Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 18:00 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 18:00 | SYDNEY

Boat arrivals: The answer is offshore


Andrew Carr


7 March 2011 15:04

While it will take time for Julia Gillard's foreign policy approach to reveal itself, one area of clear difference between her and Rudd is people smuggling.

Gillard has rejected the popular approach of high-visibility domestic solutions. Deploying the navy to stop the boats, changing visa arrangements and mandatory detention all fall into this category. These policies are intended to send 'a clear signal' to would-be people smugglers, and play well with much of the public. But given the desperation of people seeking asylum, the Government's persuasive powers are limited.

Instead, Gillard's focus has been offshore, seeking to persuade leaders in the Asia Pacific that people smuggling is a regional problem requiring a regional response. Thus her proposal for a regional processing centre, and efforts at persuasion; both multilaterally (adding the issue to the final communique of the East Asia Summit) and bilaterally, such as last week with Malaysia's Najib Razak.

This is a less visible approach, but if Australia is ever going to 'solve' the problem of people smuggling long term, the answer has to involve regional co-operation on managing the flow, movement and settlement of legitimate asylum seekers. 

It is noteworthy that the foreign ministers of Indonesia and East Timor have endorsed a regional approach for dealing with people smugglers. This doesn't imply that Gillard's regional processing centre is likely to be endorsed. Australian hopes for a regional view of the problem have been dashed before; 2002 saw a swell of support after the Bali Summit, but soon faded. But, the only way unauthorised boats will ever stop regularly arriving on Australian shores (save world peace) involves regional cooperation. Gillard might not be that interested in foreign policy, but her instincts are right.

BTW, I'd recommend Dr Khalid Koser's paper for the Lowy Institute on future policy options for how Australia handles boat arrivals.

Photo by Flickr user gappa01.