The issue of refugee policy in Australia has for a long time seemed intractable. But while good soutions are hard to find, they do exist.
The RPI’s research has led us to three key policy recommendations which meet our humanitarian commitments, while also offering huge advantages to areas willing to implement them. Today, we’d like to unpack these recommendations, and explain how they can benefit Australian comunities, while also offering a more humane alternative to our current policy.
1. Increase the proportion of refugees settled in regional areas to 75%.
Increasing the proportion of refugees settled in regional areas (in particular, areas with population and skill shortages) allows Australia to reap huge economic gains from refugee resettlement. Skills and population shortages are causing collapse in regional centres across NSW, Queensland anf Victoria, and methods to alleviate it have been deeply unsuccessful. At present, very few migrants settle in regional areas, even with the presence of dedicated incentive programs. To fix this, we advocate for a new kind of dedicated visa to be offered to humanitarian entrants who are willing to be settled in regional areas. Refugee resettlement offers an opportunity to make up for the skills and population shortage which is causing the collapse of regional centres, while simultaneously allowing Australia to live up to our humanitarian commitments.
2. Increase humanitarian visas to 23,000/year (an increase of 4,250)
Settling a higher proportion of migrants in regional areas will have an impact on stem population decline in regional areas, but it is estimated that an increase of 23,000/year is necessary to fully keep up with the labour shortages and population decline which is affecting regional communities.
While 23,000 is the minimum migration rate needed to curb population decline in the majority of towns, studies by deloitte suggest that increases up to 30,000 per year could be sustainable, and could drive regional development even further.
3. Allocate 3000/year of this increase to Asylum Seekers in Malaysia and Indonesia
Given the very real prospect of being granted a visa for Australia, refugees permanently kept in Malaysia and Indonesia would have no viable reason to travel by boat to Australia. This creates a legitimate, viable path for refugees in Malaysia and Indonesia. The removal of this incentive for entry by boat kills the incentive for people smuggling (which leads to deaths at sea). In short, a dedicated allocation to Indonesia and Malaysia would effectively put an end to the Indonesian people smugglers business.
The added advantage of this, is that the change in policy would make the camps on Manus and Nauru obsolete. The current explanation for these camps is as a deterrent to people smuggling. If the deterrent was no longer needed, those camps would not be necessary and coudl be closed, and refugees in perpetual containment would be able to be released without political ramifications.
KEY BENEFITS OF THESE POLICIES
The economic benefits of these policies have been tested in a number regional towns in Australia with huge success. They have been seen to have huge positive impact on economic performance in regional areas, and on stemming population and economic decline. The results of these small trials are exceedingly clear; and if we want these positive impacts to hit regional areas more broadly, the only remaining step is to implement these policies at scale.
You can read our full report on the positive economic impacts of resettlement here.
The immediate humanitarian impact of an increased refugee intake is huge; vastly improving 4,000 lives per year, and allowing us to play our role in addressing the global refugee crisis. More importantly, this policy offers a profitable, ethical model which other countries can imitate. Problems of a global scale cannot be solved by just one country. But with these policy changes, it would establish that there is self-interested reason for countries to accept new refugees, and offer a model to be copied. Then, the refugee crisis doesn’t have to be a problem at all – instead, it can be an opportunity to be mined.
Countries like Brazil, Japan, South Korea, France and Canada suffer from similar labour shortages to Australia, which have simiar negative impacts on their economies, and they could similarly gain from a policy of this kind. Following Australia’s model, they could benefit their communities, and economies, and improve the lives of millions of displaced people in the process.
The humanitarian impact of Australia pioneering this program would be colossal. National unwillingness to accept refugees has been a major reason behind many prolonged refugee crises, so giving nations a self-interested, evidenced backed reason to accept refugees could make global refugee crises a thing of the past.
How to Make This a Reality
The only thing we need to do to implement these changes is to get a few specific nationals politicians to take a stand on refugee policy. This means making refugee policy a voting issue in a two key electorates. Given the popularity of refugee resettlement in Nationals electorates in northern NSW, and given the likelihood that Nationals politicians in marginal seats could gain votes by supporting this policy, this is a deeply achievable goal.
The Refugee Policy Institute, in coordination with Rural Australians For Refugees are doing everything we can to organise these already passionate electorates, and make these changes a reality.