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Labor Releases Asylum-Seekers Policy

The ALP has released a new policy on asylum-seekers that aims to “smash onshore and offshore people smuggling rings” and proposes to station Federal Police officers in Indonesia.

Opposition Leader Simon Crean and Shadow Immigration and Population minister Julia Gillard released the policy. Its key feature is the establishment of a $600 million Australian Coastguard, described as “a cop on the beat 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.

In response to the policy, Dr. Carmen Lawrence, the shadow minister for indigenous affairs, the arts and the status of women, has resigned. The former premier of Western Australia described the ALP’s policy stance as “incredibly conservative and timid”.

The full policy document appears at the bottom of this page.

The Australian

Executive Summary of the ALP’s Asylum-Seeker policy.


The number one priority of the Australian Government is to protect Australia. Labor has a proud record of doing so and will always put protecting Australia first.

Labor will protect Australia’s borders with a $600 million Australian Coastguard, a cop on the beat 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This policy paper details five new important steps Labor will take to better protect Australia.

  1. Labor will introduce a US style Green Card to crack down on illegal workers and ensure they are not stealing Australian jobs and undermining the pay and conditions of Australians.
  2. Labor will smash onshore and offshore people smuggling rings through tougher policing including stationing more Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers in Indonesia.
  3. Labor will impose harsher penalties, including million dollar fines, for people smugglers.
  4. Labor will focus on eradicating people trafficking for the purposes of sexual or other exploitation, as well as people smuggling.
  5. Labor will better protect our airports and seaports.

Labor understands the concerns of Australians and shares their view that unauthorised boat arrivals are the worst of all possible outcomes both from Australia’s point of view, as a nation managing its borders, and from the point of view of the asylum seekers who risk, and sometimes lose, their lives. Australians rightly want a managed and fair system.

Labor will seek to protect Australia from future boat arrivals and create a fairer world wide refugee system by having the world adopt one processing system for refugee claims. If there was one world wide processing system this would be the ultimate deterrent to people smuggling and boat arrivals. Why pay a people smuggler and risk your life to get to a developed nation if, when you get there, you have no better chance of your claim being accepted? One system is also the only way of ensuring fairness so that the most disadvantaged waiting in refugee camps have the same chance of having their claim accepted as an asylum seeker who arrives in a developed country.

Advocating a new world wide system is a bold step. To lead the world requires leading by example and, in this policy, Labor outlines the following five ways in which it will.

  1. Labor will maintain the excision of Christmas Island in order to pilot the processing regime it will advocate should be adopted globally. Christmas Island will be the prime asylum seeker processing and detention facility.
  2. Labor will put its processing regime to the ultimate test by monitoring the return of failed asylum seekers.
  3. Labor will increase funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to $25 million per annum in order to better assist those who live and too often die in refugee camps overseas.
  4. Labor will boost aid to address the issues that cause people to move such as poverty, natural disasters, conflict and environmental degradation.
  5. Labor will increase aid to countries of first asylum. Such aid is desperately needed and is important to facilitate the development of a system of return of asylum seekers.

The Australian Labor Party stands for fairness and compassion and the Australian people share these values. A unique part of what it is to be Australian will be lost if this nation does not nurture and protect the Australian way of treating people fairly and with compassion. Mandatory detention as administered by Howard Government has degenerated into a system of punishment. It is no wonder that many Australians are deeply uneasy that children are behind razor wire and people are being detained on Pacific islands. Many Australians are worried that treating anyone this way is not the Australian way.

Labor will keep mandatory detention for the proper purposes of protecting Australia from health and security risks and to ensure refugee claims can be dealt with efficiently and failed claimants removed. Under Labor the system of mandatory detention will be humane, not a system of punishment.

Labor will end the ‘Pacific Solution’, the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

Labor has already announced that it will free children from behind the razor wire, close Woomera, return detention centre management to the public sector, and lift the shroud of secrecy around detention centres through media access and the involvement of independent medical professionals.

In this policy, Labor outlines the following five additional ways it will ensure mandatory detention treats people in an Australian way.

