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16 July 2014



Refugee and asylum seeker policy roundtable
 Seeking a framework for the future which is fair, transparent and efficient.

This roundtable marked the start of a new conversation about a complex policy area that has been a political hot potato for too long. It aims to be a contribution which is helpful to all sides of the political spectrum and which reflects Australian values.”
Members of the project Steering Committee, Bob Douglas, Jane McAdam and Travers McLeod

About the roundtable
With partners the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW and the Centre for Policy Development, Australia21 co-hosted a  roundtable at Parliament House in Canberra on 11 July. Its focus was on a long term framework for refugee and asylum seeker policy.

The roundtable drew on a discussion paper ‘Beyond Operation Sovereign Borders: A Long-Term Asylum Policy for Australia’ prepared by two former senior Immigration Department officials, Peter Hughes and Arja Keski-Nummi, working with the Centre for Policy Development. Drawing on lessons from the past, the paper suggests pathways to better policy responses for the future. It examines the evidence, including the rate of irregular maritime arrivals and the regional implications of refugee flows, and the way refugee policy has evolved in Australia since asylum seekers first began arriving by boat in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. This is an excellent reference for those interested in this topic.

Attended by a diverse group of 35 high-level policymakers and experts, including a former Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, a strategist from Malaysia, and parliamentarians from three of the four major parties, participants recognised there is no panacea in this debate, and that a focus on politics over policy is unhelpful.

They also noted that forced migration is a global phenomenon, not something that Australia can control on its own, nor can asylum seeker policy be viewed in isolation from other aspects of national and foreign policy. The ultimate goal was to consider how Australia could facilitate a sustainable immigration policy that balances protection, safety, transparency and prosperity.

Common ground at the roundtable
Contributions at the roundtable were frank, respectful and constructive. Fresh positions were adopted. Although the participants in this first roundtable did not seek to reach consensus on a new policy, some important areas of common ground did emerge:
  • While emphasising that Australia must respect its international legal obligations, the roundtable also recognised that the community wants reassurance that Australia retains control over who becomes Australian citizens and under what circumstances.
  • Participants stressed the importance of implementing fair, transparent and efficient refugee status determination procedures, wherever processing takes place. They supported raising Australia’s humanitarian intake, perhaps set as a percentage of our annual migration intake.
  • Participants expressed concern at the militarisation of current approaches, and emphasised the need to build regional protection capacity and foster bilateral partnerships built on trust and respect.
  • There was support for extending the rights available to asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their protection claims, including the right to work, and for phasing out mandatory detention.
  • Participants recommended measures to expedite the processing of particular cohorts of claimants, and encouraged new community initiatives, especially in regional Australia, that bring Australians into direct contact with refugees and use their skills to help rehabilitate depressed areas.
  • The participants are committed to creating a ‘second track’ dialogue that will engage the community, policymakers, experts and politicians in rethinking our approach.
  • Finally, it was noted that any new approach must use language carefully, recognising the humanity of those in search of protection.
A full report on this project will be released later in 2014.

Attendees were: Paris Aristotle AM, Adam Bandt MP, Paul Barratt AO, Admiral Chris Barrie (retd) AC, Father Frank Brennan SJ AO, Julian Burnside AO QC, The Hon Fred Chaney AO, Dr Joyce Chia, Noel Clement, Dr David Corlett, Senator Sam Dastyari, Professor Bob Douglas AO, Erika Feller, Ellen Hansen, Dr Claire Higgins, Peter Hughes, Associate Professor Mary Anne Kenny, Arja Keski-Nummi, Dr Anne Kilcullen, David Lang, Ben Lewis, Libby Lloyd AM, The Hon Ian Macphee AO, Professor Robert Manne, Professor Jane McAdam, Dr Travers McLeod, John Menadue AO, Right Reverend Professor Stephen Pickard, Reverend Elenie Poulos, Paul Power, Ambassador Wiryono Sastro Handoyo, Jo Szwarc, Angus Taylor MP, Oliver White and Steven Wong.
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