According to the polls, the public both supports and opposes offshore refugee processing

The Australian public don’t want refugee boats to keep coming, but other than that it’s pretty hard to work out what they think. Earlier this week, new polling from both Nielsen and Essential Research was published on what to do with boat arrivals.

The questions were slightly different, but the results were opposite: Nielsen find a majority for onshore ‘assessment’, while Essential find a majority for offshore ‘processing’. I would have thought the questions were getting at the same thing, but perhaps respondents did not think so, or there was some other issue with the polls.

But to me this looks like at least a very significant minority of people have no clear opinion on the policy details.


Essential question: Thinking about the issue of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat – do you think they should be processed in Australia or should they be sent to another country for processing?
Nielsen question (inferred from table in Age print edition): Asylum seekers arriving by boat should be … allowed to land in Australia to be assessed/sent to another country to be assessed/sent back out to sea/other or don’t know.

Does the public support sending refugees to third countries?

If asked whether asylum seekers arriving by boat should be turned away, most Australians have always said yes (Murray Goot and Ian Watson have a useful summary of the polling here, from p.28). But in another example of the hard to follow public opinion on the issue, if the choice is between processing asylum seekers in Australia and sending them to another country, their choice seems to be processing in Australia.

A Nielsen poll published in the Fairfax papers yesterday found a small majority in favour of processing here, and only 28% in favour of sending refugees to a third country.



Earlier polls
found a similar pattern of opinion, if the costs of the Malaysia deal were explained.

I can’t recall any polling directly on the Howard government’s ‘Pacific solution’, but politically it was generally seen as a success. Or maybe questions about the means of stopping the boats don’t matter much. If the goal is achieved, discomfort at the means will be overlooked.