A 2019 Australian Federal Election Policy Guide



















More than a decade ago, then Prime Minister John Howard won an election with simple nationalist statement on Australian sovereignty in the face of ‘boat people flooding’ Australian shores,


“We will decide who will come to live in Australia and the manner in which they come”.


As former Border Protection Asylum refugee case assessment officer Shaun Hanns noted in 2018 in an article written for The Monthly, alarming things were happening during the Rudd/Gillard period of government.


Of the past 50,000 asylum seekers who made it to Australia’s shores, more than 1100 lost their lives in the attempt, a mortality rate of roughly 2.15 per cent. The highest estimation of casualties from the Syrian civil war is about 2.27 per cent of the pre-war population.


This makes the mortality rate of direct asylum-seeking to Australia roughly equivalent to seven years of the bloodiest civil war this century.


The meaning of this is straightforward. The cost in human life of the asylum-seeking route from Indonesia to Christmas Island is extraordinarily high and almost certainly higher than the risk of death asylum seekers face in their home country.


This was not a system that saved people; it was one that killed them.


The single largest policy misstep by the Labor Government was the decision in late 2011 to release asylum seekers into Australian community before determining their refugee status.


This fraught policy change encouraged people smugglers to convince people to part with around US$6000 and take the risk of drowning in the Indian Ocean.




In July 2013, the recycled, instinctively globalist, Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tried unsuccessfully to save an election by introducing arguably the toughest migration policy in Australian history.


That is, he assured the Australian public that no asylum seeker who arrived via boat would ever be resettled in Australia.


Coalition leader Tony Abbott won the election, among other things, with a strong emphasis on a promise that his government would “turn back the boats” and get Australian sovereign borders back under control.




In 2014, under the Coalition Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload (RALC) Bill, a thousand people living in onshore Australian detention centres prior to January 1st 2014 were allowed to live in the broader the Australian mainland community to apply for protection visas.


Hanns (2018) noted that according to conventional wisdom, there should have been a spike in the number of asylum seekers attempting the journey in the next year. There was not. In 2015 there were half as many asylum seekers trying to reach Australia as there were in 2014.





In November 2016, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull successfully appealed to new U.S President Donald Trump to uphold his predecessor’s promise to resettle up to 1250 refugees from Manus Island and Narau in the United States.


The US is not bound to take a set number of refugees, so the final number of people in Australia's offshore detention centres who will be resettled remained unknown.


“I can now confirm that the government has now reached a further third-party resettlement arrangement. The agreement is with the United States. It is a one-off agreement. It will not be repeated. It is only available to those currently in the regional processing centres. It will not be available to any persons seeking to reach Australia in the future”


The US resettlement would be contingent on vetting by the United States Homeland Security agency. Turnbull said that the scheme would be administered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


It would be a year before the first batch of 27 refugees from Nauru were transferred to the United States in late 2017.'





Meantime, in June 2017 [following a three year class action court case], the Coalition Government was forced to agree to a $53 million settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of 1,905 asylum seekers currently and formerly detained on Manus Island.


The suit sought damages for physical and psychological injuries and for false imprisonment. The government said that the settlement was not an admission of liability and that it strongly rejected the plaintiffs’ claims


“An anticipated six-month legal battle for this case would have cost tens of millions of dollars in legal fees alone, with an unknown outcome,”


The Department of Immigration and Border Protection said in a statement.


“In such circumstances a settlement was considered a prudent outcome for Australian taxpayers.”


In 2017, the Government also announced PNG Government was pressing ahead with the closure of the Manus Island detention centre by October 31, although an estimated 500 to 600 men remained inside.


Minister Peter Dutton noted Papua New Guinea had announced it would close and he had nothing to add other that the fact that no element of the government’s policy on offshore detention would change, and Australia would “still rely on regional processing which is why Nauru will remain in its current status forever”.


Refugees on Manus Island were being offered transfers to Nauru while they wait to hear whether they will be resettled in the United States.



In both 2017 and 2018, the Coalition rejected an offer from New Zealand to resettle people from Manus and Narau detention centres in their country on the grounds it would enable them a ‘back door entry’ into Australia and ‘start the boats again’.


