Australia should take more refugees and needs a fresh approach in the “toxic” immigration debate, according to a report released today by a group of non-government policy makers and experts.
A high-level roundtable of 35 people including former ministers, current politicians, refugee advocates and a former Indonesian ambassador was run in July under the auspices of the Centre for Policy Development, Australia 21 and the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, and releases its recommendations in Canberra today.
The report said the political debate had been boiled down to “stopping the boats”, but now that had been done, Australia needed a long-term refugee policy that dealt with the complexity of forced migration and its human consequences.
Fred Chaney, Senior Australian of the Year and a former minister in the Fraser government, said it was realistic to imagine there could be a “new and better deal for refugees” in Australia.
“We’re going to be able to deal with this in a much more constructive way once it ceases being the hot political issue, which I don’t think it any longer is,” Mr Chaney said.
“The fact is the boats have stopped and the Government can claim the credit for that. The Opposition will tend to claim the credit for that too, given the decisions they made late in the last government.
“You can’t keep recycling that. If the boats stop coming, will the problem go away? No, it won’t because our neighbours are going to have continuing problems, we’re going to have continuing problems as a country dealing with what is an international issue.”
The report’s key recommendations included lifting Australia’s humanitarian intake to at least 25,000, processing asylum seekers in their home countries before they flee, and better treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.
Former Indonesian ambassador to Australia Wiryono Sastrohandoyo said Australia’s “pushback policy is not helpful”.
“The Government is approaching it, not in a humanitarian way, but more in a military way; that is my impression,” Mr Sastrohandoyo said.
“If you see it is a military problem, then the policy is simply to push back and that means throwing the problem to Indonesia.
“We are only a transit country. The refugees do not come from Indonesia. They come through Indonesia. And we have been cooperating but now you simply push them back.”
He said full cooperation was needed between the countries of origin, transit countries like Indonesia and destination countries like Australia.
Similarly, refugee advocate Paris Aristotle pushed for a new dialogue that allowed officials to talk off the record in a personal capacity about longer-term policy options.
“There are no complete solutions to this issue. There will only be better ways of managing them,” Mr Aristotle said.
“What I would like to see happen is for the entrenched positions that people have held for so long to be broken down and for people to come into a dialogue process that allows us to discuss all of the issues and provide credible, viable and long-lasting strategies for managing this issue better.”
Since the July roundtable, the Government struck a deal with Clive Palmer for the re-introduction of temporary protection visas for refugees, which Mr Chaney described as “a small move in a better direction”.
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