Time for a rethink on asylum seeker policy

When asked by Opposition leader Bill shorten whether he thought it was time to rethink asylum seeker policy and stop imprisoning small children on Nauru, Prime Minister Turnbull retorted that Labor was quite happy with the current policies.

Malcolm Turnbull: increasingly failing to make a difference
Malcolm Turnbull: increasingly failing to make a difference

What he didn’t say was “If the Opposition leader is unhappy with current policy, the government is happy to talk about changing it.”

But then the new Prime Minister has come up short on number of occasions when it was possible for him to have taken the kind of stance that many people thought would come with his elevation to high office.

Some interesting information, which should come as no surprise, surfaced during Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s recent press conference

Despite the government repeatedly claiming the “boats have stopped” it was revealed 20 asylum seeker boats have been turned around since the coalition came to power.

“The most recent attempt was in August. The passengers and crew of that vessel were safely returned to their country of departure,” said Operation Sovereign Borders’ Major General Andrew Bottrell.

“Since December 2013, we have safely returned over 650 potentially illegal immigrants and more than 20 ventures to their countries of departure.”

There are two distinct elements to Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

The first is what to do with the boats that endeavour to bring asylum seekers to Australia. The government is clearly not been able to “stop the boats” but has been successful in towing them back to Indonesia. So it’s not as if the problem has gone away, Australia just needs to maintain an extremely expensive and time-consuming effort to turn the boats back.  But let’s just ignore that for the time being.

The second element of the problem is what to do with the people who are incarcerated in detention centres. There is only a small number of them and the cost of maintaining them in detention is out of all proportion.

Now that the government appears to be successful in stemming the flow of asylum seekers, sure it is possible to adopt a more humane policy towards those who have been deposited in the hellholes that are termed detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Australian detention centres: expensive, inhumane and unnecessary
Australian detention centres: expensive, inhumane and unnecessary

Malcolm Turnbull has not changed to walk away from the “never be settled in Australia” policy of his predecessor and make sure that the people who are in detention centres are given accelerated access to processing and settlement of Australia.

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