The evidence is clear: the medevac law saves lives. But even this isn’t enough to alleviate refugee suffering



Protesters holding a vigil last year for deceased asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei, who died in a Brisbane hospital due to an infection at the Manus Island detention centre in 2014.
Darren England/AAP

Sara Dehm, University of Technology Sydney

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has some sobering reading to do over the coming weeks: an 88-page Senate report into the government-sponsored bill to repeal the medevac law that allow refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to seek medical care in Australia. The publication of the report last Friday paves the way for a Senate vote on the bill in mid-November.

As predicted, the Senate committee that issued the report split along party lines, with the Coalition majority calling for the medevac provisions to be repealed and the ALP, Greens and Centre Alliance senators releasing dissenting reports.




Read more:
Lambie stays mute on medevac vote after Senate inquiry splits on party lines


What is less predictable is how the report will influence Lambie’s deciding vote. She has indicated she will approach the bill as a conscience vote, saying

Tasmanians don’t want deals done over humanity.

An overwhelming health crisis in offshore detention

The medevac law allows a person to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment or assessment if two Australian-registered doctors recommend such care is necessary and unavailable in PNG or Nauru. There are limited exceptions for the minister of home affairs to reject a transfer on security and character grounds.

Since the law came into effect in March, over 130 people have been transferred for care.

The Coalition government maintains the pre-medevac medical transfer policy for refugees was adequate. This allowed transfers only in life-threatening cases in which the required specialist medical care could not be provided on PNG, Nauru or a third country like Taiwan.

However, evidence given to the Senate committee showed a drastic drop in medical transfers to Australia from 2015 to mid-2018, despite clear medical need.

Statistics given to the committee by the National Justice Project, a not-for-profit legal service that acts on behalf of refugees, documented how some patients had to wait more than four years for medical transfers to Australia.

Tony Bartone, the Australian Medical Association president, described the government’s pre-Medevac process as “torturous” and involving “long periods of delay,” without any appropriate oversight.

Court injunctions and prospective litigation from mid-2018 onwards did compel the government to bring around 350 people to Australia for urgent medical treatment or as an accompanying family member. But such court interventions can be costly, slow and resource-intensive for those in need of immediate medical attention.




Read more:
Peter Dutton is whipping up fear on the medevac law, but it defies logic and compassion


And that need is still extremely high for those refugees remaining in offshore detention. An independent health assessment in June found a staggering 97% of those in detention and processing facilities have been diagnosed with physical health conditions. A further 91% were experiencing mental health problems, including severe depression and PTSD.

All but two of the 95 public submissions received by the committee were strongly in favour of retaining the medevac law.

Tellingly, those two submissions were from the Department of Home Affairs and the International Health and Medical Service, a government-contracted health provider on Nauru.

Overlooked refugee suffering in Australia

What is missing from the Senate report is any mention of the intolerable situation that refugees and asylum seekers face even after they have been transferred to Australia.

Although people can access critical medical treatment here, most remain in community detention, facing economic insecurity and legal uncertainty about their future. Research shows such legal limbo can lead to feelings of despair and dehumanisation.

The day before the report’s release, 32-year-old Afghan doctor Sayed Mirwais Rohani died in Brisbane, the victim of an apparent suicide. Rohani had come to Australia for medical treatment two years ago, after spending four years in immigration detention on Manus Island.

After his death, his former roommate posted on Facebook:

We shared same pain for long time, long enough to destroy someone’s life.

Rohani’s death was at least the 13th among refugees held in offshore detention on Manus or Nauru.

‘Trying to kill themselves because they’ve lost hope’

No doubt the government will use the Senate report to convince Lambie to support its bill when the vote happens next month.

So far, Lambie has remained relatively reticent, even if she did rebuff Dutton’s claim that the “vast majority of veterans” want her to vote to repeal medevac.




Read more:
Explainer: how will the ‘medevac’ bill actually affect ill asylum seekers?


Instead, Lambie indicated she would look to “national security” considerations in weighing up the report’s findings, including the dissenting reports. She has in the past called for children not to be in immigration detention and voted against the Coalition government’s bill to introduce temporary refugee visas in 2014.

Even if the medevac provisions stay in place, the status quo of Australia’s offshore detention regime remains unsustainable and inhumane.

As former MP Kerryn Phelps, a key architect of the medevac law during her brief time in parliament, stated in her evidence to the Senate committee, refugees and asylum seekers are

not trying to make a point; they’re trying to kill themselves because they’ve lost hope.The Conversation

Sara Dehm, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

There’s no airport border ‘crisis’, only management failure of the Home Affairs department


Regina Jefferies, UNSW and Daniel Ghezelbash, Macquarie University

In the past five years, more than 95,000 people who arrived by plane have lodged a claim for asylum in Australia, new statistics show.

Labor’s Immigration Spokesperson, Senator Kristina Keneally, has labelled this a “crisis”, stating:

Peter Dutton’s incompetence and recklessness has allowed people smugglers to run riot and traffic record-breaking numbers of people by aeroplane to Australia.

But the “crisis” is not that visa-holding travellers are flying to Australia, then later lodging a claim for asylum. It’s not unprecedented for tourists or students to later lodge a claim for asylum due to circumstances beyond their control.




Read more:
Peter Dutton is whipping up fear on the medevac law, but it defies logic and compassion


In 1989, for example, after events in Tiananmen Square, Australia provided refuge to thousands of Chinese students who had entered Australia with visas.

Instead, the “crisis” is the Australian government’s failure to properly manage the refugee-processing system. It gutted the ranks of experienced decision-makers and made organisational changes that undermine the quality of decisions, contributing to long processing delays and backlogs.

These organisational failures may have contributed to the increase in asylum applications over the last five years.

High staff turn-over

Protection visa decisions are highly complex. They must examine a variety of factors, including country-specific conditions and individual circumstances.