From a brutal efficiency perspective, the current turn-back regime for new asylum seekers and the consequences felt by previous ‘boat people’ has appeared to be a success.


Since the start of the policy no boat has been reported as managing to avoid interception in the Indian Ocean, where the majority of people-smuggling activities have taken place.


Hanns (2018) noted that the Border Protection system in Australia now relies completely on boat turn-backs. According to figures on the Parliament of Australia website, there have been “33 turn-backs of boats carrying 810 people since the policy began in December 2013”.


The Coalition have claimed that the current turn-back regime has been a success in both preventing arrivals and deterring attempts.


With a by election about to take place in former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth, September 2018 saw refuge advocate pressures to remove them from Nauru ratcheted up when the Australian Medical Association wrote to the government citing an escalation in reports of catastrophic mental and physical health conditions being experienced by asylum seekers, especially children.


In response, the Prime Minister, now Scott Morrison, announced in October 2018 that he would ensure the removal all remaining refugee children on Manus Island and Narau to Australia before Christmas 2018.


In a media press conference less than a month later he claimed that he did not make such a promise. This issue went to sleep until the last week of Parliament when a Labor supported moved by the Greens and Independents sought to “attack offshore processing settlement of asylum seekers”, according Paul Kelly in The Australian newspaper.


According to Kelly and other Conservative scare monger approaches to the issue “ the amendments supported by Labor would appear to allow most of the 1100 adults on Nauru and Manus to come to Australia on the advice of doctors for medical treatment or assessment. …The Minister could stop a transfer based on medical advice only by invoking national security”.


Kelly also claimed, with no supporting evidence, in an Inquirer report in The Australian on December 16th that


“The Morrison Government has reduced the number of children offshore to 10, seeking to neutralise any campaign based on children”.


Where Kelly got the evidence to make this implausible claim is not provided in the article. 11 children were bought to Australia for medical treatment in October 2018, leaving 55 children on Manus Island.


There was no indication that the Government would allow these 11 children to remain in Australia permanently once their medical condition had been treated.


Moreover, neither the Prime Minister nor the Border Security Minister Peter Dutton have made any public statements about this issue since the Prime Minister’s denial of a promise to get all the children off Manus and Nauru before Christmas, a claim he later denied.


Undaunted, the Prime Minister used ‘filler-buster’ tactics to stall the bill brought to the Senate by the Greens and Independents so that there was insufficient time for the bill to be submitted to the House of Representatives on the last sitting day of Parliament for 2018.


Morrison and the Conservative minority government faced certain defeat on this bill in the House of Representatives with the support of the Greens, Labor, former Liberal Party member Julia Banks and refuge advocate Dr Kerryn Phelps.


The Prime Minister sought to build a perception of Labor becoming “weak on border security” by claiming on December 16th that the Labor Party was planning to totally “dismantle offshore processing”.


Kelly attempted to provide proof positive of the Morrison claim by associating Labor with an article in The Monthly by former Immigration and Border Protection Department official, Shaunn Hanns, who was a refugee asylum case assessment officer.


Hanns is quoted by Kelly as arguing that …refusing to resettle these people no longer serves any purpose and they should be given residency in this country” (The Australian, December 16th. Page 15).


Even if all 1100 were bought to Australia for medical ‘treatment or assessment’, there is no indication of an intent by Labor allow these 1100 people to remain in Australia permanently once their medical condition had been treated.


The Independents and the Greens certainly would want to see this outcome, however Labor has not to date adopted the same approach.


The Australian Labor Party


Pressure mounted from  Labor's left to end offshore detention ahead of party conference On December 14th, 2018, ABC reporter Jane Norman reported that the Labor 4 Refugees group was putting pressure on Victorian left-faction delegates to advocate for dismantling offshore processing, an end to boat turn-backs and an end to the decades-old practice of mandatory immigration detention, and more-than doubling of Australia's refugee intake to 50,000.


Significantly, key left faction figures Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese publicly backed the measures this week, despite their earlier opposition.