  1. Labor will run a fast, fair and transparent processing regime on Christmas Island and on mainland Australia that determines 90% of refugee claims in 90 days. Genuine refugees will be quickly identified and released while failed claimants will be quickly returned.
  2. Labor will administer better health and ASIO security checks.
  3. Those with claims of merit who are ASIO security cleared, health cleared and who pose no risks will be able to live in hostel style accommodation. Christmas Island will have a supervised hostel. Any other supervised hostels required will only be located in regional communities that bid to have one.Labor will create an independent Inspector-General of Detention, who will monitor detention conditions and resolve complaints.
  4. Labor will have an expert committee which will review and make recommendations on any case in which a person is detained for more than 90 days.

Labor will also treat genuine refugees in an Australian way. Genuine refugees will be able to access settlement services like English language training and the Job Network.

There are refugees in Australia who, under current laws, may be here a lifetime but will never be eligible for family reunion. Labor will not maintain such a system. Labor will replace this system with a short term temporary protection visa after which a genuine refugee can access a permanent protection visa.

Labor will facilitate genuine refugees settling in parts of Australia where they will be welcomed and are needed. Regional communities that want to increase their population through having refugees settle will be able to do so through Labor’s regional settlement plan and will receive targeted resources to assist them in doing so.

Labor has devised this policy with Australia’s national interest as its guiding principle. Labor’s policy will protect Australia and protect the Australian way. We commend it to you.

Labor’s new policy

Protecting Australia and Protecting the Australian Way

Labor recognises that community support for immigration with a strong humanitarian component depends on Australians judging the refugee program to be managed and fair.

A Crean Labor Government will lead debate internationally while taking the following positive steps to protect Australia and protect the Australian way.

Protecting Australia

An Australian Coastguard – a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week cop on the beat

Labor will protect Australia’s borders through its Coastguard. Labor will establish an Australian Coastguard, built around four principles: bettercapability, specialist personnel, a volunteer effort and making the best use of intelligence.

The Australian Coastguard will have new, purpose-built ships, staffed by personnel trained and specialised in the maritime border protection role. Together with a nationwide team of Coastguard Volunteers and a Coastguard Volunteer Vessel program, they will form a National Coastguard Network.

Details of Labor’s Australian Coastguard are contained in Labor Policy Paper 007.

A US style Green Card to crack down on illegal workers

The largest immigration challenge facing Australia is the more than 60,000 persons here illegally. More than a quarter of these people have been here for more than 10 years and 30,000 are working illegally.

The number of illegal workers is swelled by those who work in breach of visa conditions. In addition, there is mounting evidence that the subclass 456 business visa and the subclass 457 skilled visa are being misused to get overseas workers in to Australia who are then exploited. Disturbingly, organised rackets appear to be involved, not just individual employers.

This underground workforce enables unscrupulous employers to undermine Australian wages and conditions and reduces the number of jobs available for Australians. It also enables the exploitation of overseas workers, who have no real ability to complain.

Working Australians are entitled to have their jobs and wages and conditions protected from illegal and exploited foreign labour. For working Australians the problems caused by illegal workers is of greater day to day impact than the arrival of asylum seekers. The Howard Government is ignoring this problem because it does not want to have a fight with the employers who are profiting from the scams.

Labor will crack down on illegal workers by:

  • Issuing a US style Green Card to non-citizens who have a visa which entitles them to work;
  • Placing an obligation on employers to check Green Cards and prosecuting and harshly penalising those who employ illegal workers;
  • Creating an illegal workers’ round table involving the Federal Government, State Governments, employer representatives, including small business and farmers, and unions to design and implement the Green Card system and run the national crackdown; and
  • Creating and resourcing an illegal workers’ strike force within the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA).

Tougher policing and increased penalties for people smuggling

The lull in boat arrivals in Australia is largely due to the fall of the Taliban, which has significantly reduced the numbers of people on the move. It is also due to more active policing, particularly the stationing of AFP officers in Indonesia.

Labor will improve our coastal surveillance through the Coastguard. Labor will also increase the number of AFP officers in Indonesia in order to maximise Australia’s ability to stop people smugglers and stop boat departures. Currently, there are only two officers stationed in Indonesia.

