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The politics of asylum-seeking children

  • 08 November 2018


The dynamics between the major political parties are a key factor delaying prompt action on the fate of the children of asylum seekers in detention on Nauru. Having said that the whole business is yet another example of the public being kept in the dark as to what is happening.

The numbers of children on Nauru are reportedly falling and it would appear that medical evacuation to Australia is becoming more flexible. Yet, confusing what he mistakenly calls 'showboating' for proper transparency on a matter of public concern, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, continues to speak in riddles.

The government and the opposition are prevaricating and effectively delaying the positive outcome that many in the Australian public are crying out for. The time is ripe for action, but decisive policy movement is still absent.

The Coalition, while apparently recognising public concerns, wants to maintain its perceived advantage as the party of tough border security policies to the extent that they don’t want to claim any credit for perceived developments in releasing the children to come to the mainland. They appear to be loosening policy in administrative practice but not in principle.

The opposition remain dead scared of taking any risk of appearing soft on border security. In part, this is the opposition’s generally careful approach to the next federal election. It boils down to minimising any dangerous issues by sticking close to Coalition policies. It sees border security as one such issue. Any disunity would be pounced on by the government.

Labor MPs and candidates hold to the party position despite many wishing to break ranks. A good example is Dr Brian Owler, the former Australian Medical Association (AMA) president, who has just been preselected by Labor to contest the NSW seat of Bennelong now held by John Alexander for the Liberals. Owler has in the past, representing official AMA policy, been a critic of detention for children but now appears to be toeing the party line. As a new candidate he is put in a difficult position.

Where is the breakthrough likely to come from?


"The Coalition leadership now wish to resolve the issue while not weakening their public reputation for being tough on border protection and/or the messages they are sending to potential people smugglers. Strategically they also want to hold onto their advantage over Labor and not stir up disunity within the Coalition party rooms."


The first possibility is continued pressure from peak organisations, like