None of these radical changes emerged from the national Labor Party Conference. Mr Shorten and other senior frontbenchers had made it clear they would defy any attempt to water down the policies of offshore processing and boat turn-backs, which were narrowly adopted by the party at its 2015 national conference.


A group of MPs including Andrew Giles, Ged Kearney and Matt Keogh were working to reach a consensus on the refugee intake, enshrining the principle of medical transfers from offshore detention in the platform, and dealing with the asylum seekers whose claims were rejected under the Coalition's controversial "fast-track" assessment process.


Debate over Labor's offshore processing policy was shut down at the Victorian state meeting in March. Responding to allegations on going soft on border security and Refugees attempting to travel to Australia by boat, Mr Shorten emerged from a National Labor Party Conference in December 2018 with a familiar approach to boat turn backs and offshore processing and only minor changes to Labor policy.


If elected to government, Labor would


(1) Stick to hardline border protection policy; "We cannot, we must not, and we will not permit the reopening of their trade in human desperation and the drownings and the irreplaceable loss of life that it brings. If we are elected, Labor will offer policies that are strong, compassionate and sustainable. It means pursuing regional resettlement, turning back boats where it is safe to do so and maintaining offshore processing.


(2) Offer Better treatment of Asylum seekers and refugees “Keeping our borders secure and keeping the people smugglers out of business … has never meant leaving men, women and children to languish for years and years in indefinite detention in substandard facilities and unacceptable conditions."


(3) Rejecting the Coalition view that accepting the resettlement of refugees in New Zealand would offer a ‘back door’ into Australia and ‘start the boats again’, the Labor conference committed to accepting the New Zealand resettlement offer.


(4) Triple the number of AFP officers deployed overseas to disrupt people smuggling activities.


(5) Give the UN's refugee agency an extra $500 million over five years;


(6) Accept more refugees by increasing the Community Sponsored Refugee Scheme from 1,000 places to 5,000;


(7) Restore social services for asylum seekers waiting for their claims to be assessed and


(8) Improve the medical transfer process for sick refugees in offshore processing centres.





In December 2014, the Abbott Government introduced so called ‘fast track’ legislation in order speed up the processing of 30,781 refugee applications.


The stated goal was to finalise processing all applications by December 2018. The ‘fast-track’ legislation established Australia as an outlier in international law by


- changing the definition of how Australia defines a refugee;


- Providing unparalleled powers to the Immigration Minister;


- Removing the right to an independent review hearing and


- Introducing a merits review process independent of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).


By November 2017, the Department had made a decision on less than half of those 30,781 refugee applications. 13,269 applications were finalised with 78% granted refugee status.


More than 17,000 people were still waiting decisions on their applications.


In a December 2017 media release, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia-Paul Power said


“Of the 30,000 people who have been waiting to get an assurance of safety from the Australian Government by processing their refugee applications, more than half still remain stuck in a bureaucratic limbo. In many cases these people have been living in Australia now for more than five years, and still so many of them remain languishing in uncertainty”.


The removal of the ‘merits review process’ introduced by the Abbott Government in 2014 substantially reduced the rate of Department of Immigration and Border Protection refugee status decisions being overturned.


An anti-Muslim sentiment in the so called ‘merits review process’ became apparent when the overturning of DIBP decisions on cases for Afghan, Iraqi and Iranian nationals fell from more than 75% to 20-30% in November 2017. {Source The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) Media Releases)


In October 2018, the Refugee Council of Australia welcomed news that three federal Liberal MPs had publicly urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to bring all the refugee and asylum seeker children and their families from Nauru to Australia for urgent medical treatment.


Liberal MPs Russell Broadbent, Craig Laundy and Julia Banks urged the Prime Minister to stage a humanitarian intervention to move more than 80 children and their asylum-seeking parents from Nauru so they would not be forcibly separated.


We see this as a political turning point and hope that Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum will join the call for refugee children and their families on Nauru to be brought to Australia for medical assessment and care. In the past week, we have seen public interventions by the Australian Medical Association, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, all calling for refugee children and their families to be moved from Nauru immediately because of the deterioration in the condition of many of the children”


(Paul Power: The Refugee Council of Australia).