Yet, as the Australian National Audit Office noted in 2018, the Home Affairs department experienced a significant loss of “corporate memory” due to staff turn-over, “with almost half of SES officers present in July 2015 no longer in the department at July 2017”.

In a Senate Estimates hearing last year, Home Affairs officials said the average processing time for permanent protection visas, from lodgement to primary decision (not including appeals), was 257 days, or 8.5 months.

And the department’s training deficiencies are well-documented. The most recent Australian Public Service Employee Census put the department’s organisational management problems into stark relief: only 35% of employees said the department inspired them to do their best work, while two-thirds of respondents said they did not consider department senior executives to be of “high quality”.

These publicised problems raise important questions about the quality of decision-making at the primary level.

Stacking the AAT with political allies

Poor decision-making at the primary level can lead to higher numbers of appeals. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) from people who arrived by plane are also experiencing significant blowouts.

The number of active refugee cases to the AAT has ballooned from 8,370 two years ago, to 23,063 in 2019.




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Cruel, and no deterrent: why Australia’s policy on asylum seekers must change


This results in a backlog. In 2017, the tribunal made 5,153 decisions on refugee claims, and so far this financial year, only 815 claims have been concluded.

In part, these worrying figures are due to the federal government appointing people with Liberal Party ties to the AAT over the last couple of years.

The Attorney-General recognised these problems in the 2019 Report on the Statutory Review of the Tribunal, which pointed to “competencies of members” as a key contributor to complications in the operation of the tribunal.

Stacking the AAT with political allies, many of whom are not lawyers and who are not appointed on merit, has removed independent expertise from the tribunal, risking errors and further delays.




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And with more errors come further appeals in the courts. This not only places a heavy burden on the resources of the Federal Circuit Court and Federal Court, but also leads to more delays and backlogs in the AAT, where the court sends matters which were unlawfully decided for re-determination.

Address organisational failures

The solution is in proper organisational management. Instead of blaming refugees for fleeing persecution by safe means, the government must address the failures of its refugee processing system.

To this end, an urgent review of the Department of Home Affairs policies and organisational failures is needed. A review could find out whether there’s a management culture stopping Home Affairs from attracting and retaining staff who can make reasoned and well-supported decisions in an environment they can be proud of.




Read more:
‘Stop playing politics’: refugees stuck in Indonesia rally against UNHCR for chronic waiting


Similarly, there must be a transparent and independent system for appointing AAT members that prioritises skills and experience over politics – exactly what was recommended by the Attorney-General’s recent review.

If people seeking asylum can have their claims assessed quickly and fairly, then those who are not refugees can be sent home, while those needing safety could receive it.

Without the chance to remain in Australia for years while their claims are assessed, there would be no loophole for traffickers and others to exploit.

In turn, the number of non-genuine claims will go down, allowing decision-makers to focus on those who are actually fearing persecution.




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Yes, Peter Dutton has a lot of power, but a strong Home Affairs is actually a good thing for Australia


We should be supporting refugees to access safety by air. If people fleeing persecution can access a flight to Australia, they won’t risk a dangerous journey by boat to find safety.

This is not an airport border “crisis”, it’s a management failure that can be fixed with more staffing, better resourcing, and transparent and meritorious appointments of decision makers.


Correction: A previous version of the article stated 815 refugee claims were concluded this year. This has been updated to clarify that 815 of claims were concluded during this financial year.The Conversation

Regina Jefferies, Affiliate, Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW and Daniel Ghezelbash, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Stop playing politics’: refugees stuck in Indonesia rally against UNHCR for chronic waiting


Chrisanthi Giotis, University of Technology Sydney

One evening last month, the young man from Afghanistan, of Hazara ethnicity, arrived in Jakarta. His people-smuggler dropped him at the UNHCR entrance reserved for refugees, where he was told to wait.

The next day, mid-morning, he was still outside waiting to speak to someone. He was too afraid to give me his name or even his age, but he appeared to be in his early 20s.

He had been fleeing for 20 days, ten days hiding in wait in Kabul, then another ten days in transit through three countries. His choice to come to Indonesia was based solely on escaping immediately.

Through a translator he said:

I needed to get out quick. I just wanted to come as soon as possible so I came through an agent. My agent brought me here, I have no shelter so I am just waiting for the UNHCR for information.




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I’ve been working with a refugee-run school in Indonesia for the past year. There, refugees aren’t allowed access to education or work, and asylum seekers can be arrested at the whim of authorities. This, compounded with chronic waiting, has led to a straining relationship with the UNHCR, the key institution in their lives.

Only 509 of 14,016 people (3.5%) were resettled in Indonesia last year. Of those , only 84 came to Australia. And so far this year, the number of people resettled from Indonesia to Australia is just eight.

Figures like these explain why, for many months now, the UNHCR office in Jakarta has been the subject of ongoing protests made up of street protests outside the building in the city centre and civil disobedience in the upscale suburb of Kalideres. Refugees and asylum seekers have refused to vacate a disused military building temporarily allocated to them.

Like false advertising

Refugees argue the very existence of the UNHCR Jakarta office is a kind of false advertising.

Twenty-four-year-old Ali Jawad Haidari has been in Indonesia for over seven years. He said:

If you cannot support refugees you should close your office. You should say we cannot support refugees, announce in the media we cannot do anything.

At Kalideres, the broken trust is visceral. People question the staff’s willingness to prosecute cases, and why they visited Kalideres with security guards when there was never a hint of violence in the months of protest (and for that matter, why they were not allowed to enter the main UNHCR building through the front door).

They also questioned the ethics of the UNHCR, when the institution offered a one-off payment of roughly a month’s living expenses to the refugees in exchange for leaving the Kalideres site. The refugees initially thought this would be the beginning of ongoing UNHCR support.

And they questioned why the agency supposed to protect them would turn off their electricity and water.




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In fact, “The UNHCR is making me sick” is a refrain I heard multiple times during interviews.

