Boat arrivals on the mainland: what difference does it make?

Parliament house flag post

Boat arrivals on the mainland: what difference does it make?

Posted 12/04/2013 by Ian McCluskey

On 9 April 2013, Customs and Border Protection advised the Minister for Home Affairs that a suspected irregular entry vessel (SIEV) had arrived in Geraldton harbour in Western Australia. The boat is thought to have been carrying 66 people (officially known as irregular maritime arrivals or IMAs) from Sri Lanka.

According to Parliamentary Library research compiled from departmental and ministerial press releases, these were the first IMAs on Australia’s mainland since November 2008. According to the Minister for Immigration, there were 19 undetected mainland arrivals during the Howard Government—mostly prior to 2002. Between 2002 after the introduction of the ‘Pacific Solution’ and 2008 when the ‘Pacific Solution’ was formally dismantled by the Rudd Government there were four according to publicly available information:

  • The first boat to arrive after the wave of arrivals during the Howard Government in 2001 was on 1 July 2003 when the media reported a boat carrying 54 Vietnamese asylum seekers had arrived off Port Hedland in Western Australia. They were transferred to HMAS Canberra and taken to Christmas Island for processing. The then Minister for Immigration, Phillip Ruddock, made it clear in a ministerial press release that although the passengers had ‘not set foot on the mainland’ the boat had entered Australia's Migration Zone.
  • On 5 November 2005 the media reported that a group of seven Indonesian nationals from West Timor (four men, one woman and two children) arrived by boat in Australian waters and came ashore on the Kimberley coast in northern Western Australia. They were considered to be the first unauthorised boat arrivals on the Australian mainland since July 2003 (others had arrived on islands excised for migration purposes).
  • On 18 January 2006 the media reported that 43 Indonesian nationals from West Papua (30 males, six females and seven minors) had arrived at Cape York in Queensland and were later flown to Christmas Island. The then Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone, released a press release in March 2006 announcing that Australia had granted temporary protection visas to 42 of the Papuans.
  • On 28 November 2008, the then Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, announced that a vessel with 12 people from Sri Lanka on board had arrived undetected on the WA coast at Shark Bay.

What difference does it make?

The place of arrival of unauthorised asylum seekers coming by boat first became an issue when the Howard Government introduced the migration excision regime and the ‘Pacific Solution’ in late 2001. This meant that asylum seekers on board unauthorised vessels could be intercepted (usually by the Australian navy) and eventually transferred to offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Asylum seekers arriving in Australia at Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Ashmore and Cartier Islands could also be transferred offshore.   

Following a recommendation contained in the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, the Gillard Government announced its decision on 13 August 2012 to resume the Howard Government practice of sending certain asylum seekers offshore for processing. At present, unauthorised asylum seekers arriving by boat at excised offshore places after 13 August 2012 can be transferred to Regional Processing Countries (RPCs), currently in Nauru and PNG.

The Gillard Government has also made it clear that there would be a ‘no advantage’ principle, as recommended in the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, meaning that persons removed to RPCs will not be resettled any sooner than asylum seekers who did not travel to Australia by boat. What this means in practice is unclear, but it is likely that those persons removed to RPCs may face prolonged periods of time waiting for their claims to be assessed, as they did under the Howard Government.

By arriving on the mainland and not at an excised offshore place such as Christmas Island, the Geraldton arrivals can still be detained, but under the current law they cannot be removed to Nauru or PNG. They may lodge claims for Protection visas with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) without having to rely upon the Minister exercising his discretion to ‘lift the bar’ to allow them to do so. If unsuccessful before DIAC, the Geraldton arrivals may seek review in the Refugee Review Tribunal.

Under the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012 which has passed the House and is currently before the Senate, the excision regime would in effect be extended to the remainder of Australia. If enacted, seaborne unauthorised asylum seekers who first arrive in Australia on the mainland will only be able to apply for Protection visas if the Minister lifts the bar. They will also be liable to be sent to RPCs for what could be many years.     

Co-authored with Janet Phillips

Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice




refugees asylum immigration Parliament climate change Australian foreign policy elections social security women welfare reform Australian Defence Force welfare policy school education higher education private health insurance Taxation Indigenous Australians health financing emissions trading Australian Bureau of Statistics employment people trafficking statistics Middle East illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 Senate income management Medicare disability Sport United Nations Asia transport Australian Public Service politics criminal law Afghanistan health forced labour aid Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism dental health public service reform OECD constitution Australian Electoral Commission WADA child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century steroids National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system Electoral reform accountability defence capability multiculturalism ASADA Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Fair Work Act governance labour force people smuggling debt international relations New Zealand food Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme voting China regulation leadership Census election results UK Parliament Papua New Guinea banking International Women's Day corruption pensions children's health Aviation federal election 2013 foreign debt gross debt net debt parliamentary procedure Senators and Members ALP Newstart Parenting Payment Youth Allowance sea farers vocational education and training domestic violence military history by-election political parties High Court skilled migration mental health Federal Court terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations youth paid parental leave same sex relationships coal seam gas customs planning doping crime health risks Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy Productivity United Kingdom firearms public policy Population violence against women ADRV terrorism transparency research and development welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union family assistance United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling Drugs welfare systems Indonesia children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy social inclusion human rights paternalism administrative law universities TAFE Ireland election timetable citizenship asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity standards NATO Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse World Trade Organization Australia public health housing affordability bulk billing water health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation public housing expertise climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage rural and regional alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution Double dissolution Senators safety vehicles Foreign affairs ODA MYEFO Pathology tertiary education Taiwan Xi Ma meeting family violence government financial advisers financial planners Financial System Inquiry Murray Inquiry China; Economic policy; Southeast Asia; Africa housing Speaker; House of Representatives; Parliament Defence High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers sitting days First speech defence budget submarines workers Somalia GDP world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office work-life balance

Show all
Show less
Back to top