THE Australian Catholic advocacy body for migrants and refugees has described the Federal Government’s latest legislation on asylum seekers as “unethical” and relying on the “bartering of children” for its success.
The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office national director Scalabrinian Father Maurizio Pettena said the new legislation was “an all-time low for Australian politics”.
The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 passed in parliament on Friday, December 5 with cross-bench support.
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morison argued the legislation’s measures, such as bringing back temporary protection visas, would allow the government to deal with the 30,000-strong “legacy caseload” of asylum seekers who arrived by boat when Labor was in government and largely haven’t been processed.
He also promised to increase Australia’s refugee intake and release 108 children from detention on Christmas Island if the legislation was passed.
Fr Pettena said the new legislation gave the government unprecedented powers to deal with asylum seekers.
“(The bill) allows Australian officials to redefine who is classified as a refugee,” he said.
“This legislation enables the government to overwrite the internationally accepted definition by the United Nations Refugee Convention, despite Australia being a signatory to the convention.”
Fr Pettena said other measures of concern in the bill included:
- The reintroduction of temporary protection visas allowing asylum seekers to work and study. This visa will not provide a pathway to permanency nor allow family reunification meaning asylum seekers’ lives will remain in a state of insecurity and anxiety
- The government can detain asylum seekers and fast-track refugee status determinations. In practice it means that the government will remain unchecked and unchallenged in its decision-making.
He also expressed concern about the way in which the legislation’s success was secured.
“Not only is the content of this bill unethical, but equally so is the nature in which it has been conducted by the Immigration Minister,” he said.
“Children were bartered to secure this deal.
“When a government lowers its policies to essentially bargaining vulnerable people for political gain, it raises questions about our morality as a people.
“Having children detained in the first instance was not an acceptable option.”
Refugee Council of Australia spokesman Phil Glendenning said the Senate vote did not end the cruelty to children.
“Of course we’re pleased children are getting out before Christmas, but there are still children on Nauru and there are still measures here that will maintain keeping kids in limbo, keeping their families in limbo, and that’s where all the psychological analysis says that’s where the damage comes,” he said.
Mr Morrison, in an interview the day before the legislation passed, said if the Senate refused to pass the bill the children on Christmas Island would not be allowed out of detention.
“We are suggesting a way forward here and for the way forward to be achieved then we obviously need to do that consistent with our policies and consistent with the government’s proven, successful border protection regime,” he said.