Australia might not be meeting its international refugee obligations but it is best placed to kick start international reform, a new research paper says.
The Lowy Institute analysis argues Australia should take the lead on proposing changes to how the 1951 Refugee Convention is implemented, before it loses the credibility to do so.
Author Khalid Koser believes the international refugee regime is failing countries, as well as refugees.
Given its tough asylum seeker policies, having the Abbott government lead reform would generate disdain among some advocates, Dr Koser notes.
“Why acknowledge, and even reward, deviancy?” they’d suggest.
But Dr Koser argues the powerful reason is that by Australia initiating change, there could be a more effective asylum policy.
“A reform debate led by Australia should systematically address the current weaknesses in the asylum regime that have made Australia feel obliged to react with some force … and potentially remove the need for such extreme measures.”
As one of the rich states in the Asia-Pacific region and a signatory to the convention, Australia was a target for asylum seekers, Dr Koser said.
Despite promoting Australia as a potential leader, the analysis does state it has reneged on its international obligations.
Undertaking interviews with asylum seekers on board ships did not meet the international standard.
Any review of the convention’s implementation should look to impose sanctions on states that cause displacement, reduce the need for long-distance asylum seeking and weaken the burden on destination countries.