Labor for Refugees was formed following the Australian Labor Party’s defeat in the 2001 Federal election. It advocated humanitarian policies in relation to refugees and asylum seekers, including an end to the mandatory detention of unauthorised asylum seekers and the offshore processing of asylum seekers.
The arrival of large numbers of asylum seekers by boat from Indonesia between 1999 and 2001 saw public debate over immigration and asylum seekers polarise the Australian community. The policy of mandatory detention, introduced by the Keating Labor government in 1992, came under scrutiny, as did the conditions inside immigration detention centres, where detainees protested with actions including riots and hunger strikes.
In August 2001 the Howard government signalled its stance on unauthorised asylum seekers when it refused to allow the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa to offload rescued Afghan asylum seekers on Christmas Island. This stance was formalised under the Howard government’s ‘Pacific Solution’ policy, under which people arriving on unauthorised boats were intercepted, usually by the Royal Australian Navy, and transported to Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea for processing.
Under John Howard’s leadership, the Liberal Party successfully campaigned for the 2001 Federal election on the issues of national security and border protection. In his campaign policy launch Prime Minister Howard asserted that
… we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.