On November 1st, 2018 the Refugee Council of Australia welcomed reports


“that the government has taken the advice of thousands of doctors and committed to removing all children off Nauru, by the end of year”.


However RCOA spokesperson Kelly Nicholls says that the fact remains that 38 children woke up that day on Nauru


We welcome the brilliant news that these children will finally be brought to safety but they cannot wait until Christmas. The situation on Nauru is an emergency and needs to be treated as one. The government needs to stop stalling and use its power to remove all children immediately. We must not forget that these children have been in detention for five long years and there have been unanimous medical reports that many are suffering with traumatic withdrawal syndrome. The situation on Nauru is critical and children need to be brought to Australia now for urgent medical treatment,” she said.


The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) is the national peak body for refugees and the organisations and individuals who support them.


On 21 November 2018, a new report by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) and Amnesty International reminded us that there were still over 600 refugees, asylum seekers and ‘non-refugees’ as the Department of Migration and Border Security calls some of them, living on Manus Island.


No matter how we define or name these people or the accommodation they are living in, the report reminds us that these people are still living on the island.


The difference now is they are not forcibly locked away in ‘detention centres’ which have all been ostensibly ‘closed’.


In the report, Until when?,The forgotten men on Manus Island, RCOA and Amnesty International paint a stark picture of a traumatised refugee population which has been hit hard by Australia’s recent healthcare and counselling service cuts, as well as continued threats to their safety.


Claire Mallison, National Director of Amnesty International Australia stated


“Following public pressure, the Australian government has brought some child refugees from offshore detention in Nauru to Australia for medical treatment, but the situation for the men on Manus Island is just as acute”.


The new report outlines -extremely difficulty for refugees to access healthcare in PNG. One small clinic serves the 600 refugees and asylum seekers living Manus Island, as well as the local hospital which is severely understaffed, and - little protection for refugees and people seeking asylum against threats of violence. Many people fear leaving their housing or moving around alone.


Joyce Chia said: “The Australian government wants us to forget the men on Manus. They have done everything they can to suppress the truth... They are still Australia’s responsibility, and what has happened to them is still Australia’s shame.”


Source: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/media/manus-until-when/



On Dec 3 2018, the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs released a ‘Statement on the healthcare arrangements on Manus Island and Nauru’.


- The Department of Home Affairs “supports the Government of Nauru to implement regional processing arrangements”, including contracting health services to ensure that refugees, asylum seekers and non-refugees are provided with a range of health, welfare and support services.


- There were “61 contracted health professionals, including 29 mental health professionals providing services. This is a ratio of approximately one health care professional to every eight refugees, asylum seekers or non-refugees”. This November 2018 statement from the Department indicated that there were still 480 + refugees, asylum seekers and non-refugees on Nauru, and


- “All refugees, asylum seekers and non-refugees in Nauru are free to move around the island; no one is in detention”.


The Department Statement included the following information about Manus Island


- The Government’s contracted health services provider, Pacific International Hospital, delivers health care to refugees, asylum seekers and non-refugees in Manus Island, PNG, from a clinic based at the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre. After-hours healthcare is also available at the East Lorengau Hospital (the local hospital); “ Where appropriate health care isn’t available in PNG, medical transfers to a third country are considered, including to Australia. The Department has a decision-making framework to consider medical transfers which includes the advice of a Medical Officer of the Commonwealth. Transfers for medical treatment are considered on a case by case basis; “no one is denied health care” and - No refugees or asylum seekers or non-refugees in PNG are “in detention”.


Source: https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/news-subsite/Pages/2018-Dec/statement%20on%20the%20healthcare%20arrangements%20on%20manus%20island%20and%20nauru.aspx


Five days after Christmas 2018, ABC reporter Tasha Wibawa reported from the USA where the Government had agreed to resettle up to 1,200 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru.


By this time 455 refugees from those places had been resettled into the United States. 188 applications for resettlement in the USA had been rejected.


