Politics Analysis

Temporary Protection Visas achieve little in stopping boats

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

In the past week of the election campaign, there has been much debate about the role of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), offshore processing and boat turn-backs in limiting irregular boat arrivals.

Most of the debate on the effectiveness of TPVs has been devoid of any reference to actual evidence — so let’s look at the evidence.

TPVs were first introduced in 1999 by the Howard Government. In that year, there was no offshore processing or boat turn-backs. In that calendar year, there were 3,721 boat arrivals.

In 2000, TPVs remained in place and there were 2,939 boat arrivals and in 2001, there were 5,516 boat arrivals.

Offshore processing was not introduced until after the asylum seekers rescued by the Norwegian ship Tampa were taken onto an Australian Navy ship, the HMAS Manoora, in late August 2001. They were subsequently transported to Nauru.

Eventually, they were joined by hundreds of other asylum seekers, under Australia's “Pacific Solution”. In addition, the Howard Government started turning back boats that sought to come to Australia.

Contrary to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ongoing claim that he designed and developed the turn-back policy in 2014, it was the Howard Government that first did that in late 2001.

As a result of the Howard Government’s offshore processing and turn-back policy, boat arrivals stopped to a trickle. In 2002, there was only one irregular arrival by boat; 53 in 2003; 15 in 2004; 11 in 2005; and 60 in 2006.

Approximately 150 of those boat arrivals who were found to be refugees were resettled from Nauru and Manus Island to New Zealand (NZ). They were eventually granted NZ citizenship but very few came to Australia via the so-called “back door” — that concern has been a furphy developed by Defence Minister Peter Dutton to delay taking up the NZ resettlement offer for over nine years.

Most of the remainder were gradually resettled in Australia on TPVs by around 2003-04.

But was it TPVs that stopped the boats given the large numbers that arrived in 1999, 2000 and 2001 when TPVs were in effect? Or was it offshore processing and turn-backs? It is clear that TPVs on their own achieve very little.

They also add very little once offshore processing and turn-back policy is in place.

With the election of the Rudd Government in 2007, offshore processing, turn-backs and TPVs were all abolished. In 2007, there were 148 irregular arrivals by boat; 161 in 2008; 2,726 in 2009; 6,555 in 2010; 4,565 in 2011; 17,202 in 2012 and 13,108 in 2013 to 30 June.

In July 2013, the second Rudd Government re-introduced offshore processing but not turn-backs or TPVs. Monthly boat arrivals fell dramatically from 47 boats in July 2013 to only seven boats in December 2013.

Offshore processing had a significant impact on boat arrivals. They had largely stopped by the time Scott Morrison re-introduced turn-backs from 2014.

Scott Morrison also re-introduced TPVs. But apart from leaving thousands of people in immigration limbo for over a decade, there is no evidence TPVs made any substantive difference in terms of boat arrivals.

A further powerful piece of evidence that points to TPVs making little difference in terms of people seeking asylum in Australia has been the biggest ever wave of asylum seekers coming to Australia on visitor visas from around 2015.

This wave of asylum seekers has been around twice as big as the wave of asylum seekers that arrived by boat under the Rudd/Gillard Governments. It is largely a labour trafficking scam to supply cheap labour to farms — unlike past waves of asylum seekers, very few of this latest wave is granted a protection visa, temporary or otherwise.

While seeking asylum, these people are in the community on bridging visas which have very similar if not fewer rights than those for people on TPVs. Despite that, this huge wave of asylum seekers did not slow until international borders were closed due to the pandemic.

Asylum seekers who are eventually refused a visa don’t even have work rights.

There are now over 30,000 people currently living in the Australian community who have been refused asylum at both the primary stage and at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). There are another 35,000 still at the AAT and another 30,000 at the primary stage.

The Government is silent on this latest and largest wave of asylum seekers as if that is irrelevant to its “strong on borders” mantra.

Visas with limited rights such as TPVs and bridging visas have little-to-no effect on the numbers arriving on visitor visas and applying for asylum or indeed on boat arrivals.

It is offshore processing plus turn-backs that slow or stop asylum seekers arriving on boats.

Senator Jim Molan has recently argued that if TPVs were abolished, people smugglers would use this to sell their product to potential asylum seekers living in Indonesia or Malaysia.

But how would the people smugglers convince the potential asylum seekers that they could get past the Australian Navy or that the asylum seekers would not have to spend years in offshore detention?

Senator Molan underestimates the ability of potential asylum seekers to do their own internet research.

Moreover, why haven’t the people smugglers been able to convince potential asylum seekers of the opportunity to be resettled in the U.S. as has been the case now for many years?

Why haven’t they been able to sell that product?

And if it's all about the product that can be sold, why won't the people smugglers sell the benefits of being resettled in NZ?

Why wouldn’t the people smugglers argue the latest proposition that new boat arrivals would not be resettled in NZ is just a ploy and the Australian Government will relent as it has with the legacy boat caseload?

The reality is that TPVs are just a political wedge. They provide no actual policy benefit and Senator Molan knows that.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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