Cruel, costly and ineffective: The failure of offshore processing

Australia’s multi-billion-dollar offshore processing system has demonstrably failed to stop boats, save lives or break the business model of people smugglers, according to the University of NSW's Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. 

Released at a pivotal moment when the policy is drawing political interest elsewhere as an ‘Australian model’, ‘Cruel, costly and ineffective: The failure of offshore processing in Australia’ marks nine years since Australia resumed its bipartisan policy of intercepting asylum seekers at sea and forcibly transferring them to the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. 

Kaldor Centre researchers Madeline Gleeson and Natasha Yacoub break down the common perception of offshore processing as a single policy, explaining how instead it has unfolded in four distinct phases since August 2012.

Critically, they note that Australia has been caught up in the fourth and final phase – in which the government stopped transferring people offshore and has been trying to extricate itself from the arrangements – for more than seven years now. 

Contrary to popular belief, offshore processing did not stop the boats. Relying on the government’s own data, the authors show that both boat arrivals and deaths at sea continued after the reintroduction of offshore processing in 2012, dropping only after Australia recognised the limitations of its own policy and pivoted away from it to pursue maritime interceptions exclusively from 2014 onwards.  

Rather than save lives, offshore processing ruined them; the authors note cases of murder, suicide and sexual assault, as well as a devastating deterioration in physical and mental health, separated families and traumatised children. ‘Those who survived were exposed to significant harm, which some described as worse than death,’ the authors write. 

As further evidence of the policy’s failure, the vast majority of the people still subject to it are now back in Australia, many having been urgently evacuated amid spiralling health crises. 

The Policy Brief also debunks the claim that offshore processing ‘breaks the business model’ of people smugglers, and critiques the policy as a failure on the basis that it involves: 

·        enormous ongoing financial costs for Australian taxpayers; 

·        violations of fundamental rules of international law; 

·        legal challenges in Australian and international courts; and  

·        systemic cruelty.   

These findings come as the United Kingdom is debating a similar offshore processing system and Denmark has just passed legislation enabling one.  

‘The ‘Australian model’ of offshore processing should never be repeated by future Australian governments,’ the authors write, ‘nor should it be replicated by other countries.’ 

Do you think Australia should have a more humane response to the way it treats refugees? Is this issue important enough to sway your vote at the next election?


It would seem to me that these so called refugees are nothing but illegal queue jumpers

... these people should be placed into United Nations Refugee camps and people who have been waiting there in front of the queue should be taken from there.

that is essentially the methodology anticipated in the proposed "Malaysian solution", and would avoid the fate that proposal received after it was effectively skewered because Malaysia was not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. 

That is straight from the LNP and Pauline Hansen playbook. A little bit of common humanity wouldn't go astray for these people with so many of them being genuine asylum seekers but because of political grandstanding with statements like "boat arrivals will never be allowed into Australia".

Just as well Morrison, Dutton and Co weren't in charge of immigration in Egypt 2000+ years ago when Jesus and his parents were seeking refuge. 

Nice try, Tom Tank, you obviously missed the time frame shown above. 2012 was Labor's time in government and it was Labor who let in 50,000 illegal boat people and who opened up Nauru and Papua New Guinea. 2014 was after Labor was slung out and when the boats were turned around which meant that no more illegal immigrants were sent offshore. The Coalition were left to clean up Labor's mess which meant that not only did they have to deal with a humanitarian issue but the hypocrites on the opposition benches tried to blame the government for the problem.

Yes I agree there are a LOT of queue  jumpers


However, I am sure that the government could be a little more sympathetic

If you are looking for sympathy for illegal immigrants, PlanB, vote for Albanese. Labor will let the boat arrivals start up again just as Rudd did last time they had power. It's been said so often that it's easy to remember: 800 boats, 50,000 illegal immigrants, more than 1,200 drowned at sea. Is that what you mean by "sympathy"?

Utter rot...I do not vote Labor btw, but I might this time round!

Thanks Sophie, which part of my comment is "utter rot"? By that you mean that it is untrue so please feel free to correct any errors.


By rot, I mean your assumption Sue that " vote for Albanese, Labor will let the boat arrivals start up again ..."

Where did you get that idea?


