Julia Gillard revives plans to deport Australia's boat refugees

The Prime Minister wants to make the 'Pacific Solution' even tougher

Sydney

One of the Australian Labor Party's first acts on coming to power in 2007 was to scrap the reviled "Pacific Solution" which saw asylum-seekers sent to remote island nations for processing. Julia Gillard described the policy as "costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle".

Five years on, Prime Minister Gillard is planning to resurrect the Pacific Solution – and make it even tougher. Asylum-seekers assessed as genuine refugees will have to spend years in detention camps – on the impoverished Pacific island of Nauru, or in Papua New Guinea – waiting to be resettled. And their families will no longer be allowed to be join them.

Labor's dramatic backflip has been prompted by a record number of people arriving in leaky boats – more than 7,500 so far this year – and the prospect of an election before the end of 2013. Hardline refugee policies play well with Middle Australia, as the former conservative prime minister John Howard, architect of the Pacific Solution, discovered.

Ms Gillard has managed to save face, to some degree, by offloading responsibility on to an "expert panel" which delivered its report yesterday. The panel, led by the former head of the defence force, Angus Houston, called for mothballed detention centres on Nauru and the Papua New Guinean island of Manus to be reopened immediately.

The panel was appointed six weeks ago in an effort to break a political deadlock, and following the deaths of more than 90 asylum-seekers at sea. Mr Houston said that in the light of the drownings – more than 600 people have died attempting the perilous voyage across the Indian Ocean since late 2009 – "urgent and decisive action" was needed. But human rights and refugee groups were horrified by the prospect of a return to the "bad old days" of detaining people on Nauru and Manus, where asylum-seekers – many already traumatised by torture and persecution at home – languished for years under the Howard government. Some of those detainees went on hunger strikes or attempted suicide; many suffered lasting mental health problems.

Amnesty International's refugee spokesman, Dr Graham Thom, said it was "shocking to see the panel favour punitive measures that deliberately hold vulnerable people hostage, separate families and leave them in limbo".

A leading refugee lawyer, David Manne, told Sky News that the measures amounted to "sweeping the dangers from our doorstep to doorsteps elsewhere", and he questioned whether they would be an effective deterrent.

Mr Houston said the panel was guided by the belief that asylum-seekers who sailed to Australia, rather than waiting in overseas refugee camps, should not gain an advantage. Hence its recommendation that the former should have to wait years to be resettled, even if their refugee claims were genuine.

The government – which accepted all 22 recommendations, including an increase in Australia's annual refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 – plans to introduce legislation today enabling the Pacific detention centres to be reopened. Ms Gillard said she was prepared to compromise "in order to get things done".

Her proposal to send boat people to Malaysia, in exchange for Australia accepting refugees waiting there to be resettled, may be revived later on.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen for a Customer ...

Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

Recruitment Genius: Fundraising Manager / Income Generation Coach

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A smart software company locate...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project