Hassan Ramazan, a spokesperson for the Hazara refugees at Kalideres, said the sit-in protests exist because their community and the relatives who support them by sending cash, are at breaking point. He said:

There are people here since 2009, 10, 11, 12, 13, their supporters can not support them any more.

The refugees who wait

Ramazan also points to the seeming arbitrariness of resettlement. Interview wait times to determine refugee status vary, with some who arrived more recently resettled than those who’ve been waiting for years.

What’s more, single men believe they are treated with suspicion in western countries. Twenty-eight-year-old Muhammad Hanif is one of those single men, who received his refugee registration in 2013. He said:

Lots of singles have been here seven or eight years, we also pray for families to be resettled, but also for us, it should be fair.

And Haidari points out people may have arrived alone but are still family members – brothers, sons, fathers.

My friend arrived alone and is still waiting. Recently his 13-year-old son was injured in a bomb blast in Afghanistan, spent two months in hospital, and still the UNHCR said they can’t do anything.

My friend when he came here his son was six, now he’s 13-years-old and injured.

Work rights could alleviate chronic waiting

Waiting is a contemporary strategy of migration management.

But chronic waiting must be taken into account in refugee policy, as it causes and prolongs psycho-social damage and changes the nature of societal and institutional relationships.




Read more:
The right to work can empower refugees in Malaysia


For the majority of refugees, chronic waiting is unlikely to result in effective protection unless a refugee’s country of origin becomes safe to return to. This is unlikely in the foreseeable future for the major refugee producing countries.

Even in countries with major refugee populations, their plight is mostly ignored.

But not always. In Malaysia – where the refugee population is ten times that of Indonesia and work has been informally accessed for years – there are moves to make work legal for refugees.

Work could help alleviate economic pressures and restore agency and dignity lost in waiting. But the refugees are keenly aware of Indonesia’s local poverty and insecure work conditions. And because Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it is not obliged to look after refugees.

Masooma, her two-year-old daughter Zahra and her husband Ali are one of the families protesting in Kalideres.
Author provided

Nevertheless, ways for refugees to sustain themselves are supposedly being discussed in Indonesia.

For Haidari, a martial arts champion, work would solve many of his problems. But the authorities have stopped him from competing. He said:

If I could just fight I would never knock on the UNHCR door again.

Refugee spokesperson Ramazan doesn’t see work rights as the ultimate solution, but he does ask what sort of generation is being created. They’re living on the streets, without access to education or the example of seeing their parents work.

Thirty-seven-year-old Masooma, who is in the Kalideres complex with her husband and two-year-old daughter, has another, pointed, question.

They say the first priority is for people with critical problems, who are sick, and that’s the reason resettlement is slow.

Since they don’t give us support and assistance of course we will get sick, and then what should we do with that process? What will we do if we get sick and then go to another country?

Essentially, there is no point in breaking people, then helping them.The Conversation

Chrisanthi Giotis, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Communication, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Peter Dutton is whipping up fear on the medevac law, but it defies logic and compassion



The medevac law was passed to streamline the process for emergency medical evacuation of refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. Thirty-one people have been transferred since its passage.
Refugee Action Coalition

Alex Reilly, University of Adelaide

With all the hyperbole about the medevac law, it is easy to lose sight of its purpose.

Refugees have been transferred off Nauru and Manus Island for emergency medical treatment since offshore detention restarted on these islands in 2013. The Department of Home Affairs reported to Senate estimates that 898 refugees and asylum seekers had been sent to Australia for medical treatment prior to the passage of the medevac law earlier this year. Of those, 282 were returned to Manus and Nauru after receiving treatment, and the rest remained in Australia in detention.

These transfers occurred in response to pleas from doctors and health professionals on an ad hoc basis. And it was up to the Home Affairs Department and Minister Peter Dutton whether to comply with such a request. Medical emergencies could include life-threatening brain or heart conditions, complex abortions, or emergency psychiatric care for children at risk for suicide – all of which are beyond the capacity of the health systems on Nauru and Manus to treat.

Although some refugees were granted emergency medical evacuation, many others were not. In response, legal cases were brought against the government for breaching its responsibility to care for the refugees.




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Explainer: how will the ‘medevac’ bill actually affect ill asylum seekers?


This required the federal court to convene at short notice to hear cases. It also required the expenditure of huge amounts of taxpayer money to call expert medical witnesses and file thousands of pages of supporting documentation.

Because of the delays in treatment, these legal battles were enormously risky for those in need of medical care.

Through these early cases, the court established that it was a breach of the government’s duty not to provide refugees with emergency medical treatment. And yet, the Home Affairs Department continued to fight applications for transfers for emergency medical treatment, only to be overturned by the courts, time and time again.

How the process works under the medevac law

The medevac law was passed due to concerns the department was rejecting transfer applications for political rather than medical reasons. The point was to provide an expedient, objective process to determine whether transfers were required.

And despite the Coalition government’s opposition to the bill, the process for determining which refugees are moved off Nauru and Manus for treatment remains highly deferential to the minister and Department of Home Affairs.




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There are two stages to this process.

First, two doctors must assess the person and make a recommendation for transfer. The federal court recently ruled it was possible to make this medical assessment based on documentation alone, as opposed to an in-person or teleconference assessment. This was a necessary adjustment to the law, given that the Nauru government has banned teleconferences for residents.

The minister is required to approve or refuse the recommendation for transfer within 72 hours. There are three grounds for refusal:

  1. the person is deemed a security risk
  2. the person has a “substantial criminal record” (which equates to having been convicted of an offence with a sentence of imprisonment for 12 months or more)
  3. the minister does not accept the transfer is necessary on medical grounds.

If the minister rejects the transfer on medical grounds, the second stage of the process kicks in, with an independent health advice panel (IHAP) assessing the doctors’ recommendation. It is important to note that this panel is comprised of government medical officers and other health professionals appointed by the minister.

To date, there have been 31 medical transfers under the law. In addition, nine recommendations were refused by the government. The panel of health experts upheld seven of the minister’s refusals, and overturned two.

