Academic journal article Refuge

Australia as a Powerbroker on Refugee Protection in Southeast Asia: The Relationship with Indonesia

Academic journal article Refuge

Australia as a Powerbroker on Refugee Protection in Southeast Asia: The Relationship with Indonesia

Article excerpt


Although Australia is keen to present itself as a leading power or hegemon and "norm entrepreneur" on refugee and asylum-seeker issues in the Asia-Pacific region, I argue that this self-perception is challenged by a close examination of Indonesia-Australia cooperation on these issues. There are two strands to this argument. First, relying upon the legal concept of global refugee protection, I argue that Australian-Indonesian cooperation is not explained primarily by power asymmetry and acquiescence with Australia's "burden-shifting" measures. Second, I refer to Thomas Pedersen's political concept of "cooperative hegemony," which focuses upon "ideational-institutional realism" as a lens through which to examine arrangements in regional co-operation. (1)

The regime of global refugee protection is conceived as a "global public good" under which states share the burden of such protection. (2) The concept of state burden or responsibility sharing underlies the Refugee Convention, (3) as noted in its Preamble and Article 35, and assumes "an expectation of reciprocity" between states. (4) However the current reality is that the burden of refugee protection is unevenly shared between states in the Global North and South, as most asylum seekers remain in countries close to their homes. This is largely a consequence of states in the Global North practising increasingly diverse non-entree measures. There is a view that the current global response to refugee protection, which includes "cooperative deterrence and non-entree policies" (5) reflects a "North-South divide" in which developed states conscript "less developed countries to act in ways that provide a critical support to the developed world's migration control project." (6) This argument assumes an asymmetry in power relationships, whereby cooperating states are persuaded to act in the interests of the developed states through a variety of mechanisms, including financial incentives, the provision of training, or deployment of officials.

In the case of Australia-Indonesia cooperation it has been argued that the relationship reflects an "incentivised policy transfer" (7) secured through substantial financial and diplomatic incentives. I argue that the metaphor of "incentivised policy transfer" is an incomplete explanation for Indonesia's apparent cooperation with Australia's deterrent policies.

A second strand of my argument is to focus on the role of states and institutional structures affecting the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Two regional institutions are potential agents of "cooperative hegemony": ASEAN (8) and the Bali Process. (9) Indonesia is a member state and leading player of ASEAN; Australia has many trading partnerships and agreements with ASEAN (10) but is not a member state. On the other hand, Australia and Indonesia co-chair the Bali Process, which also reflects a bilateral arrangement between the two countries.

In this article I show that ASEAN's conflicted response to refugees is reflected in Indonesia's national response. As I have previously argued, the Bali Process has thus far failed to establish itself as either a leading regional institution or as "norm entrepreneur" of refugee protection. (11) I contend that the Australia-Indonesia cooperation relationship mirrors the "institutional space" (12) created by the Bali Process, rather than being a model of "cooperative hegemony."

To make the argument against Australia's role as a regional hegemon, I examine three periods of the Australia-Indonesia relationship: from 2001 to 2008 (acquiescence with Australian policies of securitization of refugee and asylum-seeker issues); 2008 to 2013 (Indonesian prevarication in the face of increasingly aggressive Australian policies); 2013 to the present (Indonesia turns to the region during the 2015 Andaman Sea crisis).

Contextual Background

First some context for the discussion is needed. …

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