22 May 2012

Government first to blink in Australian immigration row

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As monthly boat arrivals reach a 12 year high, the government has been the first to offer to re-enter negotiations over the Australian immigration issue with the opposition.

Australian immigration

The arrival of over 1,000 asylum seekers in a month may have brought the Australian immigration row to a head.

Australian immigration authorities intercepted three boats, including the largest single vessel in two years, carrying over 250 passengers over the weekend, bringing the monthly total to 1,061, the first time since August 2001 more than 1,000 asylum seekers reached Australia in a single month.

It would seem that this milestone being reached has finally surpassed the government's patience with the issue as they have broken the stalemate with the opposition and offered to re-enter negotiations over a possible solution.

Boat arrivals have increased dramatically since the government's proposed solution to the problem, the Malaysia Solution, was struck down in the High Court last year. The proposal, which involved taking 800 boat arrivals to Malaysia for processing in exchange for 4,000 bona fide refugees, was struck down due to Malaysia's poor record on human rights.

The previous, Coalition led government, the Howard government implemented their own Pacific Solution in August 2001 after the biggest single arrival of asylum seekers, 433 in total, arrived and forced a response. The Pacific Solution was abandoned upon Labor taking office in 2007.

The two parties have attempted to negotiate a solution but talks quickly fell through in November 2011 and both parties have refused to negotiate since, instead preferring to simply blame each other for the ongoing problem.

Now Labor Senator and Multicultural Affairs Minister has called on the Coalition to re-enter negotiations, promising that Labor is still "willing to negotiate".

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen remained defiant however, and insisted that the Malaysia Solution remained a 'live option' and urged the Coalition to 'get out of the way and allow the government of the day to implement its border protection policies'.

Opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison has already refused to re-enter negotiations, claiming the Coalition is not willing to compromise on its own border protection policies which focus around Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's policy of 'turning the boats back' and providing asylum seekers with a temporary protection Australia visa.

The government is the government - they are responsible for what's happening," said Mr Morrison. "Our policy has been crystal clear for a decade. If they want to pursue failed policy, they will have to get the [Australian] Greens to support them."

A spokesperson for Mr Bowen said the government was willing to discuss the Coalition's policies and blamed the failure to do so on Mr Abbott.

"We were willing to compromise, to negotiate, to put politics aside for the national interest," said the spokesperson. "But Tony Abbott said no. He said no to offshore processing, no to [offshore processing on] Nauru, no to Malaysia, no to a review of temporary protection visas."

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

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