24 January 2012

Political party talks break down over Australian immigration issue

The problems in the Australian immigration system look set to continue after talks between parties broke down with both parties blaming the other for the deadlock. Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has accused the opposition of "not making a single contribution" while his counterpart Scott Morrison blamed the break down on the Australian government's refusal to address concerns about a failed people swap deal with Malaysia.

Australia visa

Australian immigration ministers Chris Bowen (top) and Scott Morrison (bottom) have clashed over the immigration issue.

Australian immigration has become one of the most prominent issues in the country's politics in recent months and, as more and more asylum seekers arrive there by boat, there has been little agreement between the ruling Labor Party and opposing Liberal Party.

Australia currently detains all arrivals by boat while they are processed, awaiting an Australian visa, refugee classification or deportation.

These processes can quickly become convoluted, with claims for asylum or appeals against deportation often taking years and many asylum seekers face indefinite detention either on the mainland or Christmas Island in Australia's detention centres .

The opposing Liberal Party, often referred to as the Coalition, has attempted to reopen a processing centre on the Pacific island of Nauru which was originally opened in exchange for aid.

The Labor Party heavily criticised this policy in the past but a recently released exchanged of emails between Mr Bowen and Mr Morrison revealed that Australian immigration officials had visited the facility on Nauru.

This inspection led to the assumption that the government is considering reopening the facility in exchange for the opposition's support on the much maligned people swap deal with Malaysia; tentatively titled the 'Malaysia Solution'.

Under the Malaysia Solution, Australia would send asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for classified refugees; the swap would involve 800 asylum seekers being exchanged for 4,000 refugees over four years.

An Australian court ruled in 2011 that, as Malaysia would not offer adequate protection, the plan was unlawful.

The government has since amended the plan and included several safeguards to prevent human rights abuses as well support in medical care, counselling and communications between families.

However, the opposition has still refused to support the plan, with Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott claiming that if he were prime minister, he would adopt "turning the boats [around] as its core policy".

Mr Bowen has stated that the current Australian government would not implement this policy, claiming it would endanger the lives of both the asylum seekers and the navy personnel charged with turning the boats around.

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

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