Dutton’s claims don’t stand up under scrutiny

Dutton has made a number of claims about the impact of the medevac law that he argues justify its repeal. All defy reason and logic.

First, the minister has claimed “activist doctors” were using the law to bring people to Australia when they do not require emergency medical care.

This is frankly highly offensive to the medical profession in Australia, and contradicts the clear intention of the law to take politics out of transfer decisions. Even if doctors making the initial recommendation are too left-leaning for Dutton, the expert panel is stacked with medical practitioners of his choosing.




Read more:
There are 70 million refugees in the world. Here are 5 solutions to the problem


Second, the minister has argued that the capacity to be transferred to Australia for emergency medical treatment will lead to a resumption of the people-smuggling trade.

This is patently absurd. It is true that people smugglers can make up all sorts of stories about Australia relaxing its policies and it being easier to get to Australia. But the facts are crystal clear: the Coalition government maintains a policy of boat turn-backs and indefinite offshore detention for anyone thinking of making the journey.

Medical transfers to Australia are for a temporary period. Once people have been treated, they are returned to detention on Nauru or Manus. It is true that many asylum seekers have remained in Australia for extended periods for ongoing treatment, but these refugees remain within the immigration detention system. They are escorted to medical appointments and remain under guard while receiving treatment. They are given no hope of putting down roots in Australia.

The deterrent to people smugglers remains overwhelming. And, unsurprisingly, we have not seen a restarting of boat arrivals following the passage of the medevac law. Dutton’s own department has signalled this is unlikely in a briefing:

[Potential illegal immigrants] will probably remain sceptical of smuggler marketing and await proof that such a pathway is viable, or that an actual change of policy has occurred, before committing to ventures.

The only possible messaging that people smugglers might use to persuade people to get on a boat is the Coalition government’s own dire warnings of reopening the floodgates and political stunts like the brief resurrection of the Christmas Island detention centre at the staggering cost to taxpayers of over A$180 million.

Dutton’s third claim is that some refugees are refusing resettlement offers in the US because of the medevac law.

Again, it defies logic for refugees to refuse the US option – it is the only hope of resettlement currently on offer. One wonders whether the minister is using this claim as a cover for the fact that transfers to the US have come to a grinding halt under President Donald Trump.

The medevac law and human compassion

For over six years, successive Australian governments have maintained an unwavering narrow focus on stopping refugee boats with no concern for the victims of this policy – the innocent people on Manus and Nauru.

These people are under Australia’s care. It is Australia that pays the governments of Nauru and PNG to house offshore detention centres to create the disincentive for others to travel by boat to Australia. It is Australia that pays the security companies to keep them detained. And so it is Australia that is responsible for the dramatic decline in their mental and physical health.

It is the narrowest of concessions to offer emergency medical treatment in Australia to people we have so mistreated.The Conversation

Alex Reilly, Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

There are 70 million refugees in the world. Here are 5 solutions to the problem



Little has been done to help the millions of refugees from Myanmar, Venezuela, Syria and other troubled countries find permanent resettlement options.
Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

Gerhard Hoffstaedter, The University of Queensland and Sara Riva, Griffith University

This week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, labelled the world’s refugee problem a crisis that is primarily impacting developing countries, who are hosting most of the world’s 70 million displaced people.

It’s the highest number of people fleeing violence since the second world war, the agency said in a report. Last year, 37,000 people were forced to flee their homes every day.

My colleague and I have conducted extensive research on refugees at the US-Mexico border and in Southeast Asia and Australia, studying the lives of people in detention, in transit, and resettled in host countries. In all these cases, an enduring problem is that nations are not doing enough to provide adequate protection for refugees.

Australia, and the international community as a whole, needs to do more to help the world’s most vulnerable people. Here are five solutions we believe can work.

1. Give them their rights: enforce international conventions

Most countries have either signed the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. These ensure basic rights and protections for refugees, in addition to other human rights conventions.

However, many nations maintain reservations on key articles, have not implemented the agreements or simply do not comply with their international obligations. Others do not provide access to these protections for people without legal status, such as refugees.

Addressing the nonexistent enforcement mechanisms of international conventions, agreements and declarations is the first step for improving refugees’ rights.

2. Share the responsibility: regional refugee compacts

In December 2018, the UN Global Compact on Refugees was agreed to by 181 countries. The document has the following objectives:

  • easing the pressure on host countries
  • helping boost the self-reliance of refugees
  • expanding access to third-country resettlement options
  • supporting conditions in refugees’ home countries to help them safely return.

The global compact also includes recommendations for similar regional and national action plans.

Cooperation of this sort has been attempted in our region before with the Bali Process, which focused on cross-border people smuggling and trafficking. But this agreement had an adverse effect by criminalising the movement of people across borders to seek asylum.

A regional refugee compact would shift the focus away from border protection and deterrence and instead ensure refugees receive the protections they need in transit and on arrival in host countries.




Read more:
Asylum Solutions: we need a regional refugee compact


3. Treat refugees like human beings: close detention centres

According to the UNHCR, detention should be considered a last resource for countries dealing with influxes of refugees. And yet, refugee confinement has become common practice.

All over the world, the closure of borders and privatisation of immigration detention centres have resulted in a rapid increase in the imprisonment of refugees, including women and children. Although Australia has moved hundreds of refugees off Manus Island and Nauru in recent years, there are still 915 remaining in detention centres on the islands.

It is paramount that detention centres and offshore processing centres be closed. The practice is not only cruel, it’s expensive. According to the Refugee Council of Australia, it costs more than A$573,000 a year to hold just one refugee in detention on Manus or Nauru.




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The International Detention Coalition has identified over 250 alternatives to detention, such as providing temporary legal status to refugees while they await decisions on their permanent status.

Another alternative is to increase global refugee resettlement quotas. These quotas have been decreasing sharply around the world in recent years. The US, for instance, resettled fewer refugees than Canada in 2018.

