Changing policy in an attempt to deter boat people from seeking entry to Australia rests on several important assumptions. The first is that the fear of what Australia might do to them exceeds the fear from which they are fleeing. That proposition is quite implausible. In the past 15 years, most boat arrivals have been Afghan Hazaras fleeing the Taliban, Iraquis fleeing Saddam Hussein, Iranians fleeing the theocracy in that country, and Tamils fleeing genocide in Sri Lanka. Not surprisingly, a very high percentage (approximately 80-95 per cent) of boat people ultimately establish an entitlement to protection.
The second assumption is that asylum seekers have the wherewithal to research the treatment they are likely to receive if they seek safety in Australia. There is no evidence to suggest that people desperate enough to take the risks associated with unauthorised arrival in Australia have ever had the time or resources to investigate the many changes in Australia’s policy settings concerning asylum seekers.
The third assumption, which is bound up with the second, is that people smugglers are a reliable source of information for their passengers. It is in the highest degree unlikely that people smugglers reveal candidly to their customers that they face mandatory detention, or removal to Malaysia, or any other hardship which the government of the day seeks to impose as a deterrent.
It is therefore difficult to assume that anything done by Australia will make any appreciable difference to the arrival rate of boat people.