Let them out before they escape!

Retired diplomat Bruce Haigh has a valid point when he refers to Gillard government threats to refuse to issue visas on “character grounds” to Christmas Island asylum seeker rioters as “revengeful”.  More accurately it’s cynical playing to the populist gallery on a par with Tony Abbott’s deplorably low standards on most things.

As I understand it, most of these rioters have already been found to be genuine refugees (i.e. people who face real risks of persecution or even death if returned to their homelands) but continue to be kept in detention on Christmas island while ASIO goes through a leisurely process of considering security clearances.  Some of them have been waiting 18 months since being found to be real refugees.  Going bananas, especially given the overcrowded conditions, is hardly surprising in the circumstances.

Why can’t they begin the ASIO assessments as soon as an application for protection visa is made, instead of waiting until applicants have been found to be refugees?  After all, more than 50% of boat arriving asylum seekers are found to be refugees, so it surely makes sense to commence ASIO assessments for all arrivals immediately.  That way the security clearance process would be completed at roughly the same time as the primary refugee assessment, and we wouldn’t then be deliberately inflicting surplus punishment on already traumatised people who we know to be real refugees not just “queue-jumping” economic migrants.

It brings back into sharp focus my previous suggestion that it’s time to seriously consider abolishing universal mandatory detention of boat-arriving asylum seekers.  The current policy isn’t succeeding in creating an impression of resolute toughness either with the asylum seekers or the aspirational voters at whom it is mostly aimed.  All it does is create a convenient focus for endless negative news stories including action TV footage.  As I’ve previously argued, abolishing mandatory detention and accommodating applicants in the community while they’re being processed may paradoxically make the asylum seeker issue less damaging politically for the Labor government.  It’s hard to imagine it would make it a bigger negative than it already is.  Boat-arriving asylum seekers may become as effectively invisible and uncontroversial as their air-arriving counterparts. No doubt some will take the opportunity to do a bunk but that’s also true of the air arrivals and for that matter a much larger cohort of Caucasian visitors overstaying their tourist or student visas, and absconding can be minimised by the use of electronic tracking bracelets and other measures.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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14 Responses to Let them out before they escape!

  1. Patrick says:

    Bracelets do appear to be a sensible solution. Certainly they would have to be cheaper. But I’m also pretty sure it would increase arrivals even above the levels under the current lame policy.

    I know that if I had a choice between waiting in an Afghan/Somali/et al camp or waiting here with a bracelet…..

  2. Paul Frijters says:


    yes, the situation at Christmas Island is deplorable. I can only imagine that the politicians must truly believe that the weight of public opinion in Australia would frown on any measure that could be twisted to appear ‘weak on asylum’.

  3. conrad says:

    “I can only imagine that the politicians must truly believe that the weight of public opinion in Australia”
    Or, I can only hope, the weight of marginal voters, not necessarily representative of everyone.

  4. paul walter says:

    Bowens performance on teev on this was again substandard, Ally Moore cut him to bits on Latteline, last night

  5. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I agree with you Ken. Is there a nice pithy folk saying to encapsulate this piece of economic jargon – hugging the local optimum they miss the global optimum?

    Anyway, because the Opposition is so successful at keeping it in the news, the ALP thinks it can’t be seen to weaken. But that means they’d take some pain early and then it would be less of an issue.

    All a big disaster really – in lots more important ways than politically, but politically also.

  6. Patrick says:

    But that means they’d take some pain early and then it would be less of an issue

    I don’t understand why this is not the no 1 strategy in most political playbooks, really.

    In this particular case, however, I do think you are all suckers for thinking that Labor are doing this despite themselves.

  7. wizofaus says:

    Indeed, I’d humbly suggest if the ALP is able to bite the bullet with the carbon tax AND decide to end mandatory detention, they’d win back far more Greens voters than voters they might have lost by not appearing tough on asylum seekers. Of course, this might not make much difference to their two-party preferred vote, but I’m sure they’d love to have Adam Bandt’s seat back.

  8. Pingback: The brutalizing of Australia « No Place For Sheep

  9. Incurious and Unread (aka Dave) says:

    “hugging the local optimum they miss the global optimum”

    Stuck in a rut.

  10. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks Patrick,

    But can I get you to expand on your comment “In this particular case, however, I do think you are all suckers for thinking that Labor are doing this despite themselves.”

    Are you suggesting the ALP Government really likes doing what it’s doing?

    Dave, Yes ‘stuck in a rut’ is kind of right, but it also conjures up being routine bound. I was thinking of ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ but that comes with an information implication which I’m not really trying to focus on. Tricky isn’t it?

  11. stephen says:


    if you try to cook a perfect sausage you’ll burn all the steaks?

  12. Patrick says:

    I don’t think they ‘like’ what they are doing, necessarily. But I think that a substantial chunk of the party thinks that they are doing the right thing, overall, in terms of ‘protecting’ Australia and doing something about queue-jumpers and whatnot, and not just the politically expedient thing.

    They might think, for example, that in a perfect world they would love unfettered immigration, but that in this fallen world they are making do with the imperfections of the world as best they can.

  13. billie says:

    I do not know why a prison was built on Christmas Island. Travel time by air from Christmas Island to Perth is further than Perth to Melbourne. If the refugees can swim to Australia we should put them in our Olympic swim team.

    The prison contructed by Serco, use of guards sub-contracted through Serco and extended detention time contributes greatly to the $10 billion profit UK-owned Serco extracts from its Australian operations.

    The cheap option is to release the refugees into the community, its humane and just also.

  14. Mel says:

    In the good old days, real leaders like Vlad the Impaler new how to discourage unwanted guests. Hopefully To-ny! To-ny! will ditch the witch then follow Vlad’s example.

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