Asylum seekers and the return of parliament – August 2016

Filed under: Politics, Australian Politics, Elections, Foreign Affairs, Social and Community,

With Parliament to resume on Tuesday 30 August following the 2 July election, one of the most surprising and promising developments – for all those troubled by Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers – has been the emergence of a serious public debate about offshore detention.

The likelihood of an end to offshore processing is still well-off, but the signs of an emerging solution are stronger than they have been for many years.

That this should be the case following the election is most surprising, given the near cloak of silence about the issue during most of the election campaign, Labor’s general unwillingness to engage on the issue and the Government’s weak political position following the election.

Ironically these very issues have contributed to a renewed and invigorated public discussion about a possible solution to ending offshore detention.

The publication by the Guardian Australia of a huge cache of 2000 official documents cataloging incidents of violence and sexual attacks on Nauru and the publication of a proposed compromise solution to offshore detention by four credible, prominent human rights advocates have added to the momentum towards a possible solution.

The main developments which add to the possibility of an end to offshore detention despite the Turnbull Government’s public disavowal of any such policy- which are discussed in more detail in this edition of Baptist Care Australia’s Government Affairs Briefing - are:

  • The Government under pressure from its narrow election win
  • Positioning ahead of return of Parliament – Labor and Senate cross-benchers keen to unsettle government over parliamentary tactics
  • The prospect of multiple Senate inquiries to tie up the Government and highlight its tenuous control
  • Publication of the ‘Nauru Files’ by Guardian Australia
  • Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court decision ordering closure of Manus Island detention centre
  • An open letter by prominent human rights advocates proposing an end to offshore detention tied to Howard Government’s approach and accepting boat ‘turnbacks’
  • Tony Abbott’s reversal of his previous stand and saying opposition to the Rudd Government’s 2011 ‘Malaysian solution’ was wrong
  • New Zealand condemnation of Australia’s policy.

While the prospect of an end to offshore detention looks more promising than it has since 2013 when the Rudd Government resumed the Howard Government’s offshore detention policy, it is a long way from certain and is likely to depend on the strength of the political and humanitarian campaign in the wider community to persuade the public and politicians that practical and workable alternatives to offshore detention are available.

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