Trends in Coalition asylum seeker policy and global/regional refugee movements

I had an article published in the main Crikey e-newsletter today, outlining some of the trends, facts and government responses to the well over 40 million refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced and stateless people around the world.

It seems likely the issue of asylum seeker boat arrivals will once again be moving closer to the political centre stage in Australia, even though these currently number less than 1000 out of those 40 000 000 plus people.

Media commentary about Tony Abbott having reaffirmed his political ‘heavy hitter’ credentials during the recent ‘ute-gate’ stoush is being intertwined with suggestions he might be shifted to the shadow Immigration portfolio.  Understandably, this is one area the Coalition thinks they could score some political points off the government, given the political gains they made exploiting the issue in the years leading up to 2001 and beyond. Quite a few of the dynamics on this issue have changed since then, but given their current political difficulties, it might be tempting for the Coalition to be tempted to take the low road again.

I’ve previously pointed out that Petro Georgiou would have made an excellent shadow Immigration Minister, as he has more extensive knowledge and understanding of this area than pretty much anyone else in the Parliament, with the possible exception of Philip Ruddock.  But Mr Georgiou has since announced he will not recontest at the next election, so that option is now out.

Current shadow Minister Sharman Stone has had a mixed performance to date, but I don’t envy her having to not only get on top of a detailed and complex area of policy, but also having to navigate the much more tricky matter of the deep politcial differences within the Coalition parties in this area. I don’t see much benefit in shifting her just so someone else has to start all over again in getting up to speed in this difficult field.

It will be an interesting test of Mr Turnbull’s leadership to see what he does in this area – not so much because immigration is a potential political point-scorer issue for him, but because it is an area of policy which is crucial for Australia economically, socially and culturally, as well as being pivotal in how the Australia of the future sees its place in the world. Australia has suffered from a lack of attention to general policy and administration in the immigration area the past decade because of an excessive focus on asylum seekers and political point-scoring. The last thing our country needs is a return to that approach (and refugees & asylum seekers could do without it too).

(please leave any comments over at the site of the Crikey article)