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Majority of Australians Disagree with Government Policy on Refugees


30 June 2016 at 11:19 am
Wendy Williams
The majority of Australians believe refugees who arrive in Australia by boat should be allowed to stay in the country, according to a new poll.

Wendy Williams | 30 June 2016 at 11:19 am


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Majority of Australians Disagree with Government Policy on Refugees
30 June 2016 at 11:19 am

The majority of Australians believe refugees who arrive in Australia by boat should be allowed to stay in the country, according to a new poll.

Refugees welcome sign RS

With just days left before the election, a poll commissioned by The Australian Institute has found there is a disconnect between government policy and what the public believes.

A total of 63 per cent of respondents said those found to be genuine refugees should be allowed to stay in Australia, with 28 per cent saying they should also be brought to Australia for processing.

Just 22 per cent of those asked said refugees should be sent to camps on Manus Island and Nauru and should not be allowed to come to Australia under any circumstances.

The results stand in opposition to the bipartisan policy that refugees who arrive in Australia by boat should never be allowed to settle in the country.

The Australian Institute spokesperson Tom Burmester told Pro Bono Australia News that the poll showed the policies being enacted by the government do not have public support.

“What we tried to do with the poll was to ask questions about some of the policy specifics,” Burmester said.

“So I guess the thing was while the debate in Australia has tended to talk in generalities so a lot of ‘tough on borders’, ‘protect your borders’, that sort of general language, there has perhaps not been much discussion of the real specific policies that are playing out in Manus and Nauru.

“So we asked about the specific policies and when it comes to those specific measures the policy that is enacted by the government and supported by the opposition at this stage, does not have support in the results that we had from the polling of 1,400 Australians.”

The poll, of 1,437 people, was carried out between 23 May and 3 June 2016 through Research Now, with nationally representative samples by gender, age and state or territory.

It found the majority of respondents also disagreed with the government’s decision to turn down New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru, whose claims have been processed and accepted as genuine refugees.

A total of 61 per cent said Australia should accept New Zealand’s offer. Of these 58 per cent were Coalition voters and 62 per cent were Labor voters.

The poll also found that two-thirds of Australians (66 per cent) said it should be legal for doctors to speak publicly about conditions in the camps and report any incidences of abuse to the police.

Burmester said it was clear, whoever wins the election, Manus and Nauru have to close.

“I think that what could be taken on board is that there is a way to take the people with them without enacting these specific policies,” he said.

“In fact probably the lesson will be if the specific policies, things like not allowing doctors to speak openly about conditions, or the specifics about if someone is found to be a genuine refugee to still keep them indefinitely on Manus, then there is a policy to change that. However I think the main point is, that whoever wins the election on Saturday, Manus and Nauru have to close.

“They cannot stay there forever, holding people forever, so there must be a solution granted.”

Burmester said there were ways to bring policies in line with public opinion.

“What was interesting in the polling is the strong support of Australians to take up the New Zealand offer of taking refugees from Nauru and Manus,” he said.

“Now I think that looking at this problem as a regional problem, which it is, and accepting that and working with partners like New Zealand, is a very obvious place with public support for either party to go to. And if that is too difficult for them internally and externally before the election, there is certainly a place for either party to go, and they will certainly get support from the Greens on the cross bench, to change that position in line with public opinion.”


Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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