John Howard Policy
(Foto: Siska Silmi/

Characterized by the cultural diversity of its people, Australia is a country where officially migrants have enriched almost every aspect of contemporary society. In fact, since the rejection of the White Australia policy in 1973, successive Australian governments have endeavored to foster, both domestically and internationally, an image of a cohesive, egalitarian and multicultural nation. However, despite efforts to distance contemporary Australia from its racially exclusionist past, unauthorized non-white immigration continues to pose problems for the Australian state. Australia’s economic success, social welfare, domestic political stability makes it as a country of interest by foreign immigrants from various countries. Australia also noted as a country which has been the main target to asylum seeker that comes with the aim to obtain the asylum in Australia.

The status of Australia as a developed country and member country of Geneva Convention year 1951 on refugee status and the New York 1967 Protocol, which has an obligation to provide international refugee protection, makes Australia as paradise for the asylum seeker. As a country which ratified the Geneva Convention 1951, Australia should be obliged to grant asylum and refugee status to asylum seekers who enter the territory of the country. However, in its application, the Australian government makes the policy that is contrary to the committee as a signatory to the convention, in acceptance asylum seekers which called as Pacific Solution policy.

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Howard made a policy called as Pacific Solution that is the displacement of the asylum seeker to detention centers spread across archipelagic countries in the Pacific Ocean. One of the policy application strategies is Relax Operation, which is an Australian border protection strategy on the high seas by intercepting, detaining, and preventing ships carrying people who want to enter Australia without a visa. Although the policy was ever dismissed at the turn of leadership during the reign of Kevin Rudd (Labour Party) year 2007, in the end, the same policy in Howard’s period was reinstated during the reign of Tony Abbott with a framework of police Operation Sovereign Border.

Australia tends to choose an increasingly restrictive policy towards asylum seeker with the justification for safeguarding its national interest, namely national security. When viewed from the implementation of the policy of Pacific Solution that is intended to respond and stem the tide of asylum seekers entering the territory of Australia. The Department Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) as an institution responsible for immigration issues in Australia decided that the presence of asylum seekers who come by using the boat is considered as the illegal immigrant or the famous Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs).

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The Pacific Solution encompassed three key features. Firstly, certain territories notably Christmas Island, Cocos Island and Ashmore Reef were excised from Australia’s migration zone, meaning that when landing on these islands, asylum seekers could not apply to Australia for refugee status. Secondly, the government was granted powers that allowed the Navy to interdict asylum seekers heading to Australia by boat. Finally, arrangements were made with Nauru and Papua New Guinea to establish detention centers for the processing of asylum seekers, thus establishing Australia’s system of offshore processing. After 2001, the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat dropped dramatically, with one person arriving in 2002, and an average of 57 people each subsequent year until Kevin Rudd’s Labor government was elected in 2007.

Based on the historical aspect of Australia’s IMA policy, the arrival of the migration wave has taken place since the 1940s. However, in 1999 Australian political conditions began to be affected by the turmoil of the IMA issue due to the coming wave of migration by asylum seekers from the Middle East. The Tampa incident in 2001 was the turning point for the implementation of a series of restrictive policies on the IMA under the reign of John Howard. The main problem with this incident was the Australian government’s refusal of the placement of 433 asylum seekers (mostly from Afghanistan) who were rescued by Norwegian freighter carriers on the high seas.

The Howard Government implements a Pacific Solution policy that includes the detention of boats carrying asylum seekers before they enter the Australian migration zone and resettlement for those who have been confirmed as refugees. This policy is the pioneer of an offshore processing center, a detention center for asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore areas as well as in other countries to secure Australia’s border area from asylum-seekers arriving. This policy complements Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) for asylum seekers whose arrival is unlawful to Australia but is subsequently designated as a refugee.

Australia will not be able to execute its own IMA policy without attempting to map out and see the influence of the existence of the countries around it. Australia is concerned to establish good relations with its Asia Pacific neighbors in transit for IMA so that the country has a justification for raising the urgency of the IMA issue at the regional level. This is actually a very important thing for Australia to realize Australia’s security interests in the handling of IMA. The initial effort initiated by Australia to work with Indonesia on IMA’s handling is the Bali Process on People Smuggling, the Bali Process. The domestic political context of Australia at the time this policy was initiated was a major concern due to the increasing number of IMAs working towards Australia. The IMA is feared to be a threat to Australia’s national security because it has the potential to pave the way for people smuggling and the entry of terrorism.

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In addition, Australia also provides funding support channeled through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This fund is provided to support the implementation of the Regional Cooperation Arrangement (2001) and the Management and Care of Irregular Immigrants Project (2007) programs. The main objective of this policy program is to reduce the number of people reaching Australian territory. The enactment of this policy has consequences for Indonesia, namely the necessity to arrest people who are considered illegally intending to travel to Australia and then refer it to IOM Indonesia for processing in Indonesia.

Cooperation with post-conflict Indonesia due to IMA case in 2001 was able to reduce post Tampa conflict. It also shows that in Australia’s security and defense strategy, Indonesia is not just a neighboring country, but a strategic partner. Australia’s success in lobbying with the Indonesian government to increase its awareness of irregular migration is at least accomplished through an Indonesian initiative supported by some sending countries at the multilateral level through the Jakarta Declaration in the Special Conference on Irregular Movement of Persons in Jakarta on 20 August 2013. When viewed from Indonesia’s perspective, the Declaration became an important step forward for the handling of asylum seekers as it successfully formulated a number of collective agreements to address the conditions that led to the human smuggling and human trafficking. Border protection, however, constitutes a more enduring element of Australian nationalism – the idea of the continent as the nation. It is also an appeal to national security because the seas that surround the continent can be monitored and unwanted arrivals detected in a way that is impossible for most nations with land borders.

This analysis also shows that the government and the press framed the issue in crucially-different ways. For the government, the boat people were a threat to Australian sovereignty, its border security and the democratic right of its people to determine who came to their country. The boat people posed a humanitarian challenge that needed to be met within the terms of Australia’s traditional refugee policy in a way that was humane, consistent with Australia’s legal obligations and moral responsibility.