Feedback from the people she interviewed in the USA with friends and relatives still living on Manus and Nauru indicated suggested that the Australian Government is unlikely to do anything about the refugees on Manus Island who won't be resettled in the USA.


Tasha Wibawa also reminded the reader that


“Following a long and controversial shutdown, the Department of Home Affairs reported there were no longer any refugees in the Manus Island offshore detention centre and just 27 remaining in Nauru. However, these figures do not include asylum seekers on the islands who are not in the centres — some trapped in legal limbo with no rights, no visa, and no hope of a safe return to their home countries”.


On January 1st 2019, Dan Conifer reported for the ABC that the Government had shut down the Maribynong Detention Centre, with 117 residents transferred to another centre.


This announcement ended 30 years activity at the outer Melbourne site. The Coalition also announced it plans to close the Blaxland detention compound at Villawood in Sydney by mid-year.


The Government claimed that it had now closed 19 detention centres, 17 of those created by Labor when onshore detention peaked at 10,000 in 2013.


Election Implications and Campaigning


In his New Year’s Day message, the Prime Minister flagged an intention to intensify scare campaign tactics against Labor on the issue of border protection as John Howard had done when he was the Liberal Prime Minister. It worked for John Howard, why not for Mr Morrison?


"We'll keep Australians safe. We'll keep the border protection policies that actually work. No changes to any of them. You don't change what's working,"


Citing the Labor support of a crossbench push that would give refugees on Papua New Guinea and Nauru easier access to Australia's medical system, Mr Morrison said


"[Opposition Leader] Bill Shorten is a clear and present threat to Australia's safety,” without explaining how giving refugees easier access to Australia’s medical system would trigger such a threat.


With 1,250 people still in onshore detention plus another 1,000 on Manus Island and Nauru, Immigration Minister David Coleman weighed into the border protection scare campaign with this offering following the closure of the Maribynong Detention Centre


"This Government has stopped the boats, got the children out of detention, and closed the once-full immigration detention facilities. These closures reflect the Government's ongoing success in maintaining strong borders."


Source: Dan Conifer Federal Government shuts Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-02/maribyrnong-immigration-detention-centre-closes/10679310?section=politics). "




The ALP are very sensitive to allegations of being soft on border security if for no other reason that this issue won at least 2 elections for a tiring John Howard Government in the 1990s and contributed again to the victory of Tony Abbott in 2013 with  his simple 'stop the boats and carbon tax' message.


The ALP are already getting a clear indicator that Scott Morrison will go for the hat trick, a  third Conservative leader out polling Labor on border security and energy policy.  The Party leader Bill Shorten has negotiated a policy suite with the left of his party that does not feed the scare campaign on border security forthcoming. 


On the other hand, Shorten appears to be determined to take action on refugee and asylum seeker processing and to give these people resolution at last and a much more humanitarian policy approach, one he is hoping the electorate now shares with him. 


The ALP may lose some electoral votes for standing against the harsh, blunt and dispassionate approach taken by Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison to asylum seekers and refugees in the name of "border security" as a more  important priority. There is a mood for change in this space in the Australian community. This may well be the time for the ALP to test the electorates taste for significant reform.


 On Sunday January 3rd 2019 Prime Minister Scott announced that there would be no more refugee children on Narau --


"There were 109 asylum seeker children on Nauru at the end of August 2018 at the time we took on our respective roles as Prime Minister and Minister for Immigration. There are now only four asylum seeker children on Nauru and they have all been approved for departure to the United States of America with their families. Australia has one of the most generous humanitarian immigration programs in the world, but we can only do it by maintaining strong borders and insisting people come the right way. We have secured our borders, we stopped the boats and the tragic drownings at sea. And we have been supporting children compassionately without putting our strong border security at risk. We have got the balance right."


Here he was attempting to sell a story of a Coalition that had been 


-Humane towards refugees;


-generous in humanitarian immigration, one of the most generous in the world;'


-Maintained  "strong borders" , stopped the boats and "tragic drownings at sea";  and 

_"supporting children compasisonately".


The issue of children on Nauru has been a contentious one, with key crossbenchers in the House of Representatives saying they would use their balance-of-power position to push for the children to be removed.