4. Allow them to participate: work rights for refugees

Refugees should not be treated as passive recipients of humanitarian aid and charity – they should be permitted to work.

Providing working visas for refugees in transit countries, as well as those on bridging visas or waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, would help them earn a livelihood and contribute to society.

In Malaysia, for example, refugees have no work rights at all and have to work illegally in the shadow economy. In Australia, work rights for many refugees on bridging visas depend on the discretion of the Home Affairs department.

Another important issue: permitting refugees the right to work must also come with safeguards to prevent their exploitation.

5. Let them in: open borders

This “refugee crisis” is really just a crisis of who has the right to move. Thanks to the birthright lottery, some people are able to move freely across borders, while others remain trapped in violence and poverty.

If borders were open to all, the human smuggling business would cease to exist. And refugees of all sorts, including those displaced by climate change, would be able to enjoy work rights and access to health care and education.




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Even though we live in an era where more walls are going up between nations, we have evidence this does not stop migration.

And the evidence for the economic benefits for open borders is unambiguous. According to some estimates, opening the world’s borders could increase global GDP by US$100 trillion. We just need to take a bold step and give refugees a right already enjoyed by some – the right to move.


The authors will be discussing the world’s response to the global refugee crisis at a talk on Thursday, June 20, at the University of Queensland.The Conversation

Gerhard Hoffstaedter, Senior lecturer in Anthropology, The University of Queensland and Sara Riva, Resident Adjunct, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Lambie’s vote key if government wants to have medevac repealed


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government almost certainly would have to obtain the support of Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie to amend or repeal the medevac legislation.

Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton on Sunday claimed Labor was reconsidering its position on the legislation, but that was quickly dismissed by his opposite number Kristina Keneally.

The Coalition would need four of the six non-Green crossbench Senate votes, assuming the ALP and Greens opposed.

The government could rely on One Nation, which will have two senators, and Cory Bernardi from the Australian Conservatives.

But that would leave it one vote short. Stirling Griff, one of the two Centre Alliance senators, said Centre Alliance was “100% opposed” to repeal or amendment of the legislation. That position was “non-negotiable”, Griff said.

This would put Lambie, who is returning to the Senate after having to quit in the citizenship crisis, as the swing vote. Her spokeswoman said she was not giving answers on anything yet.




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The government said in the election campaign that it would repeal the legislation.

It claimed when the medevac bill was passed – against Coalition opposition during the period of minority government – that it would lead to a flood of transfers from Manus and Nauru, including of people accused of serious crimes. It reopened Christmas Island and said any transferees under the medevac legislation would be sent there.

Dutton said on Sunday just over 30 people had come under the new law, none of whom had been sent to Christmas Island. Asked on the ABC whether they included any criminals or people charged with offences Dutton said he didn’t know. When pressed he said, “we don’t bring anyone to our country where we can’t mitigate the risk”.

Dutton continued to insist the government could be compelled under the legislation to transfer criminals, although the medevac legislation gives the minister power to veto people on security grounds.

The minister claimed Labor was reconsidering its position “and that they would be open to suggestions about how that bill could be repealed or at the very least wound back”.

But Keneally said he had misrepresented Labor’s position; she stressed it supported the legislation.

It was “up to the government to explain if changes are necessary. I have no information that would suggest changes are necessary,” she said.

“If the government believes that the medevac legislation is no longer necessary to ensure that sick people can get the health care they need then the government needs to explain why to the parliament.

“And if the government wants to improve the medevac legislation to ensure that people can more readily get the health care that they need then the government needs to explain that to the parliament.

“The government has said nothing about either of those two aspects of the legislation”.




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Dutton said there were now just over 800 people remaining across Nauru and Manus.

He did not think the United States would take the maximum 1,250 people under the deal between Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama.

So far 531 had gone to the US and there were about 295 in the pipeline who had approvals but hadn’t gone yet. More than 300 had been rejected by the US.

He hoped all offered a place would take it up. About 95 had either withdrawn from consideration or rejected an offer. “If we can get those 95 across the line, we get closer to zero”.

In a controversial decision, Australia accepted under the US deal two Rwandan men accused of involvement in the murder of tourists on a gorilla-watching expedition in Uganda in 1999. The government says the men have been found by Australian security agencies not to pose a threat.

Pressed on whether these two were the only ones coming here to fulfil Australia’s side of the deal, Dutton said: “We don’t have plans to bring any others from America at this stage.”

Dutton, while saying it was a matter for the department, also indicated the security company Paladin was likely to have its contract for services on Manus rolled over, despite an ongoing investigation by the Australian National Audit Office into the Home Affairs department’s management of the procurement process for the earlier A$423 million contracts.

Keneally said the A$423 million contract had been “given out by the government in a closed process – a closed rushed process […] to an organisation that was registered in a beach shack on Kangaroo Island, that had one member barred from entering PNG, had another accused of fraud”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s asylum seeker policy history: a story of blunders and shame


Carolyn Holbrook, Deakin University

This article was developed from a series of interviews with politicians, officials and other key players, including former Immigration minister Chris Evans and former Victorian premier Steve Bracks. Others preferred to remain anonymous.


We know very little about the kind of government Scott Morrison runs. After beating Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop to the prime ministership in August last year, most commentators assumed Morrison was keeping the chair warm until Labor’s Bill Shorten won the 2019 election.

Following the Coalition’s unexpected victory, it’s time to ask more searching questions, not only about Scott Morrison’s political values and policy aspirations, but about his prime ministerial style.

Recent history suggests processes of policy decision-making can make or break governments.




Read more:
Cruel, and no deterrent: why Australia’s policy on asylum seekers must change


Labor’s shambolic attempts to create asylum seeker policy during the Rudd-Gillard years are emblematic of the dire consequences when tried-and-tested processes of policy advice fail.

In the face of internal dissent, thousands of asylum seekers arriving by boat and a marauding opposition leader, the government rejected its most vital source of advice, the public service.

