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 Australian foreign policy Parliament climate change elections women social security Indigenous Australians Australian Bureau of Statistics Employment Sport illicit drugs people trafficking taxation Medicare welfare reform Australian Defence Force higher education welfare policy United Nations Asia income management Middle East criminal law disability Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget health financing gambling school education forced labour aid statistics Australian Electoral Commission WADA emissions trading Australia in the Asian Century steroids detention Private health insurance OECD ASADA labour force transport Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Industrial Relations people smuggling dental health National Disability Insurance Scheme Australian Crime Commission slavery Senate election results Papua New Guinea Australian Public Service International Women's Day corruption Afghanistan Fair Work Act child protection debt federal election 2013 parliamentary procedure poker machines ALP New Zealand Newstart Parenting Payment 43rd Parliament political parties Census constitution High Court skilled migration voting Federal Court terrorist groups Higher Education Loan Program HECS youth paid parental leave Aviation environment foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability customs doping health crime health risks multiculturalism aged care Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery sea farers Special Rapporteur leadership United Kingdom UK Parliament Electoral reform politics banking firearms public policy violence against women domestic violence mental health China ADRV terrorism social media pensions welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation governance public service reform Carbon Pricing Mechanism carbon tax mining military history employer employee fishing by-election European Union same sex relationships international relations coal seam gas family assistance planning United Nations Security Council Australian economy food vocational education and training Drugs Indonesia children codes of conduct terrorist financing money laundering Productivity asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Population Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity science research and development Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse federal state relations World Trade Organization Australia accountability housing affordability bulk billing water renewable energy children's health health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation expertise Senators and Members climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry food labelling Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets health reform Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government local government consumer laws PISA royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition Parliamentary remuneration health system Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol energy forced marriage rural and regional Northern Territory Emergency Response ministries social citizenship human rights citizenship 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 workers Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery transparency corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation standards NATO 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 public health 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 regional unemployment 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 trade unions same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders public housing prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines Somalia GDP forestry world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission regulation limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders animal health live exports welfare systems infant mortality middle class welfare 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 Constitutional reform referendum Rent Assistance competition policy pharmaceutical benefits scheme obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant homelessness regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Youth Allowance Members suspension citizen engagement policymaking federal election 2010 workplace health and safety Trafficking in Persons Report marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament alcohol Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act entitlements political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing Hung Parliament political education social inclusion Social Inclusion Board maritime early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin Iran sanctions Norway hospitals

Show all
Show less
Back to top