Labor will also review the effectiveness of the Canberra based AFP-DIMIA Strike Team, ensure it is adequately resourced and determine whether Strike Team resources should be re-located to Indonesia.

Labor will increase penalties for people smuggling, including 20-year gaol terms, million dollar fines and confiscation of boats and will work within our region to ensure people smuggling is a crime in every nation. Labor will also impose penalties on bogus tour operators who are engaged in on-shore people smuggling.

Protecting our air and sea ports

With Labor’s Coastguard providing better coastal protection, airports and seaports may become the new target for people smugglers and unauthorised arrivals.

The Howard Government has been criticised by the Auditor-General in relation to its failure to adequately deal with airport security. Labor will address the criticisms of the Auditor-General and, across government, will strengthen intelligence collection and the quality of intelligence available at the operational level at airports.

Labor will also address security at seaports to prevent them becoming a new avenue into Australia through stowaways, people smuggled on board or crews jumping ship. Labor will support the International Maritime Organisation in the development of seafarer identification cards and other measures to ensure world-class maritime security.

Leading the world

One world wide processing system

Labor will seek to lead the world in finding new answers to the global issue posed by displaced people, asylum seekers and refugees. Currently, the global debate is focussed on dealing with the problem of secondary movement of asylum seekers from countries of first asylum. Asylum seekers move from countries of first asylum because there is inadequate care and protection for them in such countries, or they are unable to access processing for resettlement, or they believe that they will have a better chance of getting a resettlement place in a developed country by going there.

The problem of mass secondary people movement is jeopardising the future existence of the Refugee Convention and is compromising the ability of developed nations to manage their borders.

Labor will seek to resolve the global problem of secondary movement by having the world adopt one processing system for refugee claims. If there was one world wide processing system this would be the ultimate deterrence to people smuggling and forward movement. Why pay a people smuggler to get you to a developed nation if, when you get there, you have no better chance of your claim being accepted?

From a humanitarian and equity point of view, such a system also ensures that the most disadvantaged people waiting in refugee camps have exactly the same chance of being resettled as an asylum seeker who arrives in a developed country.

Clearly, this is a major change to the way in which the world’s system for handling refugees currently works. However, major change is required. For the change to work, developed nations would need to better resource UNHCR to enable it to provide more solutions via repatriation, reintegration or resettlement for refugees. Developed nations would need to be prepared to resettle refugees with genuine claims and those nations which do not take refugees in this way would have to be prepared to pick up a fair share of the global burden.

The developed world would also have to be prepared to address the reasons people are forced to move, such as poverty, natural disaster and conflict, and better assist countries of first asylum so that people do not have to keep moving to receive reasonable care and protection.

Labor will lead by example. Labor will assist countries of first asylum with aid as part of a scheme of arrangements to facilitate return to such countries of secondary movers. Labor will increase general funding to UNHCR to $25 million per annum to assist with better meeting humanitarian needs and access to processing in refugee camps worldwide. Labor will boost aid to source countries to address issues that cause people to move such as poverty and natural disasters.

International agreements with pipeline countries

While Labor is seeking to lead the international debate on a global solution, it will also focus on achieving positive change in our region.

Labor has in the past been able to develop comprehensive plans of action within our region to stop boat arrivals and facilitate returns. Labor will use a similar approach and build on the Bali summit process, particularly the initiatives to deter secondary movement.

People trafficking

People smuggling is an evil trade, and so is people trafficking. Around the world women and girls are trafficked for the purposes of prostitution or sexual slavery. Others in vulnerable positions can be trafficked and exploited as labourers.

The level of people trafficking into Australia does not appear to be high but one child or woman trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation is one too many.

To address the problem of people trafficking, Labor will broaden the role of the Ambassador for People Smuggling and mandate the Ambassador to work internationally to eradicate people trafficking.

Restoring community faith in the immigration program

A factual debate free from vilification

Unlike the Howard Government with its ‘children overboard’ conspiracy and continuous vilification of asylum seekers, Labor does not believe it is necessary to lie to protect our borders. Labor will engage in public debate that is factual and free from vilification.

