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Refugee policy: you choose how to vote

Refugee policy: you choose how to vote

By Jennifer Ashton*, CLA Director

Here is what Australia is not talking about during the election campaign, but should be:

 Headlines from party policy pages

LIBERAL: The Morrison Government will not compromise on strong border protection.

LABOR: Labor believes in strong borders, offshore processing, regional resettlement and turnbacks when safe to do so. A commitment to a humane and compassionate approach to asylum seekers.

GREENS: Australia has humanitarian and legal obligations to accept refugees and reunite families.

Note: CLA has not examined the refugee policies of minor parties: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, United Australia Party, Fraser Anning, Bob Katter etc. CLA does not have the stamina but, for example, it would appear that white South African farmers could not (usually) be described as refugees.


Off-shore processing /detention (Manus and Nauru), an appalling, protracted saga that has shamed all caring Australians.

Huge increase in asylum seekers arriving by air. Almost 30,000 came in 2018 (none came by sea). The majority are from China and Malaysia. About 2% are recognised; there is about a four-year processing time if all appeals are followed. There is a suspicion that this is the new people smuggllng system, and that the major political parties are refusing to talk about it in public.

Slowness in processing arrivals by boat. Some 16,000 asylum seekers who have arrived by boat are still on bridging visas pending a final decision. The last boat arrivals allowed to stay in Australia arrived in 2013. Over 60% are eventually recognised as refugees.

Against convention/selective treatment: Asylum seekers who arrived by boat and found to be refugees (after ‘due process’) are granted Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) valid for three years, not permanent protection visas leading to permanent residence/citizenship and allowing family to join them. This contravenes the norms of the UN Convention on Refugees and differs from treatment of air arrivals.

Different rights: Asylum seekers have the right to work but not the right to welfare benefits. This would be fine if processing times were quicker.


There are (many) questions about the Department of Home Affairs, including:

  • whether all security and intelligence agencies should be co-located?
  • whether the Armani-clad border force should continue?
  • whether immigration and refugee processing should be part of such a security body? and
  • should there be reform of processing to alleviate waiting times and accrual of manifestly unfounded claims?

We leave it to you, the voter, to decide.

There are problems with the Refugee Review Tribunal, now merged into the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and staffed with a disproportionate number of (some very recent) Liberal appointees and with a limited decision making capacity. This is supposed to be an independent review process, specified under the UN Convention on Refugees.

Cancellation of visas on character grounds is Liberal policy supported by Labor and opposed by the Greens

How do the parties compare:

Policy Liberal Labor Greens
End off shore processing and boat turn back No No Yes
Abolish temporary protection visas No Yes Yes
Refugee status determination – processing times No change 90 day rule Yes
Increase in support to UNHCR/regional refugee protection No $450m over 3 years $500m over 4 years
Increased support for refugee settlement services in Australia over next 3 years Yes  $109m Yes $283m Yes,

cost not specified

Increase in size of refugee intake per year from overseas 18,750 27,000 by 2025 50,000

*  Jennifer Ashton is ‘retired’ from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees after two decades operating from Zambia to Kazakhstan, including two years with UNAIDS in Myanmar. During both 2015 and 2016 she was called back to UNHQ in Geneva to help kick start urgent refugee relief projects. Her career started with the then-AUSAID and with Australian NGOs (in Cambodia from 1986-1989, work for which she received an OAM). Her first qualification in social work was followed by a Masters-by-correspondence through Deakin Uni as a nightly respite from the harsh daily realities of remote refugee camps. She is CLA’s refugee ‘champion’, leading the organisation on refugee and asylum issues.


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