It began in 2009

In mid-October 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was informed that a vessel carrying 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers was in danger of sinking in Indonesian waters. Rudd negotiated directly with the Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and decided to dispatch a Customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking, to rescue the asylum seekers and return them to Indonesia.

The then immigration minister Chris Evans first heard of the plan when he received a phone call from Rudd’s chief of staff, Alister Jordan.

Jordan was not consulting the immigration minister, but rather informing him of a plan that had been enacted. Evans rang his departmental secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, who told him the plan would not work because the asylum seekers would refuse to disembark.

As Metcalfe had foreseen, the asylum seekers refused to leave the Australian boat at Bintan. Australian voice surveillance revealed there was talk of mass suicide.




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How the next Australian government can balance security and compassion for asylum seekers


The standoff lasted four weeks, until a deal was struck that saw the Sri Lankans resettled in countries including New Zealand.

Officials in the Immigration Department were dumbfounded. One told me:

The Oceanic Viking was a thought bubble from Rudd … It was an absolute debacle. It was crazy. It had nothing to do with immigration but we were asked to go in and fix it up. And that scuttled any possibility of us doing anything with Indonesia for a long time.

The boats kept coming. There were 6,555 boat arrivals in 2010. On the night he lost the prime ministership to Julia Gillard, Rudd told the Labor caucus that if he won the leadership vote, he would “not be lurching to the right on question of asylum seekers”.

What Rudd didn’t mention was that the government had been actively exploring offshore options for some time.

The Immigration Department had prepared a list of possible sites for offshore detention that included Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, and East Timor.

Sounding out the East Timorese government

Evans was focused on pursuing a multilateral solution. His officials consulted with members of the refugee lobby, including the prominent lawyer David Manne, about being part of a broader regional arrangement that had the approval of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Evans and his department worked on an offshore deal that would meet with the approval of Australian stakeholders, neighbouring countries, and the UNHCR. But meanwhile, a small group of ministers focused on East Timor.




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A refugee law expert on a week of ‘reckless’ rhetoric and a new way to process asylum seeker claims


The former Victorian premier, Steve Bracks, was approached at an airport and asked to sound out the East Timorese government about a processing centre. Bracks reported back that Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was interested, but he would need some time to win support within his government.

Gusmao wanted negotiations to be done through the president, Jose Ramos Horta. This process was in train when Kevin Rudd was overthrown as prime minister on June 24, 2010.

In a speech to the Lowy Institute on July 5, the new prime minister, Gillard, announced she had discussed with Horta the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre in East Timor. But in going public, she had pre-empted the internal East Timorese process. Gusmao distanced himself from the plan and it quickly fizzled.

Meanwhile, the public servants who had been working on the multilateral solution were left scratching their heads. One official told me:

I have no idea where [East Timor] sprang from.

We were working on arrangements … and one of the really difficult things was thought bubbles kept coming from funny quarters and then you’d have the media onto it, laughing at it or making a joke of it.

Failed Malaysia initiative

After the 2010 election, the new immigration minister Chris Bowen secured an offshore processing arrangement with Malaysia. Immigration Department officials had encouraged Bowen to bring refugee stakeholders and the UNCHR on board.




Read more:
Refugees are integrating just fine in regional Australia


But Bowen, who was facing immense political pressure from opposition leader Tony Abbott, preferred to deal unilaterally with his Malaysian counterpart, Hishamuddin Hussein, with whom he had developed a strong rapport.

Hours before the first 16 asylum seekers were due to be transported to Malaysia, Manne obtained an injunction against their removal from Australia, pending a challenge to the legality of the government’s agreement with Malaysia.

In September 2011, the High Court decided in a six-to-one decision that the Malaysia agreement contravened the Migration Act because the refugees would not be given the protection required by the Australian legislation.

According to a key player, the High Court ruling was the product of a profound failure of process:

the government did a very bad job at … going to the organisations who would be part of any solution. And, instead, pissed them off so comprehensively they went to the High Court.




Read more:
Robert Manne: How we came to be so cruel to asylum seekers


After the failure of the Malaysia initiative, the Gillard government hurriedly reopened the Nauru and Manus Island processing centres.

In 2013, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott debate about asylum seeker policy, and the ‘PNG solution’.

When Rudd replaced Gillard in June 2013, he announced that no one who arrived by boat would ever be settled in Australia. The boats slowed, but it was the institution of boat turnbacks under the Abbott government’s Operation Sovereign Borders that stopped them altogether.

The consequences of the Rudd and Gillard governments’ blundered handling of asylum seeker policy were considerable. Indonesia and East Timor were unnecessarily offended, the government’s political fortunes suffered and, most significantly, asylum seekers were again subjected to processing on Nauru and Manus Island.




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In Manus, theatre delivers home truths that can’t be dodged


It is conceivable that Manus and Nauru would have remained closed and Operation Sovereign Borders rendered unnecessary had the Rudd and Gillard governments heeded the advice of the Immigration Department to bring key refugee stakeholders and UNHCR on board into the process.

The institution of rigorous decision-making processes will not guarantee Scott Morrison’s success, but they could help him avoid many of the pitfalls that contributed to the downfall of the Rudd and Gillard governments.


Carolyn Holbrook is presenting a talk on this topic at the Australian Policy and History ‘History and the Hill’ Conference at Deakin University on Thursday, June 13The Conversation

Carolyn Holbrook, ARC DECRA Fellow at Deakin University, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cruel, and no deterrent: why Australia’s policy on asylum seekers must change


Alex Reilly, University of Adelaide

The Coalition’s election victory on May 18 had an immediate psychological effect on the refugees on Manus Island, with reports of several people attempting suicide.

Two class-action lawsuits currently before the High Court allege “torture”, “persecution” and “other inhumane acts” in Australia’s offshore detention centres. This action follows an action for damages in 2018 that the federal government settled for A$70 million, effectively admitting that the claims of mistreatment were well-founded.