Regions which want refugees

Labor aims to restore community faith in the immigration program and particularly the humanitarian program by reassuring Australia it is fair and being properly managed. In these more positive circumstances, Labor will consider increasing Australia’s humanitarian program, which under the Howard Government has fallen from over 18% of our immigration program to just over 10%. This increase will be achieved within current immigration intake numbers.

However, Labor will only increase the humanitarian program to the extent that communities in regional Australia volunteer to have refugees resettled in their community. In offering to do so regional communities will be eligible for resources that would assist them to resettle refugees as part of their community. Any increased intake of refugees will be part of Labor’s population dispersal policy designed to boost regional areas while taking the pressure off over-crowded places like the Sydney basin.

Asylum seekers in the community

While the Howard Government never talks about it, three-quarters of asylum seekers are not in detention, but are living peacefully in the community. All asylum seekers who arrive lawfully on visas and then make refugee claims are allowed to live in the community. Many Australians assist such asylum seekers voluntarily but the Howard Government never talks about their existence and largely throws the burden for their care on churches, charities, the Red Cross and the voluntary sector generally. The Red Cross is funded under the asylum seeker assistance program, established by Labor, but changes in recent years have made it less effective. Labor will consult charities, churches and the Red Cross to find a way of lifting the burden off them and getting appropriate arrangements for asylum seekers in the community.

In wilfully ignoring the existence of these asylum seekers, the Howard Government has also engaged in a number of policy failures in relation to their treatment, including ensuring proper, timely security checks and the removal from Australia of asylum seekers whose claims have failed. Labor will remedy these Howard Government policy failures.

Fast, fair and transparent processing

Removing incentives to arrive by boat

The Howard Government’s ‘Pacific Solution’ has cost more than half a billion dollars to date and is budgeted to cost more than half a billion more in the next four years.

Despite wasting more than a billion dollars and despite the Howard Government’s claims that none of these asylum seekers will set foot on Australian soil, 312 have already been resettled in Australia with more on the way. The Howard Government now says that the only reason for the ‘Pacific Solution’ is to prevent asylum seekers from gaining access to the more favourable processing system in Australia.

The ‘Pacific Solution’ is not just costly, it is a short term ad hoc strategy. Does anyone really believe Australia will be detaining asylum seekers on Nauru in 10, 20 or 50 years?

Labor will create a long term solution by dealing head-on with the processing issue the Government is indirectly addressing through its costly and unsustainable ‘Pacific Solution’. Labor will streamline the Australian processing regime to make it the same as that applying in refugee camps and will remove the reason for asylum seekers to risk their lives journeying to Australia in leaky boats.

Christmas Island

A Labor Government will designate the Christmas Island facility as the prime asylum seeker processing and detention facility. Christmas Island, Ashmore Reef and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are in the excised zone and Labor will maintain these excisions given the proximity to the Indonesian mainland.

Labor supports the Christmas Island community being treated with respect and having real responsibilities in the governance of their community. Labor will work in a co-operative way with the community and ensure that it has a real say in all matters relating to the asylum seeker processing and detention facility. Labor will ensure the community enjoys the employment, training and economic benefits associated with the facility. Labor will monitor the facility’s ongoing social, economic and environmental impacts.

On Christmas Island, Labor will process the refugee claims of asylum seekers in the same way such claims are processed in overseas refugee camps. This approach achieves equity between the refugees processed in overseas refugee camps and those who arrive unauthorised. Such processing will deter unauthorised arrivals because there is no incentive to come to Australia in leaky boats only to hit the same processing regime.

An expert committee, to be known as the Asylum Seeker Claims Processing Review Committee, will oversight the development and functioning of the processing regime.

The processing will be fast, fair and transparent, determining 90% of cases in 90 days.

Those found to be genuine refugees will be settled in Australia and those whose claims fail will be returned quickly.

Labor will also fund appropriate non-government agencies to provide case workers to work with asylum seekers to explain the process being undertaken and to manage expectations. Overseas evidence suggests that case worker support makes managing processing and detention issues easier, and facilitates achieving effective return arrangements in the case of a negative decision.

