This paper examines the Australian federal government's use of regional engagement to stop irregular migration. It shows that Australia's policy elites have long debated whether regional cooperation is useful or necessary for stopping irregular migration. The debate among policy elites bears little relationship to the academic and ideological controversy over Australia's "engagement" with Asia. Rather, this controversy is defined by pragmatism and operates akin to a pendulum, with an action- reaction cycle occurring where governments seek alternative approaches to what they perceive as the failures of their predecessors. This paper shows that the governments who have championed Asian engagement have been no more willing to seek a regional approach to irregular migration than those who seem to downplay engagement. Differing perspectives on regional cooperation is an important and largely under-examined aspect of Australia's broader national debate about irregular migration. Given the significance of this issue to Australian politics, it also serves as an important case study in the wider context of Australia's relationship with and attitudes towards the Asia-Pacific.