Time for Australia to open the front door and welcome more refugees | OPINION

Australia’s hardcore asylum-seeker policy is inhumane and unsustainable.

Those hoping the Abbott government or Labor opposition will overturn the policy of offshore processing and settlement any time soon are dreaming.

The public mood and brutal effectiveness of the policy means that the Prime Minister Tony Abbott is on a political winner.

And Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is not going to repeat the mistakes of Kevin Rudd in 2008 by reinstating onshore processing.

As for the Greens, they have a policy position that is long on righteousness but fails the first practical test.

It will not stop the boats and will only add to the 1000 deaths at sea since 2008.

So, what should policy makers do next?

I believe there are significant steps that can win bipartisan support that offer a more humane and sustainable policy, starting with an increase in Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake.

With Operation Sovereign Borders having locked the so-called back door into Australia for asylum seekers, it is time for Australia to open the “front door” and allow the orderly settlement of more refugees.

Having stopped the “queue jumpers” with the world’s harshest asylum-seeker laws, it is time for a humanitarian gesture to help the unfortunate souls waiting in the queue for resettlement under a United Nations mandate.

Australia has a good record on resettling refugees and a defensible record among developed nations for recognising and giving protection to asylum seekers.

In 2012, Australia gave refugee protection to 8367 asylum seekers and resettled 5937 refugees.

The scale of the global problem, and our strong economy and large land mass, means that Australia could do more.

Given the severity of our policies, we should do much more.

Instead, the Coalition has cut Australia’s annual humanitarian intake from 20,000 to 13,750.

When the policy was announced in 2012, Abbott argued providing extra places was sending the “wrong message” to people smugglers.

Well, the message is now out that the people smugglers no longer have a product to sell, and that you cannot get to Australia by getting on a boat.

Month-to-month figures, compared with previous years, indicate that the boats have stopped.

Against this backdrop, Australia should double its humanitarian intake to at least 27,000.

Angus Houston’s panel in 2012 recommended an intake of 20,000, and subject to economic circumstances and more effective regional arrangements, it advised this could increase to 27,000.

Even the most hard-nosed Coalition MPs know Australia’s international reputation is being hammered by current policies, and this reduces our ability to achieve other strategic security and economic objectives.

The second achievable reform is to establish proper processes and oversight of the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

Operational improvements and sensible transparency and reporting arrangements should receive bipartisan support — both sides claim offshore settlement is the crucial deterrent to boats, not the conditions of the camps.

The third step is the pursuit of a “regional solution”, the only realistic path to the closure of Manus Island and Nauru camps and a durable asylum-seeker policy.

That would involve processing facilities in Indonesia and its neighbours.

If Australia is prepared to accept more refugees it is also entitled to ask Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and others to introduce stricter immigration policies, to screen “onward bound” travellers.

It would also be a prudent budget move, given the policy is costing Australia $3 billion a year.

Nicholas Reece, a public policy fellow at Melbourne University, was a senior policy adviser to prime minister Julia Gillard.

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