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The Albanese reset: Stopping boats while treating onshore asylum seekers decently

  • 28 October 2022

In his message for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees which is entitled ‘Building the future with migrants and refugees’, Pope Francis says: ‘No one must be excluded. God’s plan is essentially inclusive and gives priority to those living on the existential peripheries. Among them are many migrants and refugees, displaced persons, and victims of trafficking. The Kingdom of God is to be built with them, for without them it would not be the Kingdom that God wants. The inclusion of those most vulnerable is the necessary condition for full citizenship in God’s Kingdom.’[1]

There is no way that we Australians can accommodate all refugees, displaced persons, victims of trafficking and those who would like to be migrants to a wealthy, secure country like Australia. No matter who is in government, we will always fail the universal, borderless test put by Pope Francis. But we Australians need to admit that in recent years, our policies in relation to asylum seekers and refugees have been unnecessarily mean, cruel and disorganised. The election of the Albanese government provides the opportunity for a reset, putting behind us the past mistakes of both Coalition and Labor Governments in the last 20 years.

As part of the attempted reset, the Albanese government sent two distinct signals on refugee and asylum policy within a month of the May election. First, on 20 June 2022, the Nadesalingam family including their daughters Kopika, aged 7, and Tharnicaa, aged 5, were released from detention, issued with bridging visas and allowed to return to Biloela in Queensland, the community which had long accepted them. The Nadesalingam family were asylum seekers from Sri Lanka who had been taken into detention by the previous government when their asylum claims had been rejected. It was while the parents were resident in Australia that their younger daughter was born.[2]

Second, at the very same time, the new Minister for Home Affairs, Claire O’Neil flew to Sri Lanka and gave high profile interviews surrounded by Sri Lankan and Australian military officials. She announced:

I have a very simple message: Australia’s border protection policies have not changed.

If you attempt to reach Australia by boat, you will be intercepted, you will be turned around, and you will end up back in Sri Lanka, far worse off than when you embarked.

The only way to enter Australia legally, is with a valid visa.

People smugglers sell lies, don’t buy into it.

You will