Despite another asylum seeker boat tragedy off Christmas Island today, Tony Abbott continues to offer Nauru as the solution and reject other options. John Menadue from the Centre for Policy Development, however, says re-opening Nauru is not the solution — and gives facts, rather than rhetoric, to explain why.
One-liners derived from focus groups and dog-whistling don’t add up to an acceptable refugee policy. But that is what the Coalition offers:
‘Stop the boats … turn them back to Indonesia … take the boat people to Nauru’.
It is important to examine carefully the so-called Pacific solution that Tony Abbott gives us as one-liners. The cost of Nauru in the 2000s was extremely high, both for the people imprisoned and the taxpayer, with minimal benefits to Australia. It cannot be part of a regional arrangement. In any event, Nauru and the Pacific Solution cannot be repeated. That is the clear view of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and all agencies advising the government in this area.
Consider the following:
- The total number of asylum seekers declined after the peak in 2001. This occurred not just for Australia but for all major refugee receiving countries. As the Secretary of DIAC told the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee of the Senate of 17 October 2001, page 29, ‘Given the events of September 11  and its aftermath, there was a significant return of over two million refugees to Afghanistan’. This process of refugees returning to Afghanistan was assisted by peacekeepers in Afghanistan in 2002. Not surprisingly the refugee flows to Australia fell considerably after 2001.
- If we compare the flow of asylum seekers to OECD countries and Australia in the years 2000 to 2009, it is quite clear that, with a few leads and lags, the flows of asylum seekers to Australia followed very closely those to other OECD countries.
Sources: UNHCR Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries (2005-2010), UNHCR Statistical Online Database (Asylum seekers originating from, 2001-2004), UNHCR Statistical Yearbook (2004).