Opposition Leader Bill Shorten welcomed the news the children would be leaving.


"I do believe if the crossbench, and the Opposition, and some of the progressive Liberals hadn't pursued this, I do wonder if the children would have been off,"


Source: ABC News Online: Last remaining asylum seeker children on Nauru to leave the island for the US, Scott Morrison confirms . 3 January 2019 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-03/nauru-last-asylum-seeker-children-to-leave-detention-pm-says/10774910?section=politics. 


Note: Im going to call that list of claims out as plain and simple spin doctor bollocks. 


The only reason the PM has suddenly becomehumane towards these refugee children is that he faced a hostile Parliament when it returns in late February and he does not want the first message coming out of Parliament to be that he is inhumane, not compassionate towards refugee children and using those children as pawns in an a hostile, ugly act of gamesmanship - trying to score points with voters on 'border security' as  Abbott had done in 2013 and Turnbull had done in 2016 . This man has no moral fibre. The next update exposes his unhinged view on refugees in spades. It is no more than a cynical attempt to use refugees as scare campaign bait to save his Government from election defeat. 

7  FEBRUARY 2019



As the battle escalates ahead of next week’s vote on legislation to facilitate medical transfers from Manus and Nauru, Scott Morrison was playing up the dangers if the bill passes while downplaying the political implications.


Morrison declared the amendments, based on a proposal from independent Kerryn Phelps, would leave the government powerless to stop the entry of a paedophile, rapist or murderer-


“It doesn’t provide for the usual arrangements which would enable us to reject someone coming to Australia because they have a criminal history. They may be a paedophile, they may be a rapist, they may be a murderer and this bill would mean that we would just have to take them".


Replying to Morrison, Dr. Kerryn Phelps said:


“The large majority of people on Manus Island and Nauru have been assessed as genuine refugees. Under the Refugee Convention, they cannot be granted that status if they have committed a serious crime, a hate crime or a war crime in their country of origin.


Morrison also raised the spectre of


“hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of single males being transferred … at the directive of doctors, not the government. This will mean we will have to reopen detention centres that we closed, like Christmas Island.”


The Prime Minister was keen to hose down talk that a government defeat on the bill could lead to an election.


“If we lose that vote next week, so be it. We won’t be going off to the polls. The election is in May. I will simply ignore it and we’ll get on with business,”.  

The government seemed firmly locked into the May election timetable and its April 2 budget that it will use to frame the poll. Political analyst Michelle Grattan’s assessment was that passage of the medical evacuation measure would not amount to a vote of no confidence which would be needed to trigger an involuntary election.


The government was lobbying crossbenchers intensively, aiming to set up an alternative to the Phelps bill - a medical panel to review transfers from Manus and Nauru.


“All that I have done is made sure that the Australian people have got an assurance about how well that [present] process works” with the Government not giving any decision-making powers over to the ‘medical panel’. That is, “ they can’t change the decisions, they can’t reverse the decisions, the decisions all remain with the Department of Home Affairs”.


Bill Shorten said he thought the government was


“starting to do a backflip, but this stage we’re still supporting the Phelps amendments,”


Source: Michelle Grattan: Morrison plays scare card on medical transfer bill. The Conversation. February 6, 2019 https://theconversation.com/morrison-plays-scare-card-on-medical-transfer-bill-111284

On Monday 11 February 2019,  againsnt Coalition wishes, the HOR and Senate passed the medicac legislation.


Who are the people affected?


The law applies only to those currently in Nauru or on Manus Island. The Government has recently been using an estimate of 1,000 people across both locations.


According to figures from October, this group included 520 people from Iran, 113 from Afghanistan, 142 from Pakistan, 109 from Sri Lanka and 122 deemed stateless. What now for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island in need of medical evacuation? Jackson Gothe-Snape What now for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island in need of medical evacuation?


The Prime Minister responded by claiming that the Australian Labor Party had sent out an invitation for people smugglers to "start the boats" again and later announced the Government would be re-opening the Christmas Island detention at a cost of $30M immediately to house the expected influx of medivacs and "new arrivals".