Govt denies backflip on island excision
By David Crawshaw
21 February 2008 – 4:27PM
The Rudd government has denied claims it has reneged on a pledge to return thousands of offshore islands to Australia's migration zone.
The Howard government removed about 4,600 islands from the migration zone in 2005, preventing boat people who land there from accessing Australian law and claiming asylum in Australia.
Labor resolved at its 2007 national conference to keep Christmas and Cocos islands and the Ashmore and Cartier reefs out of the migration zone.
“To further deter people smugglers, Labor will continue the excision of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Ashmore Reef from Australia's migration zone,” the party's policy platform states.
The document does not mention any commitment to reverse the excision of all the remaining islands.
However, then Labor immigration spokesman Tony Burke told the 2007 conference that the removal of thousands of islands from the migration zone was “crazy”, and Labor in office would reverse it.
“(The Howard government) have excised a further 3,000-4,000 islands. We would return them to the migration zone,” Mr Burke told the conference.
But that line in Mr Burke's address has been removed from a copy of his speech posted on the Labor Party's website.
A record of edits to the web page reveals the reference was removed after February 12 this year.
A refugee group is now questioning the Rudd government's commitment to ending the two-tier migration system, in which asylum seekers who reach the mainland are treated differently to those who land on islands in Australia's northern waters.
Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit accused Immigration Minister Chris Evans of “undermining his own party's policy”.
“If he thinks he's got too much power he has a chance to reduce some of it,” he said, referring to the minister's admission at Senate estimates this week that he felt uncomfortable with the power he had to intervene in individual migration decisions.
But a spokesman for Senator Evans said there had been no promise in Labor's policy platform to reverse the excision of the 4,600 islands and no decision had been made on whether it would be maintained.
“As the Labor platform states, the government will continue with the excision of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Ashmore Reef from Australia's migration zone,” he said.
“No decisions have been made about the excision of other islands.”
Senator Evans has already moved to end the Pacific solution with the departure of the last remaining refugees on Nauru this month.
Labor plans to process asylum seekers on Christmas Island, where the federal government has built a new detention centre, rather than on Nauru or PNG's Manus Island.
The Greens say Labor has clearly reneged on its commitment.
“Erasing lines from past speeches is not the action of a government seeking to be transparent and accountable,” Greens senator Kerry Nettle told AAP.
“The Labor conference was given the clear impression (by Mr Burke) that Labor would reverse the bulk of the excision.
“Labor are backflipping on a clear election commitment.”
The excision of islands from the migration zone was “mean and tricky” and should be reversed, Senator Nettle said.
Brought to you by AAP