Australia at an asylum policy crossroads

In the wake of a week that saw Australian Federal Police using tear gas and 'bean-bag bullets' to end asylum seeker protests on Christmas Island, Edmund Rice Centre Director, Phil Glendenning, today called for a major policy overhaul of Australia's management of asylum-seekers.

“At some point we have finally got to discover the decency to accept that this way of detaining and punishing people has got to stop,” he writes.

“We need to join with those western nations that provide community supervision of asylum seekers. It’s time for a system overhaul to bring us into line with these standards.“

“Such a system has been enunciated for a decade now by many within the immigration and asylum sectors. The 'better way' begins with an early assessment on the grounds of health, security and identity. The vast majority of asylum seekers would thus move quickly to a setting where they can be appropriately supported to have their claim for protection assessed through the status determination process. Overseas experience demonstrates that it is effective,” he affirms.

Citing the policy document The Better Way, Mr Glendenning outlines three accommodation options to replace the current dysfunctional regime of mandatory detention: community based accommodation for low-security; hostel accommodation for medium security; and full detention only for those assessed as posing a security risk.

“The Better Way assesses potential cost savings of more than 60 percent per detainee per day,” he adds.

“The Australian Government recently told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that 'detention in immigration detention centres is only to be used as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time'. That is not what is happening.” he writes.

The article, published today by Swinburne University's Institute for Social Research, calls for a return to the bi-partisanship on asylum policy that was championed in refugee crisis of the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

“Malcolm Fraser and Bill Hayden combined to deliver a humane policy of dealing with boat people,” Mr Glendenning writes.

“Minister Ian Macphee and Shadow-Minister Mick Young actually travelled the country together, speaking at public meetings and visiting churches and community organisations to promote a spirit of welcome to asylum-seeking Indo-Chinese boat-arrivals. It is this sort of leadership which turns its back on the short-term gains of poll-driven myopia and enables our aspirational nation to aspire to the better way,” Mr Glendenning writes.

“As long as immigration policy and particularly asylum policy remains within the gloves-off, no-holdsbarred domain of 'robust political debate' our nation will be the loser. Clearly, there is a better way.”

Download Phil Glendenning's op-ed

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