Jul 31, 2013

Greens focus on incentives in asylum seeker policy

The Greens hope to use incentives to encourage asylum seekers not to arrive on boats -- but have no answers if more come. Their policy alternative might be kinder and cheaper, but would it work?

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

asylum seekers

The Greens asylum seeker policy, most of which was released this morning, adopts much of the logic of last year's Houston Panel report -- but, crucially, not all of it. That report, by Angus Houston, Michael L'Estrange and Paris Aristotle, argued for a significant rebalancing of incentives for asylum seekers, away from "irregular" pathways and toward "regular" pathways -- the incentive of more opportunities to reach Australia via our humanitarian resettlement program, and the disincentive of no advantage in reaching Australia by boat, courtesy of a re-established Pacific Solution. At the core of the Greens policy is the belief that disincentives will never work (and what evidence, so far, is there to contradict them?), and we need to massively increase the incentives to use regular pathways, via a dramatic expansion in our humanitarian intake and more Indonesian processing centres. More of the latter in a moment. The increase in Australia's humanitarian intake from 20,000 to 30,000 (though 4000 of the additional 10,000 places would be reserved for family reunion) would represent a more-than-doubling in just under two years. The Houston Panel recommended eventually lifting our intake to 27,000 over an extended period, rather than 30,000. But the goal would be the same: to dramatically decrease the supply pressure, particularly by immediately taking 10,000 asylum seekers from the region, 3800 of them from Indonesia. The incentive to get into a boat would be reduced -- additionally, because asylum seekers from refugee-producing countries would be allowed to travel to Australia by air as well. And as the Greens point out, the cost of resettling such a significantly greater number of refugees -- costed at an additional $2.5 billion -- is far less than the cost of running offshore detention centres. However, the policy raises a number of questions. It proposes a number of UNHCR-run "safe" asylum seeker processing centres in Indonesia, further increasing the attractiveness of Indonesia for asylum seekers who can reach it (whether the Greens have consulted with the Indonesian government about this isn't clear). However, there is no guarantee that reaching such a centre would guarantee you would reach Australia: the humanitarian program is capped at 30,000, including another 4000 for family reunion. What happens if the numbers of asylum seekers exceeds 30,000? If they reach Australia by boat, they won't be detained beyond an initial period for screening -- and they are guaranteed resettlement here. In short, the Greens are relying on being able to permanently cut the supply of asylum seekers to below 30,000. But there may be those who are not content to wait in an Indonesian processing centre, and who want to get to Australia with their families to get on with their lives and end the uncertainty, or who have the money to fly to Australia. And more asylum seekers will be in Indonesia, and resettlement in Australia will be guaranteed if you can reach here by boat, even if Australia has already taken 30,000 people under its humanitarian program. So the Greens policy will work well up until the 30,001st asylum seeker and at that point becomes unclear: what will happen to asylum seekers arriving after we've taken 30,000? Are they detained? Sent back to an Indonesian processing centre? It's implicit, but the 30,000, in the absence of any offshore processing or PNG plan, isn't a hard cap. Still, it may be enough: in the absence of a major humanitarian crisis, the Greens' policy may be sufficient. It would be cheaper, too, than running offshore detention centres and bribing less developed countries in our region to take our problem off our hands. But the complete removal of disincentives -- the Greens even propose presumably permanent "community detention" for those found to be a security risk -- leaves the effectiveness of the policy in the hands of people smugglers and asylum seekers. Australia would be a more attractive destination than it is currently under the Greens' policy, and the Greens have no answers for what happens if that drives asylum seeker numbers beyond their 30,000 cap.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

66 thoughts on “Greens focus on incentives in asylum seeker policy

  1. Tamas Calderwood

    “At the core of the Greens policy is the belief that disincentives will never work (and what evidence, so far, is there to contradict them?)”.
    Gosh… let me think…  I know!  The Pacific Solution! 
    6 years of evidence from late 2001-2008, and all of it ignored by the Greens and Bernard. Fascinating.

