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Why we need a new policy on refugees

By Petro Georgiou - posted Tuesday, 31 May 2005

For many years I have been concerned about difficulties experienced by some refugees and asylum seekers, which result from policies implemented at a time of widespread anxiety that we might be engulfed by a flood of bogus asylum seekers. That fear has not been realised. It's time to review the policy framework established under different circumstances and adopt a more compassionate, transparent and accountable approach while maintaining the integrity of our immigration and refugee system.

Unauthorised boat arrivals have all but ceased and the great majority of asylum seekers who came by boat were found to be genuine refugees. Regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq has seen the halt of major flows of people from two main source countries of unauthorised arrivals to Australia.

Within the region, the activities of people smugglers have been curtailed.


In recent years, the Government has acknowledged the need for flexibility in asylum and refugee policies. Nonetheless, while the perceived crisis has long since passed, asylum seekers continue to be detained for lengthy and even indefinite periods. They include women and children.

Asylum seekers continue to be detained for periods longer than prison sentences imposed on violent criminals, and may be detained indefinitely. More than 300 people have been in immigration detention for more than a year, and about 80 of them have been held for more than four years. Many of those who have been detained for such long periods have subsequently been found to be bona fide refugees.

There is no independent scrutiny of whether it is necessary to keep people detained for lengthy or indefinite periods to protect the community or to prevent them absconding.

The harmful effects of long-term detention on detainees' mental and physical health have been documented by health experts, and the Federal Court recently found that the Government failed in its duty of care to provide adequate services to psychiatrically ill long-term detainees at the Baxter detention centre.

People on temporary protection visas have been welcomed and integrated by Australian communities, and are making significant contributions. Many holders of temporary protection visas continue to live in anxiety and fear of being returned to places of great insecurity.

It is clear that additional measures are necessary to ensure that the system is compassionate, fair, accountable and subject to independent scrutiny. I am proposing two private member's bills to achieve these aims, while maintaining the integrity of Australia's immigration and refugee system.


The first bill contains compassionate measures to alleviate the plight of individuals who are suffering under the current system. The main elements are:

Asylum seekers who have been detained for more than a year will be released until their status is resolved, unless a judge who has examined their case decides that they should continue to be detained because they are dangerous or are likely to abscond.

Children under 18 and their immediate families will be released from detention immediately pending determination of their applications unless a judicial officer finds that they pose a danger to the public or are likely to abscond.

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First published in The Age on May 26, 2005.

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About the Author

Petro Georgiou is the Liberal Member for the Federal seat of Kooyong (Vic).

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