Twenty years of mandatory detention: the anatomy of a failed policy

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On 5 May 1992, Australia’s Commonwealth Government passed legislation resulting in the mandatory detention of persons arriving in Australia without a valid visa. The contingent political reasons that led Keating’s Labor Government to adopt the policy are not widely remembered or remarked upon. But the legacy of that initial introduction of mandatory detention – embodied in destroyed lives, a toxic public discourse, and the expenditure of billions of dollars of Commonwealth revenues – continues to exert itself in the bipartisan political consensus that perpetuates the policy. This paper provides a thick description of the evolution of mandatory detention under both Labor and Coalition Governments. It continues in more analytical mode, arguing that for twenty years the policy has been an abject failure. It has failed in terms of the objectives that its proponents have advanced; it has failed in terms of Australia’s human rights obligations under international law; it has failed in terms of unnecessarily depleting the public purse; it has failed in terms of the coarsening and degradation of Australia’s public discourse; and it has failed in terms of its impacts on the lives of several generations of asylum seekers. The paper ends with a discussion of the reasons why both the Labor Party and the Coalition have persevered with the failed policy of mandatory detention.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Refereed proceedings of the 2012 Australian Political Studies Association Conference, 24-26 September 2012, Hobart, Australia
EditorsRichard Eccleston, Nicholas Sageman, Felicity Gray
Place of PublicationHobart
PublisherAustralian Political Studies Association
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventAustralian Political Studies Association Conference - Hobart, Australia
Duration: 24 Sep 201226 Sep 2012


ConferenceAustralian Political Studies Association Conference


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