Hysteria: Putting the 12 asylum seeker boat arrivals into context

Nov 28, 2023
Asylum barbed wire and the Australian flag image: iStock

While there is much hysteria from Peter Dutton and the Murdoch press associated with the 12 asylum seekers who recently arrived by boat (it’s a catastrophe apparently), there was less excitement about a new post-pandemic monthly record for primary asylum applications set in October at 2,322. That is now approaching the monthly record of over 2,700 asylum applications set when Peter Dutton was Minister. It seems asylum seekers arriving by boat are much more exciting than those who arrive by plane.

Source: DHA website, onshore protection

Surprisingly, primary applications processed in October fell to 1,089 of which 857 were refused (see Chart 1). The primary backlog increased to a new post-pandemic peak of 30,652 but below the peak set under Peter Dutton. The AAT asylum backlog increased to another new record of 41,888 (see Chart 2) plus there were 34,597 asylum seekers in the country who had been refused at both the primary and AAT stages. Asylum removals fell in October to nine of which three were involuntary.

Source: AAT Annual Reports and Caseload Statistics

The size of the challenge facing the Government’s $160 million strategy to address this situation continues to grow while additional processing staff are recruited and trained.

Growing Vietnamese asylum caseload

While the asylum backlog at both the primary level and the AAT continues to be dominated by nationals from Malaysia and China (since this initially surged under Dutton), we have seen over recent months a rapid increase in asylum applications from Vietnamese nationals which now sit at over 400 per month (see Chart 3).

Source: DHA Protection Visa Reports

In October 2023, only 77 primary asylum applications from Vietnamese nationals were finalised, with a zero approval rate. In September 2023, 86 primary asylum applications from Vietnamese nationals were finalised also with a zero approval rate.

This will be worrying the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). The significant increase in refusal rates for visitor and student visa applications from Vietnamese nationals may be a response to the current surge in asylum applications from Vietnam. DHA must be relieved the Albanese Government cancelled the Agriculture Visa out of Vietnam developed at the behest of former Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and the National Farmers’ Federation. That would have turbo charged asylum applications from Vietnam.

Asylum applications from Pacific Island nationals

Asylum applications from Pacific Island nationals since November 2019 are now approaching 9,000 and are likely to be over 10,000 by early 2024. The approval rate for these is close to zero.

The bulk of these applications would be from holders of Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) visas and highlight the risks associated with Agriculture visas generally.

While the foreign relations objectives of the PALM visa are exemplary, the poor design of these visas is contributing to the rapidly rising volume of asylum applications from these visa holders. At the primary level, the monthly asylum application rate from Pacific Island nationals is now over 400 per month (see Chart 4).

Source: Monthly DHA Onshore Protection Reports

These primary applications are now steadily moving into the AAT backlog. For many Pacific Island nations, there were zero asylum applications in the AAT backlog just a few years ago. This is now the fastest growing cohort in the AAT asylum backlog (see Chart 5).

While the $160 million package should help with the asylum backlog from Pacific Island nationals, without a serious re-design of the PALM visa and the Pacific Engagement Visa (PEV), PALM visa holders will continue to turn to asylum as their only real means of extending stay in Australia and escaping exploitative employers.

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