18 June 2012

Ex-PM slams opposition over Australian immigration proposals

Malcolm Fraser, who served as Australian prime minister between 1975 and 1983, has labelled the current opposition's proposed Australian immigration policies as 'evil'.

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Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has said Tony Abbott's immigration policies are 'evil'.

Leader of the opposition Tony Abbott and opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison laid out the Coalition's Australian immigration policies last week, ostensibly to 'ensure integrity and restore confidence in refugee assessment'.

The opposition have remained highly critical of the ongoing asylum seeker situation in the country of recent months and promised to introduce much harsher enforcement strategies should they be elected to government.

Last week, the two politicians jointly issued a statement outlining these policies.

"Public confidence in our borders has been trashed by Labor's record failure on our borders, which has seen more than 18,500 people arrive on over 320 boats," read the statement.

"The assessment of asylum seekers arriving by boat is wide open to abuse with 90% of arrivals having no documentation whatsoever. The lack of documentation forces assessors to make a best guess, with the benefit of the doubt typically going to the applicant. Even when assessors reject a claim, in almost eight out of ten cases, these rejections are overturned on review or appeal."

Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison say this policy results in 'around nine in every 10' asylum seekers to gain an Australia visa and claim this imbalance needs addressing.

"We need to restore some balance in the system to give Australians confidence that those who we end up accepting as refugees who arrive by boat are fair dinkum."

The Coalition aim to do this by denying asylum to any asylum seeker who has been judged to have purposely destroyed their identity documents, installing an independent Integrity Commissioner to scrutinise refugee decisions every six months and grant the immigration minister power to review any claim for asylum without prejudice.

While the Coalition claim these policies are critical to halting the influx of boats, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who was himself the leader of Mr Abbott's Liberal Party, has called the policies 'evil'.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Fraser said: "How can you 'restore integrity' to the policy affecting asylum seekers when the proposals embraced are based on falsehoods, misinformation and a blatant playing of politics with the lives of vulnerable people? This is the opposite of integrity. It is inhumane and demeans Australia. Is this the basis on which Abbott will operate if he, as he believes he will, becomes prime minister?

"The most effective way to restore integrity and public confidence in asylum seeker policy is through strong leadership, myth busting and accurate information. Not to present a policy that is the closest thing to evil you can get. A policy that is full of misinformation."

Mr Fraser said Australia already has a 'robust and effective legal system' when determining the veracity of an asylum claim and, with almost 14 million people legally entering and exiting Australia in 2011 alone, the 4,730 asylum seekers  who also entered that year did not represent a 'system vulnerable to abuse'.

The former prime minister said Mr Abbott's proposals were based on misinformation and deliberately used provocative language to exaggerate the urgency of the issue.

"Abbott referred to 'illegal boat arrivals' yet we have been reminded numerous times that it is not illegal to seek asylum, regardless of mode of arrival. How can we expect the public to know facts such as this when a possible future prime minister of Australia doesn't?"

Mr Fraser has previously spoken out on the immigration issue, then choosing to chastise politicians from both sides for their opportunistic claims over the issue. However, it would appear Mr Fraser's patience as worn thinnest with the party he has maintained a fractious relationship with since retiring.

"The race to the bottom of the barrel in the asylum seeker debate continues and, with this policy, Tony Abbott is winning," concluded Mr Fraser.

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

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