Asylum seekers found not to be refugees will be quickly sent back.

On the Australian mainland

For asylum seekers who arrive on the mainland by air or through the ports or otherwise, Labor will run a fast, fair and transparent processing system where 90% of claims will be determined within 90 days.

The Howard Government runs a three stage processing system, in which the community has no say. In addition DIMIA is not forced to process cases quickly and to make quality decisions.

Labor will speed processing by introducing a new two stage process, in which DIMIA is forced to get claims processed quickly and properly. Labor will abolish the Refugee Review Tribunal and give Australians a say in the determination of refugee claims by having a three person Refugee Status Determination Tribunal, with one legally qualified member and two members drawn from the community.

Appeals under Labor’s streamlined processing system will be strictly limited to one appeal by leave on points of law. There will only be one appeal from the RSDT decision and that would be to the Federal Magistrates Service in relation to errors of law by leave. Leave to hear the appeal will only be granted if, in the opinion of the Court, the asylum seeker has done everything reasonably in his/her power to prepare for removal if the appeal is unsuccessful.

An asylum seeker will only be able to appeal a negative Tribunal decision if he or she has fully co-operated and is ready to be removed from Australia if the appeal fails.

Asylum seekers found not to be refugees will be quickly sent back.

A Labor Government will also introduce new rules designed to discourage lawyers and migration agents acting on a fee or reward basis from encouraging applicants to make frivolous appeals. Asylum seekers on the mainland will also have case workers.

Manifestly unfounded claims

Under Labor’s new laws refugee claims which are manifestly unfounded will be placed on a special expedited decision making track by the Tribunal and disposed of quickly.

Under the Howard Government’s system, people from countries like Canada and Sweden have made refugee claims and these claims have taken almost a year to resolve. Labor’s system will dispose of such manifestly unfounded claims within a week.

Compelling humanitarian claims to stay

Under the Howard Government’s system an asylum seeker whose claim has been rejected may apply to the Minister for Immigration to be allowed to stay on the basis their case raises unique or exceptional circumstances.

Currently, there is no transparency about how Ministerial discretion is used and there have been allegations in the past of political bias in its exercise.

Labor will make the process transparent and ensure independent expert advice is obtained. Labor will refer each claim to the Asylum Seeker Claims Processing Review Committee for advice and will publish any recommendations by the Committee that an asylum seeker’s case raises unique or exceptional circumstances.

Monitoring returnees

The ultimate test of a processing system is whether it works, so that Australia helps those who have a genuine need and Australia returns overseas those who have no claim to stay and who do not face persecution or potential human rights violations.

Labor is prepared to put its processing system to the ultimate test by working through our embassies overseas and through appropriate NGOs such as the Red Cross to monitor returned failed asylum seekers.

Mandatory Detention to stay but be made humane

Administrative mandatory detention not punitive detention

Labor introduced mandatory detention. It did so to ensure that Australia was protected from any health and security risks, to enable claims to be processed as quickly as possible and to ensure failed claimants could be removed from Australia. Mandatory detention was a part of dealing properly and quickly with refugee claims.

Under the Howard Government, the detention system has degenerated into a system of punishment. Indeed, Australian courts are now starting to order the release of individual detainees because the Howard Government has crossed the line from proper administrative detention to punitive detention.

Labor will keep mandatory detention for the proper purposes of protecting Australia from health and security risks and to ensure refugee claims can be dealt with efficiently and failed claimants removed. Under Labor the system of mandatory detention will be humane, not a system of punishment.

The following commitments have already been made by Labor and will be implemented by Labor:

  • Children will be removed from behind the razor wire;
  • Woomera will be closed;
  • Management of detention centres will be returned to the public sector;
  • Health services in detention centres will be provided by independent medical professionals who will be free to speak out on issues; and
  • Media access to detention centres will be permitted subject to agreed protocols.

Labor will also implement the following changes.

Better health checks

In May 2002, the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia set down national vaccination guidelines but the Howard Government does not comply with these guidelines in detention centres. The only reason given is cost.

Ensuring Australians are not exposed to communicable diseases and that disease does not spread through detention centres is too important for penny pinching. Labor will comply with the national vaccination guidelines.