The Iranian-Kurdish journalist and poet Behrouz Boochani, who has been detained on Manus for six years, has borne witness to a cruel system in his book, No Friend But the Mountain. Written secretly on a mobile phone, the book has won a swag of major Australian literary awards.




Read more:
Book Review: Behrouz Boochani’s unsparing look at the brutality of Manus Island


As a result of the testimonials of Boochani and others, the terrible conditions on Nauru and Manus are well-known. There are regular reports of physical and mental illness due to unsanitary conditions, cruel treatment and hospitals with no capacity to deal with the extent and severity of the health crisis among the refugee populations.

These reports reinforce the underlying cruelty of subjecting innocent human beings to indefinite and arbitrary detention in the first place. And to what end?

There is no justification for offshore detention

For many years, there has been no justification for the detention of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.

The original justification of deterring others from making the dangerous journey from Indonesia to Australia carries no weight. The point has been well and truly made that attempting to reach Australia by boat is a futile exercise. In the words of the allegations in the class action, the journey will result in years of:

…arbitrary, indefinite detention in tents, barrack-style buildings, or small, hastily constructed dwellings where living conditions lead to poor health […] physical, sexual and psychological abuses, [and] systemic mental distress.

The government claimed that the medivac law passed in February risked a new wave of boat arrivals and spent over A$180 million reopening the Christmas Island detention centre in preparation for new arrivals. The government has since committed to closing Christmas Island again. The expense involved in this political exercise is staggering, with absolutely no benefit to the taxpayer.

There has also been no new wave of boat arrivals. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack revealed Thursday that a boat from Sri Lanka had been intercepted near Christmas Island this month. However, the details of who was on board, and why the boat was in Australian waters has not been made publicly available.

There will always be the occasional refugee boat arriving Australian waters for a variety of reasons, but it is important to distinguish these isolated occurrences from a reigniting of the people-smuggling trade.




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It’s high time the government ceased linking detention on Manus and Nauru to stopping the boats. The evidence does not stack up. As I, and others, have argued previously, the experience during the Howard years suggests that simply the possibility of offshore detention is a sufficient deterrent.

When the government settled asylum seekers on Nauru in Australia and New Zealand from 2002-04, without dismantling the offshore detention regime, asylum seekers did not begin arriving by boat.

Most asylum seekers in Indonesia are registered with the UNHCR and are waiting for resettlement through the UNHCR process. Their situation is admittedly desperate. Nonetheless, when interviewed after the passing of the medivac law, asylum seekers in Indonesia testified that they did not see taking a boat to Australia as an option.

It’s important to remember that asylum seekers have done nothing wrong in seeking our protection. Australia is a signatory to the UNHCR Refugee Convention, which establishes a responsibility to protect people who arrive on our border seeking protection. If offshore detention can be justified as deterrence at all, it must surely be kept to the bare minimum, in the context of our protection obligations.

Long-term detention is simply cruel and rightly labelled a “crime against humanity”.

Alternatives to detention

If there is even a remote possibility of a boat arriving in response to resettling refugees from Manus and Nauru in Australia and New Zealand, the government has many deterrence strategies at its disposal.

One novel strategy that avoids the need for offshore detention is Labor’s 2011 Malaysia arrangement. The deal was a simple one. In exchange for the transfer to Malaysia of 800 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat, Australia would provide financial assistance to Malaysia and resettle 4,000 UNHCR-recognised refugees on top of existing commitments to resettle refugees from the region.




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Refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia: the good, the bad and the unexpected


An important part of the arrangement was that those asylum seekers returned to Malaysia would not be penalised, and would be provided with housing, the right to work, and access to education for children.

The arrangement would act as an effective deterrent to people taking a boat to Australia to seek asylum because their expensive and dangerous journey would just result in their return to Malaysia. The Malaysia arrangement had the benefit of refocusing Australia’s response to asylum seekers and drawing in our neighbours to a regional response.

It’s critical that the Australian government take a new direction in refugee policy and move beyond its tired and false rhetoric of deterrence as a justification for detaining refugees on Nauru and Manus.The Conversation

Alex Reilly, Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison brings immigration centre stage with freeze on refugee intake


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will seek to bring the debate over immigration and refugees to the centre of the election campaign, with an announcement that a Coalition government would freeze the humanitarian intake.

He will contrast this with Labor plans for an increase in the humanitarian component, claiming this would cost many billions of dollars and challenging Bill Shorten to produce more detail about the consequences.

So far immigration has not had a prominent place in the campaign. The border security issue went quiet when the expected large number of applications for transfer from Nauru and Manus after the medevac legislation failed to materialise.




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Morrison on Sunday will announce that the number of migrants coming to Australia as refugees will be frozen at 18,750.

He will appear at a rally with John Howard, who as prime minister was strongly associated with a tough border policy.

The government has already announced a cap on the migration program of 160,000. The previous cap was 190,000, although the actual intake had fallen to about 160,000.

It will contrast its freeze on the humanitarian intake with Labor’s plan to increase it to 32,000 by 2025-26.

Morrison will also outline the proposed makeup of the humanitarian program for the first time. This will include an overall target of 60% of the offshore component allocated to women. Women made up 50.8% in 2017-18.

The Coalition’s Women at Risk program, as a proportion of the offshore component, would be increased from 14% in 2017-18 to 20% (3,500) in 2019-20.




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Labor’s crackdown on temporary visa requirements won’t much help Australian workers


The government also plans to try to boost the number of refugees and humanitarian entrants settled in regional areas from a target of 30% to 40% in 2019-20. But it stresses that people would not be forced to areas that did not want them.

Some 27% of the humanitarian program will be reserved for Women at Risk and the Community Support Program, which is private sponsorship from church and community groups.

In comments ahead of the Sunday announcement, Morrision said: “We’ve got our borders and the budget under control. We make decisions about who comes here based on what’s in Australia’s interests.

“Australia isn’t just about growing our population – it’s about quality of life. We’re capping and freezing our immigration growth so our government’s record A$100 billion congestion busting program for roads and rail can catch up and take the pressure off our cities.”




