TWELVE days after usurping the Labor leadership, new PM Julia Gillard outlined her “boat people” policy to an anxious public. The plan? A “regional processing centre” on East Timor.
There was nothing new about the idea – regional processing has been part of Australia’s response to asylum seekers since the first wave of Indo-Chinese refugees in the late 70s. The only novel aspect of the policy was the astonishing speed with which it was cobbled together. A hasty call to Timor-Leste’s President Jose Ramos-Horta, a quick chat with the UN, and Gillard was ready to strike asylum seekers from her pre-election to-do list.
Yet the issue of “boat people” can’t be swatted away so easily. Australia needs to develop a considered, long-term approach to asylum seekers and refugees because they could be heading our way for a long time to come.