Coalition Government and Australia’s Migration Program

Posted on September 19, 2013 by Emily

Less than 24 hours after Tony Abbott and his cabinet were officially commissioned by Governor-General Quentin Bryce at Parliament House, strong policy changes were indicated by the Prime Minister’s Office affecting the direction of Australia’s migration policy.

Prior to the election, the Coalition flagged the return of John Howard’s regime of temporary protection visas for asylum seekers as a top priority for the new government. The initiative of ‘strengthening Australia’s borders’ has been affirmed by the renaming of the ministry responsible for the government’s migration agenda as ‘Minister for Immigration and Border Protection’ (formerly ‘Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship’) and the appointment of Deputy Chief of Army Angus Campbell as head of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’. The new Government’s policy in this area has not come without considerable international backlash. The Coalition’s policy of ‘turning back the boats’ to Indonesia and paying Indonesians to spy on people smuggling operations has been vehemently criticised by Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Commission as “offensive”, claiming that this scheme will not be accepted by the Indonesian government. This will prove to be a significant challenge for the new Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop in attempting to balance both Australia’s ‘Border Protection’ policy as well as maintaining Australia’s diplomatic relations with Indonesia. As Australia’s first female Minister for Foreign Affairs, this portfolio will definitely test Minister Bishop’s demonstrated ability in navigating difficult and testing policy agendas.

The other point of divergence from the Labor Government’s Migration Agenda is the Coalition’s stance on the current 457 program. Tony Abbott’s support for a ‘Big Australia’ This has been supported by the appointment of Senator Michaelia Cash as the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. During the final days of the Rudd-Gillard Government in Jun 2013, when the Bill proposing tightening of the 457 scheme and the introduction of labour market testing was being debated in Parliament, Senator Cash highlighted the lack of consultation involved in the proposed Bill. Senator Cash also voiced issues regarding the lack of evidence produced by the Labor Government in relation to claims made of applicants ‘rorting the 457 system’ as well as the supposed immediate need to ‘close the loophole’ left in the legislation. For a full transcript of these concerns, please click here.

Both the 457 scheme and the refugee scheme warrants closer attention in the first few months of the new Government. Their direction on these issues will provide greater clarity in regards to their proposed direction for their legislative term.

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Newly Sworn in Minister for Immigraton and Border Protection – Scott Morrison and Minister for Foreign Affairs – Julie Bishop. Courtesy of