Immigration laws 'secure borders'
June 15, 2006
CONTROVERSIAL immigration changes are aimed partly at ensuring good relations with Indonesia, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has said.
Senator Vanstone said today the proposed laws, introduced after Australia granted asylum to 42 Papuan refugees, were aimed at securing Australia's borders while ensuring relations with Jakarta remained on track.
“We need their support,” she said.
Her comments put her at odds with Prime Minister John Howard, who said yesterday the bill “has nothing to do with listening to Indonesian politicians”.
However, Senator Vanstone said the policy was all about strengthening border protection and in that context Indonesia was very important to Australia – “the prime minister's quite right in saying that”, she told ABC radio.
She denied Australia was kowtowing to Jakarta, saying it had refused to bow to pressure when granting the protection visas to the Papuans.
The proposed laws would force all asylum seekers arriving by boat on mainland Australia to be processed in offshore detention centres, reversing one of the changes won last year by backbenchers including moderate Liberals Judi Moylan, Petro Georgiou and Bruce Baird.
Several coalition MPs have voiced concerns about the bill after a Senate committee recommended it be scrapped on the grounds it could breach international law and appeared to have been designed to soothe Indonesian anger over Australia granting visas to the Papuans.
Senator Vanstone today said there had been no agreement with the rebel coalition senators demanding changes.
She told reporters the legislation was crucial to maintaining Australia's border-protection regime.
“Border security is very important to us. Indonesia in the past has been a critical and supportive player in stopping boats coming to Australia,” she said.
Senator Vanstone denied the bill was aimed at appeasing Indonesian anger over the Papuan asylum decision.
“This is not so much a bill to make the Indonesians happy, it's a bill to make us happy to ensure that we have peaceful and friendly relationships on our border and ones that are useful to us in border protection,” she said.
“This bill enables us to live up to our obligations under the UN High Commission for Refugees requirements – that is to make sure an asylum claim is heard and to make sure that protection is offered if it's required.”
The bill has been taken out of the House of Representatives program and will not be debated until next week.