As reports leak out of the conditions in Australia’s detention camps, the public are slowly being convinced that things are bad. But they are not worried about it — in fact, fewer people think we’re “too tough” on asylum seekers than before the leaks were made public.

Almost half of Australians agree that the conditions in offshore detention centres are “poor,” new Essential data shows. The number of Australians who think conditions are “good” has shrunk to just over one in four (28%), down from 34% in November last year (the last time the question was asked by Essential).

But this acknowledgement of the brutal realities of offshore detention does not mean people want conditions to be improved. In fact, the opposite has happened. Despite substantial increases in the number of Australians who acknowledge conditions are poor, a majority still considers the punitive approach the government takes towards asylum seekers to be appropriate. And the number who think conditions are “too tough” has actually shrunk since November 2015, from 25% to 21%.

Essential question: As far as you know, are the conditions in which asylum seekers are kept on Nauru and Manus Island good or poor?


The figures will be nothing short of dispiriting for asylum seeker advocates, as well as many of the healthcare professionals who have risked prosecution by speaking out about the conditions in detention centres. They show the steady impact of reporting on the issue, particularly by The Guardian, which was given a trove of documents written by the operators of detention centres detailing reported instances of self-harm and rape. But although people believe the reports, they do not think Australia should make life better for those who seek its protection.

Essential Question: Do you think the Federal Liberal/National government is too tough or too soft on asylum seekers, or is it taking the right approach? 


The figures show support for the government’s approach dramatically improved with the election of a Coalition government, and support has remained mostly steady since. The election of a Liberal prime minister also halved the number of voters who thought the government’s approach was “too soft”, though this figure remains significant at one in three voters.

Almost one in five (19%) of those polled said they didn’t know whether the government’s approach was appropriate. Meanwhile 29% think the government’s approach is “too soft”, while 31% say it is taking the right approach. Support for the government’s approach was significantly higher among voters for the Liberals or Nationals. But support for even harsher conditions for asylum seekers was similar among both Labor and Coalition voters (26% and 29% respectively). A significant majority of Greens voters believed the government’s approach was too punitive.