17 July 2012

Parties promise to listen, refuse to move Australian immigration positions

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All three political parties have refused to consider shifting their positions on their preferred solution to the ongoing asylum seeker issue no matter what Prime Minister Julia Gillard's expert panel recommends.

Australia immigration

Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne (top), Coalition Leader Tony Abbott (centre) and Prime Minister Julia Gillard (bottom) have all said they will contribute to the expert panel but threatened to disregard their recommendation.

Ms Gillard appointed the panel, which is headed by former Defence Chief Angus Houston, to find a legislative solution to the ongoing asylum seeker issue which has plagued Australian immigration authorities for months. As any solution will need the support of both government and opposition, any proposal has to be palatable to all parties to stand a chance of passing.

However, Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott has already said he will not listen to any recommendation of the panel's as his party's solution, which was in place during the previous Howard government and reduced boat arrivals to practically zero, has been proven to work.

Despite having ordered the formation of the panel, Julia Gillard has also stated she will not blindly endorse the panel's recommendations regardless of their proposal.

Both the government and Mr Abbott's Coalition favour offshore processing but their argument centres on where this should take place - the government wants Malaysia, the Coalition Nauru. However, the Australian Greens oppose offshore processing of any kind and despite having few seats in the Senate and House of Representatives, Ms Gillard's minority government will need their support to pass any legislation.

The Greens

The Greens' proposal to address the asylum seeking issue is to increase the country’s refugee intake, process all asylum seekers in Australia and release them into community detention.

They claim offshore processing as an undermining of the country's obligations as a world leader to protect vulnerable people.

"The Greens don't support offshore processing because it is inconsistent with our obligations under international law," said Greens leader Senator Christine Milne.

"It is a leaky boat in another form. [The government's] Malaysia proposal is a leaky boat in another form and we have made it clear to the prime minister and to Angus Houston and all the panel that our views are consistent with the expert opinion."

Senator Milne and the party's immigration spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, met with the expert panel to put their case forward for their own solution.

"We talked through many issues and made it clear that our participation in this comes from the point of view of trying to make sure that we put the lives of asylum seekers at the fore and that we frame any outcome in terms of a regional framework based on our commitment to the human rights convention and the international law obligation," said the Greens leader.

"We look forward to the expert panel considering the proposals we put forward very carefully."


The Coalition has also met with the panel to discuss a politically acceptable solution to the problem but refused to participate fully with the panel's efforts.

Opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison once again spoke of the merits of turning asylum seeking boats around and escorting them out of Australian waters, a policy Tony Abbott has previously said would be the 'core' of his party's immigration policies.

Mr Morrison said both Sri Lanka and the US routinely turned boats around and it had been shown to be an effective policy.

"The United States coast guard so far this year has turned back 2,431 people on boats," said Mr Morrison.

"Sri Lanka is stopping boats leaving their shores, the United States coast guard is stopping boats coming to their shores.

"This policy can be done and the suggestion by the government that it can't is more a comment on their lack of resolve."


The arrival of a fifth boat in 24 hours, this time carrying 114 passengers including two crew brings the total 5,843 asylum seekers for 2012 and, with almost half the year still left, the prospect of breaking the record of 6,555 asylum seekers set in 2010 is looking a certainty.

The issue which has dominated the news in recent weeks since the capsizing of two asylum seeking boats in a week, resulting in the deaths of 94 people, is beginning to wear the public's patience, a notion Prime Minister Gillard says she can appreciate.

"I can understand why Australians are frustrated about this," said Ms Gillard.

"I've been prepared to compromise in order to get action, unfortunately the fact of it is the opposition is finding every way they can to just say no."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.

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