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Asylum-seekers: we know what we want

Find below a copy of Graham Young’s  survey into the attitudes of Australians about the Asylum seeker issue It makes very interesting reading and I reproduce it here under the terms of its creative commons licence

The ALP needs to ensure that it doesn’t lose any more voters to the Greens. This is a real worry, recent by-elections notwithstanding, as according to our qualitative poll of 832 Australians, half of the 29 per cent of ALP voters who disapprove of ALP asylum-seeker policy agree with that of the Greens.

At the same time they don’t want to lose any more on the right to the Libs, and now Bob Katter.

Keeping Labor stuck in this quandary is good politics for Tony Abbott, and it is easy, because his policy is closest to what Australians will accept; but it is also identical to that of John Howard, and Labor just couldn’t embrace that, not just for reasons of politics but pride as well.

While no one’s policy received majority support, the opposition was closest with 45 per cent support (v 47 per cent against), while Labor’s policy attracted 19 per cent support (v 70 per cent opposition) and the Greens 18 per cent support (v 68 per cent opposition).

Importantly for the opposition in terms of Labor’s wedge, it manages to get a 42-33 per cent split in its favour among Katter voters. Disastrously for the government, Katter voters split 75-8 against its policy. At the same time, the government’s new “worst” friends on the left, the Greens, hate their policy too – 75-12 against.

But these judgments are affected by voting intentions. Polling on specific immigration policy yields more nuanced responses.

The ALP needs to ensure that it doesn’t lose any more voters to the Greens. This is a real worry, recent by-elections notwithstanding, as according to our qualitative poll of 832 Australians, half of the 29 per cent of ALP voters who disapprove of ALP asylum-seeker policy agree with that of the Greens.

At the same time they don’t want to lose any more on the right to the Libs, and now Bob Katter.

Keeping Labor stuck in this quandary is good politics for Tony Abbott, and it is easy, because his policy is closest to what Australians will accept; but it is also identical to that of John Howard, and Labor just couldn’t embrace that, not just for reasons of politics but pride as well.

While no one’s policy received majority support, the opposition was closest with 45 per cent support (v 47 per cent against), while Labor’s policy attracted 19 per cent support (v 70 per cent opposition) and the Greens 18 per cent support (v 68 per cent opposition).

Importantly for the opposition in terms of Labor’s wedge, it manages to get a 42-33 per cent split in its favour among Katter voters. Disastrously for the government, Katter voters split 75-8 against its policy. At the same time, the government’s new “worst” friends on the left, the Greens, hate their policy too – 75-12 against.

But these judgments are affected by voting intentions. Polling on specific immigration policy yields more nuanced responses.

Approval or disapproval of key elements of asylum seeker policy

Approval and disapproval of key components of asylum seeker policy

Most of us (55 per cent) agree with offshore processing, while only 33 per cent disagree. Mandatory detention attracts a bare majority support of 50 per cent but with only 35 per cent opposed.

Majorities support processing on Nauru and Australian territories such as Christmas Island, and a plurality supports Manus Island. However, processing in Malaysia is disapproved of by 56 per cent, with its only support being from ALP voters.

Reintroduction of temporary protection visas was supported by 53 per cent, and while towing boats back was opposed by almost half – 49 per cent – another 42 per cent supported it.

Combing through qualitative responses, many who support easier arrangements typify their opponents as racists or xenophobes. This is undoubtedly true in some cases, but figures suggest it is not the general position as the policy most strongly supported is to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake, with 63 per cent in support to 21 per cent opposed, and net support in all major parties bar Katter’s Australian Party.

Most voters are actually sympathetic to the plight of asylum-seekers but see the issue as being one of ethical conflicts so that their plight is not the sole issue.

There is the conflict between their rights and those of refugees who can’t afford the people-smuggler tariff, meaning there is no solution that can be completely humane and just for everyone.

Another concern is territorial and cultural security, concerns that are typically conservative in the philosophical sense and that focus on our rights.

Many recognise that Australians have it pretty good, which is why refugees want to come here, but fear that too many, too quickly, would ruin what we have for everyone. There is an underlying belief that if we don’t fix the people-smuggling problem we might as well just have an open-borders policy and have the navy as a “meet-and-greet” agency to conduct people into port.

What is the point of a nation state if you can’t police your borders? And if Australian society is undermined, what does that do to our capacity to help?

In a sense there is a mismatch between the immediate and the long term that can be most easily fixed by ensuring refugees don’t come here in the first place, which means tough border regulations.

Many voters also see it as a question of competence. Labor didn’t need to fiddle with Howard’s policy, which people believe worked, but it did. They see it as a sign of dilettantism from the government, which joins all their other concerns about its competence.

Interestingly, while recent political debate has centred on the risk of death to asylum-seekers from the trip, I can find little in the responses suggesting that this is a major concern of Australians.

Australia has had 26 years (some would say more than 200) of unauthorised boat arrivals, which has led to divisive debate. Now it seems we may be within reach of a set of policies that will satisfy most of us.

 

 

 

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