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Morrison said the government had been upfront that it was reducing the migration intake cap and capping the number Australia let in under its humanitarian program – that was one of the most generous in the world.

“We are telling where we’ll be taking migrants from, who they will be, the skills we want them to have, and working with regions to settle people in towns that want and need more workers, skills and students.

“It’s time for Bill Shorten and Labor to front up and tell Australians about their $6 billion plan to massively increase immigration and where they’re going to house thousands of extra people.

“Labor’s immigration bill is going to go through the roof and the only way they can pay for it is taking $387 billion in higher taxes from Australians.”

The government some time ago put a costing of $6 billion over the medium term on increasing the government-funded humanitarian intake from 17,750 to 27,000 by 2025-26.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dog whistles, regional visas and wage theft – immigration policy is again an election issue


Jock Collins, University of Technology Sydney

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Immigration policy will be a major issue in the 2019 federal election. We know this because immigration has featured significantly at every Australian election since the 2001 “children overboard” election.

David Marr and Marian Wilkinson argued in their 2003 book, Dark Victory, that willingness to play the race card in relation to boat people was a decisive factor in John Howard’s election victory. For Tony Abbott, “Stop the boats” was a major campaign theme when the Coalition won back government in the 2013 election. The current prime minister, Scott Morrison, rose to prominence as Abbott’s unyielding immigration minister who stopped the boats.




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While the events of Christchurch may have cramped the opportunity for the Coalition to run hard on fear, promising to be tough on borders and tough on (Muslim) terrorism, the dog-whistle politics on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers will be there for those wanting to hear it.

For Labor these policy issues have been difficult. It was Kevin Rudd who as PM declared that those arriving by boat would never be settled in Australia, irrespective of the validity of their claims for protection under the UN Refugee Convention. Labor supported efforts to get children out of detention on Manus Island, but doesn’t want to give the conservatives too much space to convincingly advance a “Labor weak on border security” line.

Humanitarian intake is growing

The Coalition governments of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison have in fact increased Australia’s annual humanitarian intake significantly. The number has risen from just over 13,750 to more than 18,000 – though the government has not loudly broadcast this fact.

In addition, Abbott in 2015 announced a one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian conflict refugees. Most of them arrived in 2017, effectively doubling the annual refugee intake in that year.

Australia – and the refugees – coped well, demonstrating the nation’s capacity to significantly increase refugee intakes. Our research with newly arrived Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugee families suggests they are settling well in Australia, receiving a warm welcome from locals in the cities and regional centres. Employment and family reunification are their key worries.




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Refugees are integrating just fine in regional Australia


Labor’s shadow immigration minister, Shayne Neumann, has flagged a new temporary sponsored visa for the parents of migrants. Unlike the current visa, it does not have a cap and it might assist refugees to get their parents to Australia.

Labor has announced it will increase the annual humanitarian intake of refugees to 27,000 by 2025. It will also abolish Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). These visas provide boat arrivals who are found to be refugees the right to stay for only three years with work and study rights and access to Centrelink payments. As Labor argues, this places them “in a permanent state of limbo”.

The Coalition parties have not announced their policy intentions in relation to humanitarian intakes or the rights of asylum seekers, including those who arrived by boat.

At a time when Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton scans the horizon for new boat arrivals, record number of asylum seekers are arriving by plane under tourist visas. In 2013-14, there were 18,718 asylum applications, including 9,072 boat arrivals. This had increased to 27,931 asylum applications, with no boat arrivals, by 2017-18.


Department of Home Affairs

Each year the Australia government sets the permanent immigration targets. Until recently this was set at 190,00. In practice just 162,000 immigrants have been admitted over the past year or so.

A token cut and 2 new visas

In this context Prime Minister Morrison’s announcement that the permanent immigration target will be cut to 160,000 is really no change in immigration policy. There is nothing to see here if you dismiss the need to be loudly anti-immigration in the current populist political climate.




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Government’s population plan is more about maximising ‘win-wins’ than cutting numbers


The announcement is linked to congestion-busting in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. It is accompanied by the introduction of two new visa pathways – the Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) Visa and the Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) Visa – for skilled migrants to live and work in regional areas for five years.

These visas offer the carrot of permanent residency at the end of three years to attract new immigrants to regional Australia. In addition, the budget announced that scholarships to the tune of $94 million over four years would be available to domestic and international students who study there.




Read more:
Settling migrants in regional areas will need more than a visa to succeed


Temporary migrants exploited

Most immigration policy debates centre on permanent immigration intakes, particularly of humanitarian immigrants and asylum seekers. Yet annual temporary migrant intakes – international students, working holidaymakers and temporary skilled workers – are three times greater than the permanent intake. Over 800,000 temporary migrants were in Australia in June 2018.

One key policy issue is the exploitation of temporary migrant workers. The Turnbull government abolished the 457 temporary skilled migration visa because of increasing reports of abuse and exploitation by employers.

One recent survey of 4,332 temporary migrant workers found “increasing evidence of widespread exploitation of temporary migrant workers, including wage theft”. Half of all temporary migrant workers may be underpaid. About one in three international students and backpackers earned $12 an hour or less – about half the minimum wage.

This issue goes not just to the ethics of maintaining a temporary migration program largely premised on migrant worker exploitation. It also resonates with Labor’s campaign for a living wage and the restoration of penalty rates for workers in response to the low rate of real wage growth in Australia, which constrains consumer demand.




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Ultra low wage growth isn’t accidental. It is the intended outcome of government policies


The 2019-20 federal budget allocated extra funding to the Fair Work Ombudsman to bolster enforcement action against employers who exploit vulnerable workers and announced the National Labour Hire Registration Scheme to target rogue operators in the labour hire industry. However, the research suggests wage theft is widespread in the small business sector, a key target for tax relief in the budget. It is an area of immigration policy that requires considerably more resources and punch.The Conversation

Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.