Human Rights in Ireland welcomes this guest post from Siobhan Drislane. Siobhan previously worked in the Law Reform Commission and is currently based in Western Australia. She is a graduate of University College Cork (BCL and LLM). Siobhan is currently based in western Australian, working as a Project Coordinator in the non for profit sector.
With just days to go until the Australian General Election on 7th September 2013, discussion of the big issues and policies are of course now well underway. One of these major issues is that of illegal maritime arrivals (IMA’s), or more colloquially known as “boat people” arrivals.
The term “boat people” is concerning in itself as it tends to dehumanise the individuals it relates to, as well as their plights. By focusing on the vessel and the method of arrival to Australian waters the term effectively fails to acknowledge individuals as asylum seekers in need of assistance. Nonetheless, the phrase is well-established, used by Government, politicians, media and the general population alike and is used and understood to be a descriptive term rather than an offensive one. The Parliament of Australia explains that the term originated in the 1970’s in relation to people seeking asylum arriving by from Vietnam following the Vietnam war.
The following decades, and most notably from 1999 to the present time, have seen fluctuations in the number of boat arrivals carrying asylum seekers. 1999, 2000 and 2001 inclusive saw peaks of 3,721, 2,938 and 5,526 of IMA’s respectively. The period from 2002 – 2008 inclusive saw numbers of IMA’s less than 200, and sometimes even less than 100, in a given year. Subsequent to this numbers have steadily increased – with 2,850 arrivals in 2009, 6,850 in 2010, 4,733 in 2011 and 7,120 up to the 31st July 2012. Three factors relative to these variations include world events (such as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), Government policies and, perhaps more recently identified as a real factor, the role of people smugglers who charge individuals large sums of money to carry them to Australia with the promise of starting a new life there.
As the election approaches political policy on the issue of asylum seekers arriving by boat is a hot topic. Both the Labour Party, who sit as current Government (and have done since December 2007), and the opposition Liberal Party have taken a strong stance on the issue in setting out their policies for the electorate. To a certain extent both could also be accused of using the ‘boat people’ as pawns in their election campaigns. But before commenting on the current campaign positions, let us first briefly note past policies which have existed throughout the period from 1999 to 2013.
John Howard sat as Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party from March 1996 to December 2007. The Howard Government took a strict position on the issue of illegal maritime arrivals, and this is notably reflected in the low number of arrivals from 2001 to 2007. The Howard Government continued to support the mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals policy which had been established by the Keating Government in 1992 (prior to 1992 detention of authorised arrivals was a matter of discretion under the Migration Act 1958); Continue reading “Political Responses to Asylum Seekers and the Australian General Election”