Framing policy: turning back the boats

An open letter to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison

Dear Tony & Scott,

Hearing Foreign Minister Bob Carr this morning (2/6/2013) on Australian Agenda (Sky News) talking about the asylum boats and the prospects of stemming the flow as per LNP plans, it struck me how narrowly and simplistically framed these arguments are – at least in public. The scepticism about LNP policy of turning boats back is founded on a vacuum of startegic planning, as if the plan started and stopped with having boats towed back to Indonesian ports. This, it is often argued by opponents of the plan, will not be welcomed by Indonesia.

I suggest that the Indonesians are a sophisticated international player and would recognise that such actions would have far reaching ramifications with upside to them as well as to Australia’s border control plans. Not only would such actions register as a barrier to people smugglers in Indonesia, the flow-on effect up the refugee flow chain would also be immediate, reducing the attraction of making expensive and risky trips through Indonesia in the hope of reaching Australia.

Indonesia is therefore as much a beneficiary of such tactics as Australia would be. But of course this policy cannot be implemented in isolation; supported by a framework of co-operative refugee management – especially rapid assessments – it would certainly have bite.

Australia’s refugee policies have contributed only divisiveness and confrontation as they unravelled. Very little evidence exists to suggest clear, rational, startegic thinking has been devoted to it. So I don’t mean to be teaching grandma to suck eggs; I write as a deeply concerned citizen taking whatever action I can to be involved in the democracy we all value.

For what it’s worth and at the risk of repeating LNP startegy / policy development ideas here are a few points that may help build the framework that could improve refugee management in our region, in co-operation with Indonesia (and one hopes with other SE Asian states):

*Well resourced refugee assessment centres tasked with efficient processing are operated jointly – on Indonesian soil – with substantial Australian involvement (and financial support);

*Extensive medical facilities and support systems are established to ensure safety, health, human rights, etc;

*UN HCR or equivalent organisation presence and oversight is established;

*Refugees with valid identification papers are given priority at assessment;

*Negotiations within – and outside – this region are urgently established to reach agreement on distribution of cleared refugees throughout these countries – subject to reasonable family reunion guidelines;

*Applicants found to be fraudulent or potential security threats are immediately repatriated – and this action given high visibility via media statements to meximise deterrence effect;

*Refugee intake levels to be monitord quarterly and revised as appropriate to ensure Australia continues to take its fair share;

In conclusion I would propose that refugee management plans be carefully detailed as part of the upcoming election campaign

Thanks for ‘hearing’ me,


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