Better security checks

For most of the term of the Howard Government, ASIO security checking was only begun on asylum seekers at the point DIMIA determined them to be a refugee. The system has been changed, but ASIO security checking still does not begin from the moment an asylum seeker arrives. These and DIMIA character checks can take time and as a result genuine refugees have been unnecessarily held in further detention.

Labor will implement a better system. Security and character checking will be done at the same time as claims processing. Even for those whose claims ultimately fail, it is important to our national security that we know what sort of risk, if any, they represent. For those with genuine claims, it will mean they are not detained longer than necessary.

Labor will ensure ASIO has sufficient resources to do quality security checks in a timely fashion and that DIMIA character checking is streamlined as part of the new, more efficient processing system.

Freeing the children

Under Labor any unaccompanied children under 14 will be placed in the care of foster families after health checking is completed. Unaccompanied youths between 14 and 18 will be released into appropriate community care arrangements following health checking.

A focus of community concern about the current system of detention has centred on the plight of unaccompanied children. Labor’s new mandatory detention model addresses these issues.

However, concern has also been expressed about the contradiction inherent in the Minister for Immigration being the legal guardian of unaccompanied minors at the same time as being the Minister responsible for their detention and processing of their claims.

Under Labor’s new mandatory detention model such children will not be detained. But to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest or any political interference, Labor will make its proposed Children’s Commissioner the legal guardian of unaccompanied children who arrive unauthorised.

Christmas Island processing and detention facility

As noted above, Labor will designate the Christmas Island facility as the prime asylum seeker processing and detention facility. By the time of the next election, Christmas Island will be home to the only large purpose built detention facility in Australia. Labor will modify it as necessary to meet the needs of family groups. Asylum seekers will be initially housed in that facility. As detailed below, asylum seekers with claims of merit and who present no risks will be allowed to move to supervised hostel accommodation. Such accommodation will be developed on Christmas Island.

As noted above, Labor will consult and work with the Christmas Island community to ensure that the community enjoys the economic benefits that flow from the detention centre and associated hostel accommodation.

Mainland Australia processing and detention facilities

Immigration detention facilities are needed for persons other than asylum seekers. For example, visa overstayers, visa breachers and criminal deportees are detained pending removal. Labor will detain these people in the Villawood, Maribyrnong and Perth detention facilities.

In the case of any asylum seekers who arrive unauthorised on mainland Australia by plane, by stowing away or in the case of any boats that evade detection, Baxter will be the principal detention facility. Port Hedland will also be kept in service if numbers require.

Detention models

Labor will operate two styles of detention facilities: high security detention and supervised hostels.

  • High security detention

Under Labor, high security detention will be used on initial arrival for unauthorised arrivals other than unaccompanied children.

Such persons will remain in high security detention for the purposes of health, identity and ASIO security checking and for the purposes of enabling one major interview to be conducted in relation to the merits of an asylum seeker’s claim.

On the basis of that one major interview, an assessment will be made of whether the asylum seeker has a refugee claim of merit.

Those assessed as not having a claim of merit will be required to remain in high security detention. For family groups with children, such high security detention facilities will be based on the Alternate Detention Trial at Woomera and will consist of a number of ordinary style homes, secured at the perimeter and with a 24 hour a day security presence.

Children resident in such high security detention facilities will be permitted to attend ordinary schools.

  • Supervised hostels in regional communities which volunteer to host them

Asylum seekers initially assessed as having a claim of merit and who have been security cleared by ASIO and passed health checks will be transferred to a supervised hostel. Such a hostel will be located on Christmas Island. If asylum seeker numbers are such that hostels are required on mainland Australia, any hostels required will be located in regional communities that have volunteered to host them.

A supervised hostel will be an open facility with unit style accommodation for asylum seekers. Some units will be appropriate for family groups and others for single asylum seekers.

Labor will ensure that the jobs and economic activity created by the supervised hostel will benefit the local community.

In assessing appropriate regional locations for supervised hostels, Labor will endeavour to identify areas with labour shortages, particularly shortages of agricultural labour and the like.

