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Asylum-seekers: we know what we want

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 30 July 2012

Asylum-seekers arriving by boat might seem one of the most divisive political issues, but Australians, apart from the Greens and some on the ALP Left, actually agree on the bones of a common policy.

You wouldn't know this because the degree of consensus is obscured by the oppositional reporting of the issue, with refugee advocates gaining a disproportionate amount of air-time compared with the percentage of the population they represent.

It is also obscured by the fact that it operates as a wedge on the left and the right for the ALP, so even when there is agreement it is in the interests of political actors to pretend that there isn't.


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.

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This article was first published in The Australian on July 28, 2012.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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