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Refugees and the Houston Report

By Alan Austin - posted Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Could this signal a return to bipartisanship on refugees in Australia? Will Australia now resume pulling its weight in the international community?

The Houston report to the Gillard Government on asylum seekers released on Monday has upset virtually all combatants in the current political brawl. But it just might work.

It rejects the Government's arrangements within the region. The Malaysia solution 'needs to be built on further'.


It disputes Opposition leader Tony Abbott's assertion that refugee boats can safely be turned back to Indonesia.

It offends Greens leader Christine Milne who claims the report advocates a return to 'the bad old days of offshore processing'.

It disappoints refugee support groups by recommending removal of family reunion concessions for arrivals by boat.

And it criticises the role of the High Court. 'Currently, scheduled and prospective involuntary removals are impeded by an impending High Court decision raising issues of procedural fairness ...'

Authors are former chief of Australia's defence force Angus Houston, National Security College director Michael L'Estrange and refugee advocate Paris Aristotle. They made 22 recommendations in a thorough 162-page report.

Key proposals are: that Australia increases dramatically its refugee intake; and recommences processing boat people on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.


Although not endorsing any current political position, it does provide a detailed plan. Importantly, it affirms critical realities often lost in the ideological argy-bargy in Parliament, on the hustings and in the media.

First and foremost, the situation is dire. Since 2001, 964 asylum seekers and crew have been lost at sea seeking Australia. 'To do nothing is unacceptable,' panel chief Angus Houston said.

The second is that the problem is partly one of Australia's own making. Australia has contributed to the destabilisation of several countries through its support for US efforts to secure Middle East oil through destructive invasions.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in Nīmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Television’s religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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