08 August 2012

Australian immigration asylum seeker debacle frays Indonesian patience

The ongoing political debate regarding asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat is reportedly frustrating politicians in Indonesia, with one senior politician saying there must be a 'strict and clear' deterrent in place to solve the Australian immigration solution.

Australia immigration

Indonesia is reportedly growing tired with the burden it is shouldering while Australia continues to argue over a solution to the asylum seeking problem.

Asylum seekers have been arriving in Australia in record numbers in the past two months and the annual record was broken just seven months into the year. Politicians had hoped to secure a suitable deterrent after two boats within a week sunk, killing 94 people, yet after a marathon debate in the Senate, politicians broke for their winter recess without any solution in place and asylum seekers and people smugglers alike have taken advantage of the stalemate by sending boat after boat.

Over 7,000 people have arrived in Australia in 2012 and with the majority having departed from Indonesia, patience within the South East Asian country is wearing thin.

"Indonesia is being dragged into the problem, significantly impacted, and it's quite worrying," said Mahfudz Shiddiq, chairman of the Indonesian parliamentary committee of foreign affairs.

"These illegal immigrants trying to get into Australia, and even risking their lives, are doing so in the hope that Australia would accept them since Australia is open for them.

“If Australia seriously wants to deal with it, Australia must have a strict and clear policy that explains whether they're still open or not.

“There's a legal problem in Australia that there's still no strong signal from Australia's legal system that gives deterrent effect for people-smuggling.”


The stalemate hinges on the processing of asylum seekers; the government wants to process new arrivals offshore in Malaysia but as the ruling Labor Party does not have a majority in the House of Representatives, it needs the support of opposition politicians to change legislation to pass its Malaysia Solution, which was struck down in the High Court last year.

The Coalition also favours offshore processing but refuses to allow it to go ahead in Malaysia as it is not party to the UN's Refugee Convention. Instead, the Coalition wants to process refugees on the Pacific Island of Nauru as part of a much harsher portfolio of policies which include escorting asylum seeking boats out of Australian waters.

The Australian Greens oppose offshore processing altogether and want to process all asylum seekers in Australia as well as increase the country's refugee intake.

Expert Panel

Following the failed debate in June, Prime Minister Julia Gillard established an expert panel to find a non-partisan solution to the issue which all parties could be happy with.

Headed by former Defence Chief Angus Houston, the panel was granted access to any information it required and heard arguments from all sides of the debate. Ms Gillard instructed the panel to be ready to present their recommendations to the parliament when it reconvenes next week.

However, despite all parties presenting their case to the panel, all three, including Ms Gillard, said they would hear what the panel had to say but would not change their stance, making any solution unlikely.


With the panel almost ready to present their recommendations, a fresh argument has broken out between politicians.

The opposition's immigration spokesperson, Scott Morrison, said Labor's approach risked Australia becoming overburdened by an influx of refugees, both genuine and otherwise, if it refused to instigate a tougher policy.

"The Coalition believes that Labor's focus on processing and resettlement over deterrence and border security will create a regional asylum magnet," Mr Morrison said.

"That will only further encourage secondary movement and undermine the integrity of existing regional re-settlement programs of which Australia is the primary participant.

"That is why a Coalition government will restore Australia's focus... on deterrence policies."

Mr Morrison said that while a change of policies was essential to providing a deterrent to asylum seeking and people smuggling, a change of government is necessary and said he hoped the prime minister's expert panel would recommend calling an election.

"Every time the smugglers have leant against this government, Labor have yielded, every single time.

"We need to change the policies, but to be sure we also need to change the government."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen expressed his disappointment at Mr Morrison's attitude and accused the Liberal Party (which constitutes the majority of the Coalition) of refusing to help solve the situation while trying to score 'cheap political points'.

"His speech was an unfortunate attempt to pre-empt whatever the expert panel may recommend in the coming weeks," said the minister.

"The Liberal Party has indicated that they do not want to be part of that process. They'd rather sit on the sidelines and make cheap political points."

"That's a matter for them. We'll continue to work with the panel and we will take its recommendations seriously and obviously when the panel makes its recommendations the government will respond appropriately."

Indonesia had hoped to sign a deal with Australia which would allow Australia's navy to begin search and rescue operations without first requesting permission to enter Indonesian waters but this was also quickly refuted by Australia, further straining the neighbours' relationship and with no end to the debate in sight, many are beginning to wonder how sour the relationship could turn.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.

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