August 22, 2014
The claims for more 30,000 asylum seekers and children will not be processed until a controversial temporary visa is allowed through the Senate, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has told an inquiry.
During a sometimes fiery hearing of the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention, Mr Morrison said the asylum seekers would not have their asylum claims processed until he could offer a “visa product” that only offered temporary residency. The group includes more than 712 children and who arrived to Australia after July 19 last year.
Mr Morrison acknowledged the extended time children were spending in detention, but blamed the Labor Party and the Greens for not allowing the temporary protection visas (TVPs) into the Senate.
Scott Morrison Photo: Wolter Peeters
“The absence of such a visa product at present also removes the possibility of considering alternative options for those currently on Christmas Island or elsewhere in Australia, who arrived post July 19,” he said.
The minister also confirmed he was engaging with crossbenchers to agree to a TPV, which would restrict permanent residency for asylum seekers found to be refugees, but allow work rights.
The average length of time that a child spent in an Immigration Department detention facility as of July 31, was 349 days, the inquiry heard. At the same time last year, it was 115 days.
In a heated exchange with the President of the Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, Mr Morrison was forced to defend claims that the conditions on Christmas Island were akin to a prison.
“I have been a practising lawyer since I was 22 years old and I have been to many prisons. I know a prison when I see it,” Professor Triggs said.
“Are you suggesting that Long Bay jail is the same as a full-fenced alternative place of detention on Phosphate Hill on Christmas Island?,” Mr Morrison replied.
“I’m not saying they are equivalent,” Professor Triggs responded.
Earlier, Mr Morrison had taken the rare opportunity to talk about his own two children and the tough decisions he had to make in the Immigration portfolio.
“As a parent of two young children, the emotional challenges of working in this policy portfolio are just as real and just as great as they would be for any other parent in my position,” Mr Morrison said.
“But sentiment cannot be indulged at the expense of effective policy that is saving lives and ending the chaos and tragedy that was occurring that many thought could never be turned around and that is my duty.”
Church groups and The Greens have described Minister Morrison’s TPV strategy as “holding the federal crossbenchers hostage” until the visas are allowed.
“We must remember these are families who have been separated by war and civil strife amongst other things,” Reverend Peter Catt said.
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young agreed saying: “In the hearing today, the Immigration Minister explained that he is willing for children to be harmed for his own political gain.”
When asked about the detention of children, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten responded saying: “Labor does believe in releasing children from detention but we also recognise it’s important that children have the opportunity to be with their parents.”
The President of the Commission, Gillian Triggs will present the findings of the inquiry later this year.
On Monday, Minister Morrison announced that children under the age of 10, and who arrived before July 19 would be placed on bridging visas by the end of the year. The policy change will affect about 150 children.