Three out of four voters – including 72% of Coalition voters – support a pathway to permanent protection for refugees who are currently living in Australia on temporary protection visas (TPVs).
According to the results of a survey conducted by researchers, there was majority support for a pathway to permanent settlement across all parties. Support was strongest (90%) among self-identified Greens voters, with 80% Labor voters, 74% of independent voters, and 72% of Coalition voters also in favour.
Nearly 20,000 people are living on temporary visas (TPV or SHEV), according to the Department of Home Affairs’ August statistics. They are part of a group of about 30,000 people often referred to as the ‘legacy caseload’.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles last week reiterated on Twitter the government’s commitment to resolving the situation for people living in ‘endless limbo’ on TPVs.
In September, the minister wrote that the government would act ‘as soon as possible’.
The Coalition has not flagged any change to its opposition to abolishing TPVs; shadow home affairs spokeswoman Karen Andrews has said TPVs are integral to Operation Sovereign Borders, the border-protection policy that is strongly supported by both major parties.
Both the Labor and Liberal parties have reiterated that no one who comes to Australia by boat seeking protection will be resettled in Australia.
The survey was conducted by Associate Professor Daniel Ghezelbash, the Deputy Director of the Kaldor Centre, Macquarie University’s Dr Robert Ross, and Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) leaders Saul Wodak and Ravi Dutta-Powell. The BIT, also known as the ‘Nudge Unit’, began as a small UK government unit but is now a global social purpose company.
This survey was designed to test the efficacy of different messaging, and it involved almost 1500 respondents, broadly representative of the Australian voting public in age, gender and state, in May-June 2022.
The researchers provided respondents online with some background to TPVs along with a proposal that TPV holders be provided with a pathway to permanent protection. Respondents then rated their support for the proposal on a sliding scale from 0-6 (strongly oppose – strongly support).
Half of the respondents were only provided with basic information about the status of these refugees. The other half received additional moral language that aimed to make the reader feel a sense of obligation to help.
Support for a pathway to permanent settlement for TPV holders was very high in both of these groups participating in the study, regardless of what information respondents received.
This chart shows the results with both groups combined.
Voter Support by Australian Political Party Affiliation
Rating scale: 0-6 (0 = strongly oppose; 6 = strongly support)
More than half of all voters answered that they either moderately support (26.8%) or strongly support (25.8%) providing these refugees with a pathway to permanently settle in Australia.
In the group of respondents who received additional ‘value’ framing, or wording that highlighted various particular ethical or moral contexts about the refugees’ situation, the study also found a small increase in support. This framing included language such as ‘refugees on temporary protection are fleeing powerful oppressive states’ or ‘policy change will not compromise the integrity of Australia’s borders’.
‘These results suggest that Australians understand that it’s unnecessary and expensive to continue the temporary protection system, which prevents refugees from being able to feel secure,’ Associate Professor Ghezelbash said.
BIT’s Wodak said, ‘This is a robust study with a large sample showing that a sizeable majority of Australians support the abolishment of Temporary Protection Visas. We also find evidence that more inclusive messages which appeal to a broad range of community concerns can encourage Australians to connect with issues concerning the welfare of refugees.’
Macquarie’s Dr Ross said, ‘A key focus of this research was to test the hypothesis that there was more support for refugees in the experimental condition that included moral language than in the control condition that only included basic information.
‘The study found statistically significant evidence for the hypothesis,’ he said. While the size of the effect was small, Ross said that it provides a “proof of concept” that moral language can influence opinions and ‘points to the possibility that larger effects might be achieved if the intervention is made more powerful (such as through a carefully developed advocacy campaign).’
The research is currently being written for academic publication.
In June, the non-partisan Kaldor Centre released an evidence-based policy brief outlining practical reforms to transition people to permanent protection that can be implemented relatively simply, within existing legislative provisions and with only minimal changes to policy and regulations.
The policy brief co-authors, Murdoch University Associate Professor Mary Anne Kenny, University of South Australia Professor Nicholas Procter and Emeritus Professor Carol Grech, note that requiring refugees to re-apply for protection every few years is not only traumatic for them, but it will also cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Refugees and others in the so-called ‘legacy caseload’ shared their stories in the award-winning Kaldor Centre project, ‘Temporary’, including a podcast series from Guardian Australia and legal explainers.
The Kaldor Centre has a wide range of resources explaining Australia’s temporary protection system.
Image credit: Jamila Shah