September 11, 2014
Asylum seekers who arrived by boat last year could be offered temporary protection visas and allowed to live in the Australian mainland community, in a major policy backflip by the Abbott government.
The shift could signal a disintegration in the offshore processing policy that the government has vehemently defended, but now concedes has its “challenges”.
Until now, asylum seekers who arrived after July 19, 2013, were subject to offshore processing after a policy change by the Rudd Labor government, which meant they would be processed in centres on Nauru and Manus Island.
The policy was adopted by the Coalition and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has consistently maintained asylum seekers who arrive by boat after July 19 would be subject to offshore processing.
In November, Mr Morrison said: “I want to stress all those on Christmas Island who are there now – those who arrived after July 19 will be going to Nauru or Manus Island. There will be no exceptions, whether you’re Syrian, Iranian, single, married, adult, child, they will all be going to Nauru or Manus Island and will not return to live in Australia.”
But the minister told an audience at the National Press Club that the government was now looking at TPVs as an “alternative” option for the 2700 people, including 450 children, who arrived by boat and many of whom are being held on Christmas Island. He is currently negotiating with crossbenchers in the new Senate to reintroduce TPVs after Labor and the Greens twice blocked the controversial measure that prevents refugees from gaining permanent residence in Australia.
“Now while it will continue to be the policy of the government that anyone who arrives illegally by boat will be transferred to offshore processing … the government is open to alternatives for the earlier July 19 to December 31 caseload, but not those who may arrive now or who have already been transferred,” Mr Morrison said in the speech.
“Combined with other measures, TPVs will also give the government an alternative option for those who arrived after July 19 and before the end of last year, including over 450 children. Seventy five per cent of this group, including children, turned up under the previous government and had not been transferred to offshore processing centres.”
Until now, only asylum seekers who arrived before July 19 have been considered eligible for TPVs, if such a measure is reintroduced.
Mr Morrison told Fairfax Media on Wednesday it was no secret he was in negotiations with the crossbenchers, including Clive Palmer, to allow the use of TPVs.
The policy change would not affect any boats that arrived this year. The only asylum seekers travelling by boat who reached Australian shores this year arrived in July. All 157 asylum seekers have since been transferred to Nauru.
Mr Morrison acknowledged that the processing on Papua New Guinea was “challenging”.
“Offshore processing and resettlement has also been implemented. However, this has not been without its challenges,” he said.
Until now, not one asylum seeker has been resettled in the country. There are 1084 asylum seekers being detained on Manus Island.
He also said negotiations with Cambodia, which the government hopes will resettle refugees, were ongoing.
Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles said: “It is clear that the Minister is seeking to use Temporary Protection Visas as a band aid to hide his failure in managing the Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea.”
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said on Wednesday the government’s offshore policy was “falling apart”.
“Dumping the government’s commitment to offshore processing like this is a major policy backflip from the Coalition on the back of a serious policy failure,” she said.
“The Abbott government has conceded that it has to process these people’s claims in Australia and is simply using TPVs as a distraction.”