Bill Shorten channeled Tony Abbott at the Victorian Labor conference this weekend, claiming that a Labor government would “stop the boats”. Shorten was keen to dismiss calls from the Coalition that a Labor government would see a weakened asylum seeker policy, effectively closing the door to alternative policies.

But what alternatives have been suggested, and how realistic they look in our current climate? Crikey takes a look.

Abolish carrier sanctions and allow free travel for people seeking asylum

First and foremost is what seems like an obvious one: make it easier for asylum seekers to fly here by forgoing charging airlines for transporting them without a visa.

This was floated as a prime alternative by the Kaldor Centre’s Professor Jane McAdam on Q&A last year, and subsequently explained at length by lawyer and researcher Asher Hirsch.

Australia is the only country in the world that forces a universal visa requirement on non-citizens, charging planes and boats for transporting anyone without a valid visa. The policy has openly racist roots and doesn’t really work for anyone who may have forgotten to pick up a visa while fleeing for their life. Australia charges carriers whether the transported person is a refugee or not, which in turn forces people seeking asylum to more dangerous routes.

Political reality: A seemingly easy win no one has touched. While free and safe travel through established carriers would put a massive dent in the need for people smugglers, the Coalition are unlikely to go for it. Policy reforms (such as Dutton’s fast-track system) have only made the existing application system more difficult, not less. But the dissolution of carrier sanctions seems like an easy bone the Coalition could throw to human rights groups, and should be a no-brainer for Labor. After all, if your sole concern is deaths at sea, why not make it easier to fly here?

Mass processing centres in Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka

Basically, nip the boat issue in the bud and process at the most prominent points of departure.

While people seeking asylum by boat obviously originate from a range of regions, turn-backs have overwhelmingly backlogged Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Voyages from Indonesia and Malaysia are often the final leg of the asylum seeker journey, and also the most dangerous.

Groups like the Academy of Social Sciences Australia, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network and the Refugee Council of Australia have called to increase funding and political coordination for centres in these regions, while the Greens are calling to increase our annual intake from 12,450 a year to 50,000.

Political reality: Has recent precedent but is ultimately unlikely. The Coalition have not only ignored calls to increase our intake, they have cut off resettlement eligibility for refugees in Indonesia and cooperated with Sri Lanka’s policy to intern and torture Tamil refugees. While their one-off offer for Syrian refugees seemed like a welcome precedent for this option, Australia has ignored similar calls for people in Myanmar and taken significantly longer than countries like Canada to implement the Syrian program.

Labor again seems like the best bet here, who want that initial increase and are at least, on paper, more open to the idea of increased regional assistance.

Read part two of Crikey’s list of immigration alternatives here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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