While discussions continue on how best to go about breaking the people smugglers’ business model, those participating in the debate have not publicly articulated the business model to which they refer. This has significant policy implications, given that the first step in developing a response is defining the problem to be addressed.

This paper examines first some of the more recent international research, and second, relevant Australian case law and the more limited body of Australian research on people smuggling, to determine whether this business model can be identified. It does not seek to evaluate the appropriateness or efficacy of specific anti-people smuggling policies that have been or are currently being pursued by Australian Governments.

Key points:

  • Since the late 1990s, people smuggling has been a key focus of political debate on irregular migration to Australia. Most recently, attention has turned to how to ‘break the people smugglers’ business model’ . While there is continuing debate about how best to achieve this objec tive, the business model being referred to remains largely unarticulated , at least publicly .
  • E xamination of recent open source research and Australian case law reveals there is no single ‘people smugglers’ business model’ that explains how people smugglers operate , either internationally or to Australia . However, certain themes are evident, including the predominance of fluid networks over more hierarchical organisations and the flexibility, adaptability and resilience of those involved. It appears that a v ariety of business models are employed (either explicitly or implicitly) and that they are c onstantly evolving.
  • Some basic characteristics of maritime people smuggling from Indonesia to Australia can be discerned from open source information that can be us ed to outline some of the basic components of a common business model that seems to operate. However, there appear to be many variations on different components of the model. Further, the Indonesia to Australia leg is only part of a much longer journey, an d Indonesia is not the only departure point for boats to Australia organised by people smugglers. Finally, while p olitical and popular attention has focused largely on irregular maritime arrivals, people smuggling to Australia also occurs by air.
  • The use o f the singular terms ‘the people smugglers’ business model’ or ‘the people smuggling business model’ gives the impression of a homogeneous market for which a single measure or ‘one size fits all’ solution might exist. The reality of a variety of business m odels operating at different stages of the supply chain between source countries and destination countries, including Australia, points to the need for a more tailored and considered approach. The point s at which to intervene in order to ‘break’ a certain business model , and the most appropriate mode s of intervention , will depend on the particular characteristics of that model.
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