Asylum seekers will be permitted to leave the supervised hostel during the day but will be required not to leave before a specified time in the morning and to return by a specified time in the evening. There will be supervisors at the hostel at all times. Any asylum seeker who fails to return to the supervised hostel on time or who otherwise disrupts the hostel or breaches its rules will be immediately returned to high security detention.

Asylum seekers will be permitted to work and if working will be responsible for meeting their day to day living costs. Asylum seekers unable to secure work will receive the equivalent of special benefit and will be responsible for meeting their day to day living costs from that payment.

Children resident at supervised hostels will attend local schools. Adults in supervised hostels will be given training to assist with the transition to living inAustralia, including English language training.

Monitoring detention conditions

Labor will appoint an Inspector-General of Detention, an independent statutory office holder, who will hear and resolve complaints from detainees about detention conditions. The Inspector-General will also be able to inquire into broader problems on his or her own motion. The Minister for Immigration may require the Inspector-General to inquire into and report on an issue of concern. The Inspector-General will be supported and advised by the Immigration Detention Advisory Group.

Review of detention

Labor will ensure that detention is subject to public review. A review of detention will be triggered if an asylum seeker is in detention for more than 90 days.

The Asylum Seeker Claims Processing Review Committee will review any case where an asylum seeker has been kept in detention for more than 90 days. Such a review must be completed within 30 days. This review process will also apply to asylum seekers detained on Christmas Island.

The Committee’s recommendations in respect of the future handling of each individual case will be made public and laid before Parliament. If the Minister for Immigration does not accept the Committee’s recommendations, the Minister will be required to explain the failure to do so to Parliament. If an asylum seeker continues to be detained after the Committee’s review of the case, the asylum seeker’s detention will continue to be reviewed by the Committee on a monthly basis.

Visa conditions for genuine refugees

Until recently, those who arrived in Australia by boat and who were genuine refugees were given Permanent Protection Visas and could apply for family reunion and ultimately citizenship.

In 1999, this was changed and a temporary protection visa (TPV) was introduced. TPVs, as well as being time limited, do not allow the holder to have any form of family reunion, to access the Job Network or to access English language classes. Under the 1999 legislation, if, at the end of the TPV, the person is found to still be a refugee, then they will be entitled to a Permanent Protection Visa. In 2001, the law changed again so that some people are now only ever entitled to rolling TPVs and, while they may be in Australia for the rest of their lives, will never be entitled to family reunion.

Labor was prepared to support TPVs on the basis that it was a way of deterring people from seeking to move from countries of first asylum, becoming involved with people smugglers, risking their lives at sea and arriving unauthorised.

However, it appears that TPVs are having the reverse effect and are encouraging people smuggling and unauthorised arrivals. Specifically, the family of people who will never have family reunion rights are now seeking to arrive unauthorised because it is the only way of effecting family reunion.

Labor will address this situation and seek to deter people smuggling and unauthorised arrivals by:

  • Keeping a short term TPV for asylum seekers who have used people smugglers and arrived unauthorised;
  • At the expiration of the short term TPV, assessing whether circumstances have significantly changed in the country of origin;
  • Granting permanent protection visas if the circumstances have not changed as the TPV holder is still a genuine refugee;
  • Fully reassessing claims if circumstances have changed; and
  • Giving priority to family reunion applications from those who have settled in the regions of Australia designated as in need of population and with labour shortages.

To facilitate a rapid and successful transition into the Australian community, Labor will allow TPV holders to access settlement services including English language training and the Job Network.

Staying in front

To ensure that Australia leads the world on these issues, Government needs on-going access to the best possible expert advice. Labor will create an expert advisory council on asylum seeker and refugee issues.

Co-chaired by the Ministers for Population & Immigration and Foreign Affairs, the Council will include experts in refugee issues and security issues, peak agencies and eminent Australians. The Council will advise on policy responses to emerging issues, aid priorities, refugee intake, settlement, claims processing and detention.


Labor’s policy will be fully costed by the next election, however it is anticipated that all new commitments can be met from existing Budget outlays, including savings from ending the ‘Pacific Solution’.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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