  2. Bo Gainsbourg

    Good to see some detailed coverage in Crikey of Greens Policy on this…its the only alternative to an auction of focus group/ tabloid/ shock jock driven cruelty we are in with the majors. The points are fair enough. The Greens policy may not stop all drownings. But neither has the Howard,Gillard or Rudd policy,and presumably suffers from the same critique…what happens when the detention camps are full? Maybe we have to face up that they can’t all be stopped, and maybe if they aren’t occurring between Indonesia and here, they’ll simply occur elsewhere in the world, somehow out of the sight or moral radar of our media. Seems to me the policy is not perfect, but has just as much chance of succeeding as the majors…without the cruelty and degradation involved. The dip in refugees under Howard mirrored a worldwide dip…this policy is a valid practical response to a cruel situation.

  3. dazza

    TC. – 6 years of evidence from late 2001-2008 clearly shows The Pacific Solution will not work.

  4. shepherdmarilyn

    All major parties miss the point but Bernard, you are just an ignorant man without a clue.

    Tamas, the Pacific Solution is in play now you dimwit, has it stopped one person from seeking asylum here?

    Bernard, you don’t seem to understand do you?


    That is the law, get over yourself because you are more and more peddling DIAC and government lines.

  5. Elvis

    Great to see an attempt at objective analysis on this. Much appreciated.

    The question is, what do you mean by the policy “working”?

    Do you mean Australia controlling who comes here?

    Do you mean stopping boats and drownings?

    Or do you mean what we should all be concerned about first and foremost, namely ensuring persecuted people have safety and security? After all, why do you or I deserve it any more than them?

  6. Professor Tournesol

    Even if the Greens policy didn’t work we’d be in exactly the same position that we are in now, but with policy changes that didn’t traumatise people who in the long run are likely to stay here as refugees and then who’s health care we will also have to pay for. We’ll also avoid the moral abuse that is such an essential ingredient of both ALP and coalition polices.

  7. CML

    Marilyn – You may well be right that “everyone has the right to seek asylum”. But what happens when there are 30,000, 50,000 or 100,000+ per/year, every year? Australia simply cannot afford, either economically or socially, to settle that number of people + their families.
    You will end up with significant social upheaval if that happens. Perhaps attitudes should be different, but they are not. It would take a lot of years to prepare the majority of Australians to accept such a policy. What you are suggesting is a recipe for disaster.
    If you (and others) keep pushing this issue, you will find that more and more people will demand complete withdrawal from the Refugee Convention, or other more damaging alternatives. You cannot simply override democracy, however much you think that should happen.
    While many people on these blogs are fond of bashing the major parties/leaders at the moment, they are doing what the electorate wants. If you think about it, we elect our parliamentarians to represent our views, and introduce policies which reflect the will of the people. I do NOT understand why The Greens, who represent around 10% of voters, think their policies should be foisted on to the other 90% of us. That is NOT democracy.

  8. shepherdmarilyn

    Bernard is utterly ignorant on this, he is pandering to the same hate the Greens bullshit as the major parties.

    Last year 6.5 extra people were displaced, only we punish the few who get here.

  9. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    CML, you ask: “But what happens when there are 30,000, 50,000 or 100,000+ per/year, every year?” What answer will you get if you ask that question of Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott. Both are building tent camps for thousands. Neither has any idea how many thousands – that is, no more idea than the Greens or Ms Shepherd. Every policy risks “social upheaval” because every policy has the potential for overflow – that is, if the boats keep coming in larger and larger numbers then there will have to be people processed on shore in Australia.

  10. pretorius3

    The writer is “just an ignorant man without a clue”. Later he “doesn’t seem to understand”. Later still he is “utterly ignorant”. Meanwhile, Tamas is a “dimwit”.

    Shepherdmarilyn, I’m inclined to agree with you and am actively involved in helping refugees. But you make your opinions seem extreme when you so regularly insult your opponents, here and elsewhere.

    When Robert Manne, Julian Burnside, and now Bernard Keane all say it’s a complicated issue, for you to simply scream at people undermines your argument.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details