The Pacific Solution has failed. John Menadue

Mar 27, 2013

The Government fell for a dud Coalition “policy” that suggested that by re-opening Nauru/Manus the flow of asylum seekers by boat would be reduced or even cease. We recall that many times Tony Abbott said that on becoming Prime Minister, the first thing he would do would be to get on the phone to the President of Nauru to re-open the Nauru detention centre.

Following the Houston Report and in a spirit of political compromise, the Government foolishly accepted the Coalition policy to re-open Nauru/Manus as deterrents to boat arrivals. It was part of a larger package.

The figures are now clear that Nauru/Manus are not working as a deterrent and that great hardship is being inflicted on vulnerable people who are detained on Nauru /Manus.

The Government announced the re-opening of Nauru/Manus in August last year with the associated ‘no advantage’ test. In the three months October, November and December 2012, the number of boat arrivals increased to 6,170 from2139 in the same months of the previous year. In the first three months of this year, boat arrivals have increased to 3028 compared with 1,802 in the same months of the previous year.

The return of Sri Lankans does seem to be having an impact but that that has little to do with the so-called deterrents of Nauru/ Manus.

The Secretary of DIAC told a Senate Committee in October 2011 that even the meagre benefits of Nauru processing in the past could not be repeated. He pointed out that Tampa and Nauru in 2001 did confuse people-smugglers for a period and boat arrivals largely stopped, although asylum continued to come by air. Importantly almost 1,600 of the 1,637 asylum seekers who were sent to Nauru and found to be refugees finished in Australia or New Zealand. The well-informed people-smugglers know quite clearly that even if asylum seekers are taken to Nauru/Manus they are very likely to end up in Australia.

The Government foolishly decided to adopt Tony Abbott’s and Scott Morrison’s one-line rhetoric about Nauru/Manus despite the view that the Government had expressly many times before that Nauru/Manus would not work in the future.

But where is the public debate now when the “policy” which Tony Abbott has so consistently proposed been shown to have failed so comprehensively.

What a tragic mess it is. The cowboys win again at the expense of fact-based policies and vulnerable people. What a mistake it is to think that Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison have serious answers. One-liners – stop the boats, re-open Nauru – are not serious policies.

The other parts of the Coalition’s Pacific policy are Temporary Protection Visas and turn-backs at sea. Evidence shows that when the Howard Government introduced Temporary Protection Visas, the number of boat arrivals increased and hundreds of women and children drowned at sea… We also know that the Royal Australian Navy and the Indonesian Government have very serious reservations about the risks and dangers of turn-backs at sea.

Arja Keski-Nummi and I have outlined ways to minimize Nauru/Manus. See, click on ‘refugees’ and go to paper of 31.8.2012 ‘Asylum Seekers, a way out of the present impasse’.

John Menadue

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