September 13, 2013
Prominent barrister and asylum seeker advocate Julian Burnside QC is proposing the entire state of Tasmania be declared an immigration detention centre.
Mr Burnside has been in Hobart to talk about the off-shore processing of asylum seekers.
He floated the idea at a public lecture saying the entire state of Tasmania could be a place of detention for asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
He has previously criticised both the Labor Party’s Papua New Guinea solution, as well as the Coalition’s plan to process asylum claims in the Pacific.
Mr Burnside is instead suggesting his own ‘Tasmanian solution’.
“If politicians are obsessed with the idea that asylum seekers must be kept in detention then that could be legally satisfied by declaring the island of Tasmania a place of detention,” he said.
“Have officers of the Commonwealth at each port of departure and then allow the asylum seekers to live in the community in Tasmania. They would still legally be in detention.”
Mr Burnside says the solution be the equivalent of community detention and save money.
“That would save on my estimates, in fact on government estimates, around about $3 billion a year.”
“It would look exactly like community detention, although as a matter of law it would look like immigration detention.
“The point of it, of course, is that it’s much less damaging to the people involved and it would be far less expensive even if every one of them received full Centrelink benefits, which they’d spend in the Tasmanian community.”
He has suggested the Federal Government give the Tasmanian Government $1 billion a year as “a thank you”.
“At least that would have the benefit of according with history because Tasmania was used as a place of detention some years ago.”
Tasmanians more welcoming
He believes community support for the Pontville Detention Centre near Hobart shows Tasmanians are more welcoming of asylum seekers and he would like to see them housed in rural areas.
Asylum seekers have been detained at Pontville since 2011, most recently hundreds of unaccompanied children.
Most have now been released into community detention.
“The success of the Pontville Detention Centre suggests to me that Tasmanians are in some ways better disposed to asylum seekers than some people on the mainland,” Mr Burnside said.
Tasmania’s Premier Lara Giddings says she has not heard about the suggestion but she does not support any detention centres.
“You want to be very cautious about going down a pathway too far. We have been very welcoming of the Pontville centre but I can tell you I don’t really like detention centres for people who are asylum seekers,” the premier said.
Brighton Mayor Tony Foster supports the idea.
“These people want to be well educated, they want to understand Australian culture and they want to work and I think they should be given every opportunity to do so while they are in transition going from where they are at the moment to where they may become full Australian citizens.”
Mr Burnside rejects suggestions it would encourage, not deter boat arrivals.
“The problem with a deterrent theory is that a deterrent only works if we make ourselves look nastier than the Taliban or the Rajapaksa government, and I’m not sure that that’s something that most Australians want.”
“The major deterrent for people seeking asylum here by boat is that it’s very dangerous. The fact that people can and do die on their way here is one of the reasons that most of the people that get here by boat turn out to be, on assessment, actual refugees.”