Visa overhaul runs into stumbling block
February 19, 2008 – 5:09PM
The Rudd government has hit a stumbling block in its plan to abolish temporary protection visas (TPVs) for asylum seekers.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the government would soon unveil an overhauled visa system for refugees, in keeping with Labor's election promise to scrap the temporary protection system.
But a number of issues needed addressing – such as possible changes to other visa categories because of the scrapping of TPVs, and what to do with existing TPV holders.
“We are committed to ending the TPVs,” he told a Senate estimates hearing in response to opposition questions.
“I've asked the department for advice on the best way forward and have … hit a few issues I'm having to work on.
“I'm anxious to deliver on that commitment as soon as possible. I haven't yet made a decision but that will be done as soon as possible.”
Pressed to offer a timetable for the abolition of TPVs, Senator Evans was unable to do so.
He said the process of abolishing TPVs had not been as straightforward as he had expected.
“What you replace it with is part of the issue,” he said.
“At the moment, the system remains as is and I'm hopeful to announce a change in policy soon.”
TPVs, created by the Howard government, are issued to some refugees, such as boat arrivals, but only provide sanctuary in Australia for a maximum of three years.
Although most TPV holders go on to win permanent protection, some can be forced to leave Australia when their visa expires if they are deemed to no longer require protection in their homeland.
Labor in opposition criticised the visas because they left holders in limbo, and said a more certain system was needed in which people were either accepted as refugees for good or they were sent home at the first opportunity.
But the Howard government insisted the TPVs helped deter refugees from arriving by boat.
Senator Evans said that of the 11,086 people granted TPVs, 9,525 had subsequently won permanent visas.
“So it didn't act as a deterrent and in fact the number of boat arrivals actually went up following the introduction of the TPV (in 1999),” he said.
“We think that the temporary protection visa system didn't provide the answer to the problem the (Howard) government said it was addressing.”