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Peter Hughes: the Australian response to the Syrian crisis

Former Immigration department deputy secretary, and now Crawford School visiting fellow, Peter Hughes has written an opinion piece for John Menadue’s blog about the one-off Syrian crisis response of an additional 12,000 permanent places for refugees. Hughes says implementation should begin quickly and be completed within the current financial year.

However, Treasury Joe Hockey now estimates it will take more than two years to implement.

Hughes recounts why Immigration accelerated the response for emergency evacuation of 4000 Kosovars from Europe to Australia during the Howard government:

“The tipping point for intervention in that crisis was television coverage of masses of Kosovars stranded on a European border, unable to return home or to move forward.

“The evacuation was arranged in a matter of weeks as a result of Herculean efforts by a small task force in the then Department of Immigration. That task force, with government backing, found ways to accelerate all the usual requirements to respond to an emergency situation.

“The television images of a small boy washed up on a European shore have been the tipping point in Australian attitudes to the unimaginably large a crisis of displacement from Syria.

“It is surely possible for Australia to not only match what it was able to do 15 years ago, but to do even better in relation to a much larger crisis.

“There is no doubt that quick implementation presents significant challenges. However, sometimes a crisis is big enough to warrant imaginative arrangements outside the norm. A whole of government approach, including the cooperation of security agencies, would be necessary to speed up all of the required processes. It should be possible for a forward-leaning Australian Public Service to do this. State and Territory government help will also be important.

“It is surely possible to devise a set of arrangements that evacuates very quickly smaller numbers of people in the greatest need of relocation, initially on a temporary basis, with later conversion to permanent status. The numbers could be ramped up to 12,000 over the balance of the financial year.”

Continue reading on John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations.

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