Australia must review asylum policies: expert

15 May 2015

We only take 13,750. It's an insignificant number. For ANU that would be the per capita equivalent of taking on 10 additional students, you wouldn't even notice them.

A leading International Relations expert has called for major reform of Australia's asylum seeker policies saying the nation leads the world in cruel and inhumane treatment of refugees.

Speaking at a public lecture, Australian National University (ANU) Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations John Minns said Australia's current refugee policies had been condemned by almost every relevant body.

"The UN High Commission for Refugees has condemned the policies, the UN Human Rights Commission has condemned the policies, and our own Human Rights Commission has condemned the policies," Associate Professor Minns said.

Australia has received strong criticism from human rights bodies for its asylum policy.

In his maiden speech, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said Australia's policy of off-shore processing was creating a chain of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries.

Associate Professor Minns said it was time for Australia to pull its weight internationally by significantly increasing the quota of asylum seekers.

"We are far from being generous. We only take 13,750. It's an insignificant number. For ANU that would be the per capita equivalent of taking on 10 additional students, you wouldn't even notice them," he said.

Associate Professor Minns believes Australian politicians should look to the past for inspiration on policy reform, citing a period between 1976 up until 1992 when substantial numbers of Indo-Chinese refugees were resettled.

"We took around 100,000 between '76 and '83 and only around 2,000 of those people arrived here by boat," he said.

He also called on the re-introduction of the Fraser Government's Orderly Departure Program which from 1979 sent immigration officials to process refugees in transit countries.

"Processing in the transit countries in crucial," he said.

"If we don't do processing to give people a reasonable prospect of being resettled in Australia, then we will continue to face the problems we have today.

"We've got to start negotiations with countries in the region about the conditions asylum seekers face. 

"If we used a fraction of the resources we are using for the offshore detention program, which according to the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce was $3.29 billion, it would improve the lives of these people enormously," he said.

Associate Professor Minns was a speaker at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis' Canberra Conversation Lecture Series.