Does the public support relaxing mandatory detention policy?

How will Labor’s new migration detention policy go down with voters? While mandatory detention for unauthorised arrivals is still part of the policy, it won’t apply to children or where possible their families, and will be as brief as possible to conduct necessary checks. Essentially, detention is no longer being used as a deterrent to illegal migration, and is instead, in the words of Immigration Minister Chris Evans, about ‘risk management’.

So far as I can see, there have not been any polls directly asking about mandatory detention since this Catallaxy post in 2006, when there was 50% support for the ‘Pacific solution’.

But two polls in 2007 asked about illegal immigrants. A Lowy Institute poll asked how important controlling illegal immigration was, with 56% saying ‘very important’. However, only 28% of respondents said that they were ‘very worried’ about the issue, with a third saying they were ‘fairly worried’.

The 2007 Australian Election Survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with this proposition:

Immigrants who are here illegally should not be allowed to stay for any reason

56% agreed, about half of them strongly. Less than 20% disagreed.

In the absence of new boat arrivals, I doubt this policy shift will cause Labor too many difficulties. But on my reading they are probably out of step with public opinion, which as I noted a couple of months ago is becoming less supportive of the legal migration program.

Update 5 August: There is too little detail to analyse the results properly, but The Age today reports an online poll in which a majority opposed a small increase in the refugee intake.

17 thoughts on “Does the public support relaxing mandatory detention policy?

  1. “How will Labor’s new migration detention policy go down with voters?”

    I don’t know, but I reckon they (Labor) do. This must have been tested with private polling and focus groups.


  2. Well Andrew there is a percentage of the population that will never vote labor, a percentage that will never vote liberal and a small percentage that will swing. I surprised myself when I found out I was in the latter category. And this was the issue. You do not lock children up in detention centers and get my vote.


  3. Charles – This is an interesting issue because both parties have divided constituencies on it, though a bigger problem for Labor than the Coalition, with parts of the left obsessed with ending mandatory detention, but the working class base thinking it to be common sense.


  4. Andrew – I’m not convinced this is a huge change. If a kerfuffle does arise the ALP could very quickly generate public support for the system. Boat people are still processed offshore. Otherwise “law abiding” illegals will not necessarily be detained as they pose no threat to the community and the Department of Immigration has to justify why those who are detained are being detained. That will avoid the embarrassement of detaining and deporting permanent residents and citizens. So all up this is a common sense change to a problem.


  5. Who cares what the public thinks if they’re silly enough to want to waste their taxes on this? Get these refugees and their sponsors to pay their own way and get some cheap labour into the economy – compassion and economic rationalism coincide!


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  7. Andrew I have no doubt both parties have xenophobic members, it is what the leadership does that counts. The behavior of the Liberal Leadership was beyond a disgrace, both from a ethical and economic point of view.

    How much did that white elephant on Christmas island cost? How much was wasted on the “Pacific Solution”? What damage has been done to our international reputation? How many lives were destroyed? Many of these people could have contributed to our economy instead they will be a cost to our health system for decades because of the damage done.

    As far as I am concerned the old Liberal leadership can go and rot in hell, they destroyed ( and are continuing to destroy) a once proud party, and as an Australian I have to hang my head in disgust at some of the things they have done.


  8. Immigrants who are here illegally should not be allowed to stay for any reason

    That statement is very value laden. Genuine refugees are not ‘illegal’ as such. Of course British backpackers that overstay are illegal, but I wonder whether you show people the genuine Iraqi asylum seeker and the British backpacker which one they would feel more comfortable in chucking out.

    When I was working at the Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commission, I seem to remember that since the 60’s a majority of people responded that ‘there were too many migrants coming to the country’ irrespective of the actual number of migration, even when was relatively very little.

    Xenophobes will always see Labor as the ‘pro migrant party’ even if they stopped completely all migration tomorrow.


  9. “I agree. If people want to come to Australia – let them in, subject to health and security checks.”

    This person votes.


  10. Guido: Why do you pick the 60s? Surely Australians against immigration goes back further than that.

    The ALP is the party whose leader Calwell said “Two Wongs don’t make a White”. On many occasions and in many countries unions have opposed immigration. That the ALP, the party of the trade unions, has done so semi-regularly is not surprising. It’s a wedge issue in this way for the ALP. It’s one of those things that splits the party between those who vote for it and the inner city elite who tend to represent it. Andrew has had posts on this divide before.

    Immigration has surely been an issue where successive Australian governments have made strange noises but usually kept the numbers up. The Howard government played this issue quite amusingly, sneaking Howard battlers and Hanson supporters into voting for them whilst increasing immigration to record levels.

    It should be also noted that immigration is now a wedge for the left on an environmental front. Counterpoint this week on the ABC had some of the Australians against further immigration folk. They also had Nicholas Gruen making some interesting points about tariff cuts.

    If you want to keep Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions down it surely makes sense to not allow the population to increase by 50 percent until 2050. Counterpoint may be being a bit cheeky on this one to disturb the greens. but it is nonetheless worth looking at.


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  12. As there is no such thing as “illegal migration” to Australia precisely why do the stupid pollsters keep using the term?

    There is no offence in the migration act for being in or entering Australia without a visa.

    Try para 86 of the case of Al Kateb in the high court and see for yourself, then lets do a poll without using that stupid term.


  13. Marilyn – While I think ‘refugee’ would have been a suitable term here, pollsters are surveying people with very limited knowledge and need to use terms people will understand, even if these are not those experts like. We can be confident that very few people have ever read the Al Kateb case. I doubt the terminology is affecting the result, as a survey that did use the word ‘refugee’ found pretty much the same thing, as I noted in response to a similar criticism by another commenter.


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