Like many refugee advocates, sections of the Greens have responded to last week’s events by calling for limits on the timeframe for detention and for management of the detention centres to be returned to government. For anyone committed to refugee rights, this is a serious tactical mistake. What refugee advocates should be demanding is that mandatory detention be abolished, not that it be restricted or managed better. Refugee supporters cannot afford to compromise over those key demands.
Countenancing mandatory detention — even with time-caps, even in nationalised and fully transparent facilities, even just for adults — in itself concedes the major parties’ point that detention is the correct response to refugees arriving by boat. If prominent voices in the pro-refugee camp endorse limited-timeframe detention as an acceptable option, the government of the day will always be able to find reasons to extend the time-period beyond the initially agreed parameters, and Australia’s detention policy will not have changed.