25 June 2012

Government offers to resume Australian immigration talks

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After last week's disaster which saw an Australia-bound asylum seeking vessel capsize in Indonesian waters, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has offered reopen discussions with the opposing Coalition over how best to address the ongoing asylum seeking problem.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard has offered to re-enter negotiations with the opposition to seek a solution to the asylum seeking issue.

An asylum seeking boat carrying an estimated 200 Afghan and Pakistani refugees contacted Indonesian authorities last week reporting that their vessel had capsized and the majority of the passengers aboard had gone into the water. Australian authorities assisted with the search and rescue operation but when the operation was abandoned days later, only 110 of the 200 onboard had been rescued.

The disaster brought the issue of addressing the problem to the fore; discussions on how best to address the problem originally broke down in January and while record numbers of boats continue to reach Australian shores, politicians from both sides of the debate continue to blame each other for the worsening situation.

Policies

Julia Gillard's government attempted to pass its Malaysia Solution policy last year. The deal would involve new arrivals, approximately 800, being taken to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 bona fide refugees. However, the policy was struck down by the High Court before it could be implemented, forcing the government to require revised legislation to allow the policy to be put into law.

The Coalition wants to reinstate their much harsher policies which saw boat arrivals drop to almost zero during the previous Howard government. Their policies include temporary protection visas for bona fide refugees and offshore processing on the Pacific island of Nauru. Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott has said he would make 'turning the boats back' a core policy of his premiership should he be elected prime minister.

The Australian Greens, who also have a say in the issue, have also voiced their opposition to the government's Malaysia Solution, claiming any form of offshore processing violates the country's duties to international law when it comes to the care of refugees. The Greens have proposed allowing more refugees entry to the country 'prioritises the safety of life at sea'.

Catalyst

While many people warned that the ongoing argument left a considerable risk of another disaster occurring at sea, last week's events appear to have spurred politicians from all parties to revisit the issue.

Just one day after the disaster, moderate members of the opposing Coalition urged their party to re-enter discussions, an insistence that was echoed by several independent politicians yet both Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott said they were keeping their focus on the search and rescue operation.

However, now the search has been abandoned, Ms Gillard has said she is 'open to further discussions'.

"We did put a compromise forward out of a set of earlier discussions," said the prime minister. "That is certainly there for the opposition to agree to; I'm certainly open to further discussions.

"I think it is a time where people are looking to use to put the politics to one side."

The Greens have also urged politicians to re-enter talks, but to create new policies instead of revisiting old polices which, according to Greens leader Senator Christine Milne, 'abandon international law'.

"We want a humanitarian approach, consistent with international law that also prioritises the safety of life at sea," said Senator Milne.

"The problem with [the Coalition's Nauru policy] and [the Malaysia Solution] is they undermine Australia's capacity to get a real regional solution."

Resistance

Despite politicians from all parties, including their own, seeking a bipartisan compromise, Mr Abbott and opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison have claimed they will continue to resist the government's policies.

"The Malaysian Solution is not good policy and we don't support bad policy," said Mr Morrison.

"The government knows where we stand on these matters. They have a range of options available to them from the opposition and we have been very clear for a very long time."

Mr Abbott echoed Mr Morrison's comments, claiming bipartisanship would not help the issue if it lead to ineffective policy.

"What's needed here is not compromise for compromise's sake but policies that work," said Mr Abbott.

"It's not the opposition's policies that have failed here. It's the government's policies that have failed here."


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