number of refugees from Indonesia and Malaysia is also increasing.
  • Verdict: Underway.

Recommendation 7: Introduce legislation to support the transfer of people to regional processing arrangements.

  • Response: Parliament has passed legislation on the re-opening of the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres.
  • Verdict: Partly achieved.

Recommendation 8: Establish off-shore processing in Nauru.

  • Verdict: Achieved.

Recommendation 9: Establish offshore processing in Papua New Guinea.

  • Verdict: Achieved.

Recommendation 10: Implement the 2011 Malaysia Agreement (people swap) after adding additional safeguards.

  • Response: The Coalition, the Greens and key Independents continue to oppose the so-called “Malaysia Solution”.
  • Verdict: Little or no progress.

Recommendation 11: Remove family reunion concessions for asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

  • Response: In September, the government announced it was removing family reunion concessions for boat arrivals.
  • Verdict: Achieved.

Recommendation 12: Asylum seekers who arrive by boat should not be eligible to sponsor family under the humanitarian program.

  • Response: In September, the government announced it would bar people arriving by boat from sponsoring family members under the humanitarian program.
  • Verdict: Achieved.

Recommendation 13: Actively co-ordinate strategies among resettlement countries to boost regional co-operation.

  • Response: There has been minimal movement on this front.
  • Verdict: Little or no success.

Recommendation 14: Amend the Migration Act so that asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are treated no differently than those who arrive in excised offshore locations (ie Christmas Island).

  • Response: In October the government announced it would implement the recommendation — widely interpreted as the excision of Australia from the migration zone.
  • Verdict: Achieved.

Recommendation 15: Launch a thorough review of refugee status determination.

  • Response: The government has not announced a review of refugee status determination.
  • Verdict: Little or no progress.

Recommendation 16: More effective strategies to negotiate the removals and returns of failed asylum seekers to their home countries.

  • Response: Since August, 800 Sri Lankans asylum seekers have been returned home — both voluntarily and involuntarily. Two Afghan men have also been sent home under an arrangement between Australia, Afghanistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • Verdict: Partly achieved.

Recommendation 17: Continue disruption strategies targetting people smugglers.

  • Verdict: Achieved.

Recommendation 18: Law enforcement agencies continue to target people in Australia who fund or facilitate people smuggling operations.

  • Verdict: Achieved.

Recommendation 19: Do not implement a “tow back the boats” strategy unless appropriate regional arrangements are in place.

  • Response: Despite calls from the opposition to tow back the boats, the government remains opposed to this strategy, as does Indonesia.
  • Verdict: Achieved.

Recommendation 20: Work with other countries to develop joint operational guidelines for managing search and rescue activities.

  • Response: In September, Australia and Indonesia reached a deal to improve co-operation for the search and rescue of asylum seekers whose vessels sink during the dangerous journey to Christmas Island.
  • Verdict: Partly achieved.

Recommendation 21: Review the linkage of the onshore and offshore components within two years.

  • Verdict: Not yet applicable.

Recommendation 22: Create a well-funded research program to gather evidence on asylum issues.

  • Response: No such research program has been announced.
  • Verdict: Little or no success.