Read my post Sue

Yes I agree there are a LOT of queue  jumpers

However, I am sure that the government could be a little more sympathetic


I would never ask for sympathy for ILLEGAL immigrants and what a lot of rot about the labor letting them in

Oh, that bit, Sophie. Marles says they "might" stop the boats, Kenneally when asked about turning back boats doesn't answer that question but turns the discussion to people arriving by plane overstaying and Labor's current policy states that it has a commitment to detention and offshore processing but it is silent on the issue of boat turnbacks whenever the subject is raised.

We also have to remember that we have a very small area of this country that is habitable and very little water to spare

For me, the issue of these so-called boat refugees is nothing more than criminals who pay criminal smugglers to try & illegally enter Australia, most with little or no documentation. They should have been sent back to their last country of exit, as they only had one-way tickets & no onforwarding travel. Most came through Indonesia, which accepted them also illegally. They should have been turned around & left at the International coastline of Indonesia. End of problem.

They should be returned to UN refugee camps close to their point of origin for processing by the UN.  However, their date of arrival in the UN camp should be set as the date that they arrived in Nauru or PNG and their processing should reflect this.

By equating their date of arrival with the date of arrival they would have the fairness of time processing and if found to be refugees they could find themselves close to the front of the queue.  When you look at both the people in camps and those who almost made it to Australia they would both be treated equitably.


"Rather than save lives, offshore processing ruined them; the authors note cases of murder, suicide and sexual assault, as well as a devastating deterioration in physical and mental health, separated families and traumatised children."

Well you have to ask, who exactly was doing the murdering, and sexual assaulting? Much of the trauma of children was effected by those same children's parents!

If you want to see just how these parents use their children to get what they want, look at the USA and the vast numbers of unaccompanied children being sent across the border in the hope that the children will be grated residency and then able to demand reconciliation with the very parents who placed them in harm's way. In the same way, The Sir Lankan family currently in Perth also illegal arrivals, deemed by all levels of the court system NOT to be genuine refugees are also inflicting harm on their own children, both had since being deemed to be illegal arrivals. 

Look at the harm these parents are doing to their children in the hope that Australia will bend to the blackmail. No thanks. Take people who have served time in the refugee camps overseas waiting for the opportunity to make a new life. Not these economic refugees simply looking for a better life. All migrants migrate for that reason, but the vast majority do it the right way and follow proper process.

Don't be so high and mighty....given the same set of circumstances, you would do the same!!!

I agree KSS, the Biloela  family did the same used their children to try and get into Aussie -- even though they appeared to be a nice family they did the wrong thing


You know, PlanB, the Biloela family were given false hope by the bleeding hearts who have tried in every way possible to get illegal immigrants permanent residency in Australia. That's the group that got the law changed to treat those on Nauru in Australia medical conditions beyond the scope of the Nauru doctors. They then immediately got court injunctions to keep those "very ill" people in Australia.


Sophie would you put children of yours through such dreadful times to get your way?


I know I wouldn't.

I believe the requirements for refugees, is they are able to go to a safe country. Yes, they arrived in Indonesia some how? via boat or plane. If by plane they can ask for a safe haven in Indonesia, however can not then on go via boat to Australia. They arrive on a one way plane ticket. I can not go out of Australia and arrive in another Country without a return proof of a flight out of the country I have just landed in.

What is the difference.

Indonesia is one of the biggest Muslim countries in the world yet the refugees want to go to the "soft" Country.

5 years ago I has a discussion with an Officer of Interpol in Singapore, with regards to Facial recognition for Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia where refugees passing through those countries, being able to be identified to who they are. This then would stop all the Lawyers from making hay while the sun shines with many applications to the Courts to change the current policy.

The Biloela family knew what the situation was when they arrived. Now the Lawyers are using every chance to try anything to change the Policy.

Sorry, yes I do have a heart only to those who come the correct way, not thro the back door. I may be hard it is how it is.

The UNHCR convention asylum does not permit claims for asylum to be refused on the grounds that it could have been sought elsewhere so a refugee transit through Indonesia does not prevent claiming asylum in Australia or other country.

No disagreement on the Biloela family; it should never have got as far as appeal to the High Court and creating false hopes for the family and their supporters.

Yes the only people that benefit from this procedure are the lawyers paid by the taxpayer.


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