Prominent business leaders have weighed into the asylum seeker debate for the first time by calling for an end to mandatory detention and greater political leadership on the issue.
Australian Industry Group chief Heather Ridout, NAB chairman Michael Chaney and businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court are among those backing A New Approach, Breaking the Stalemate on Refugees and Asylum Seekers, a report released by the Centre for Policy Development today.
Unionist Ged Kearney, former Liberal Party leader John Hewson and novelist Thomas Keneally are also among the 34 well-known Australians who have given their stamp of approval to the CPD's call for political leaders to end mandatory detention and increase Australia's refugee intake.
According to report author John Menadue, a CDP board director and former secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet under Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, their support proves that there's widespread concern for where Australia is heading on the asylum seeker debate.
"I think there is probably a view in some people's minds that people who advocate the human rights of people suffering persecution are, if you like, the usual suspects. What these people signing on have demonstrated is that that is not the case," he told The Power index this morning.
Menadue adds that "it wasn't difficult" to get people to respond to his call to back the report.
"They're busy people but it's not hard to get them to respond to a request that we've made to them to comment on the present state of asylum refugee policy in Australia."
It's the first time business leaders have publicly backed such a far-reaching response to the asylum-seeker debate, but Menadue says this isn't because such support for a renewed focus isn't there, but rather that nobody's specifically asked such leaders for their backing.
The report comes on the tenth anniversary of the Tampa rescue and on the same day the Government's Malaysia Solution is due to be tested by a full bench of the High Court.
Written by Menadue, Arja Keski-Nummi and Kate Gauthier, the New Approach advocates the phasing out of mandatory detention for all asylum seekers within two years -- with all children released by end 2011 -- the creation of new accommodation centres housing better flexibility for asylum seekers who present ongoing security concerns or require intensive social support, and the appointment of an independent child guardian for unaccompanied minors.
The authors also call for savings generated by limiting mandatory detention to be channeled into English language programs and youth support services, and for Australia's annual refugee intake to be increased from 14750 to 20000 by 2016.
Menadue believes that good political leadership has all but disappeared on the issue due to the Tampa crisis, 9/11 and the emphasis on border protection. "What has happened is national security and border protection has drowned out the plea of desperate people in need of our help and protections," he says.