Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Malaysia Solution is dead in the water

  • 19 April 2013

Wondering about how humanely to stop the boats and how best to build a regional response to the irregular movement of asylum seekers in our region, I spent last week in Malaysia discussing the 'Malaysia Solution' with the Malaysian Bar Council, UNHCR, PROHAM (the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights), various local NGOs and Church groups.

I was anxious to see if there might be any prospect of reviving the Malaysia Solution, but with appropriate safeguards set down by the Houston Expert Panel, after the Malaysian Election on 5 May 2013 and before the commencement of the Australian election campaign and caretaker period presumably commencing no later than 10 August 2013.

If the Gillard Government were to propose Malaysia as a regional processing country it would need to table the necessary documentation in parliament by 20 June 2013 at the latest. As recently as 27 March 2013, Prime Minister Gillard repeated the mantra:

But the problem we confront here with implementing the agreement with Malaysia is of course that the Opposition has taken the view that it would prefer to be negative, and it would prefer to see more boats. If we could implement the Malaysia agreement we would do it very rapidly. We have been prevented from doing that by the negative approach taken by the Opposition.

The Malaysia Solution proposed that Australia transfer 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in return for Australia receiving 4000 refugees from Malaysia over the next four years.

When this idea was first floated in 2011, I was critical of it because I could not receive any clear answers about the plight of unaccompanied minors (UAMs). If they were to be included in the group of 800 transferees, the scheme would have been ethically very problematic; if they were not included, the scheme would have been unworkable because children would have come in increased numbers on later boats.

I have been generally supportive of the recommendations of the Expert Panel with the exception of their recommendations that Pacific Island facilities be reopened for offshore processing and that review of future offshore arrangements be moved from the High Court to Parliament (especially the Senate).

Both sides of the Chamber would have been well advised to heed the earlier warning of Andrew Metcalfe, past Secretary of the Immigration Department, that the Pacific Solution would not work again as a deterrent. The arrival figures since the panel reported have vindicated Metcalfe's assessment.

Shifting review