May 07, 2013
More asylum seeker families will be released into the community without the right to work, as federal Labor looks to ease its overflowing network of detention centres.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor made the announcement on Tuesday, saying it would be cheaper to release would-be refugees from detention.
Asylum seeker families with children under the age of 16 will now be eligible for community release under bridging visas while their refugee claims are processed.
Previously, families with children over the age of 17 were released on bridging visas while those with kids under 16 were held in community detention.
Released families will receive basic support payments, equivalent to about 89 per cent of the dole, and will not be allowed to work.
Mr O’Connor said keeping families in detention was not only expensive but took a toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
But he warned refugee applications would not be processed any faster for families released into the community than if they had waited in a refugee camp overseas, consistent with the government’s “no-advantage” principle.
That could mean asylum seekers may have to wait up to five years to have their claims processed.
The minister also confirmed that the Curtin and Wickham Point detention centres, in WA and the Northern Territory, would soon hold family groups.
Groups would be detained there only for as long as it takes for security, identity and health purposes, Mr O’Connor said.
After an average assessment time of 120 days, eligible families would be placed in community detention or given bridging visas.
The former Howard coalition government opened the Curtin facility in 1999 but closed it three years later following incidents of self-harm, riots and a mass escape.
Since Labor reopened it in 2010, it has only housed single men.
Wickham Point also currently houses single men.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the government had been forced to release families into the community because of its failed border protection policies.
He noted that more than 20,000 asylum seekers, including 3000 children, had arrived by boat this financial year.
“The escalation of the number of children coming on boats under this government’s border protection is unprecedented,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.
Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne said the government’s asylum seeker policies “get worse by the minute”.
She said shoving people into the community without the ability to work or support themselves was completely unacceptable.
The Refugee Council said urged the government to include work rights for asylum seekers on bridging visas “to ensure vulnerable people are not left destitute”.
© 2013 AAP