October 31, 2012
THE flow of asylum-seeker boats has surged by more than a third since the reintroduction of the Pacific solution, leading the government to adopt a further measure of excising the Australian mainland from the migration zone.
More than 5700 asylum seekers have arrived since August 13, the cut-off date from when the government has warned boat arrivals could be sent to Nauru or Manus Island for processing.
That compares to 4300 over the same period before the cut-off, a 39 per cent increase in boats and a 32 per cent increase in people.
The Houston report commissioned by the government and released on August 13 warned that the Pacific solution alone would not stop the boats and all its recommendations should be implemented.
The recommendation to excise Australia from the migration zone was adopted by the government yesterday.
This means anyone who arrives on the Australian mainland by boat will be sent offshore for processing to Nauru or Manus Island.
Presently, they are processed onshore and receive bridging visas and limited work rights.
The measure was once so controversial that, six years ago, the Howard government backed off trying to introduce it following a revolt by Liberal moderates. In a sign of how the politics has changed, Labor’s Melissa Parke was the only person to voice concern when the legislation was put to caucus yesterday for approval. She questioned whether the move was consistent with Australia’s international obligations.
The Coalition slammed the government as hypocrites but is likely to support the legislation.
However, two Liberal moderates, Russell Broadbent and Judi Moylan, said they would cross the floor and not support it.
Since 2008, after Labor was elected, only 211 people have reached the mainland by boat whereas more than 28,200 have reached islands such as Christmas Island, which are already excised from the migration zone.
The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said excising the mainland was necessary because more people are expected to try to reach the mainland to avoid being sent to Nauru or Manus Island.
”These are difficult decisions for everybody but we do need to have in place a properly integrated system which says to people there’s a safer way of getting to Australia,” he said.
Mr Bowen also tabled legislation yesterday appropriating money for the $1.6 billion asylum seekers will cost the budget this financial year. This includes $1.2 billion in costs detailed in the midyear budget update last week and another $267 million taken from the contingency reserve for initial construction costs on Nauru and Manus Island.
Mr Bowen said excising the mainland did not contravene Australia’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention but refugee advocates were outraged.
The human rights lawyer Rachel Ball said the excision was without precedent for a country signed on to international conventions.
”Excision is an affront to justice and the rule of law,” she said.
The Labor Left is uncomfortable with the policy direction. Senior figures have sought a dialogue with Mr Bowen to ensure it is at least kept abreast of changes and can monitor them.