Labor Slow On Asylum Claims

Labor slow on asylum claims

Mark Davis and Yuko Narushima
Sydney Morning Herald
September 5, 2008

LABOR is failing to comply with legal deadlines for deciding whether to allow asylum seekers to stay, despite having criticised the Coalition's treatment of people claiming refugee status.

Figures tabled in Parliament this week show that during the four months to the end of June, the Immigration Department finalised 71 per cent of asylum seeker applications for protection visas within the 90-day legislative deadline.

In the four months from November last year to February, 83 per cent of applications were finalised within 90 days.

Before last year's election Labor criticised the Howard government over delays in processing asylum claims. It promised to finalise 90 per cent of protection visa applications within 90 days.

But the latest figures show only a marginal improvement in the speed of decision-making.

Over the last 12 months of the Coalition government, 74.5 per cent of protection visa applications were finalised within 90 days. In the first eight months of the Labor Government the figure was 77 per cent.

The Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, said: “The Government is committed to ensuring the efficient processing of protection visa applications, so a person's claim is determined quickly and they are either granted permanent residency or returned if they are not owed protection.”

The head of an independent advisory group to the Government on immigration detention has expressed reservations about the large new Christmas Island detention centre. The former Fraser government immigration minister John Hodges said the empty $400 million centre, which costs $7.1 million a year to keep open, was “a bit overdone and a little imposing” for today's detention requirements.

But Mr Hodges, who chairs the immigration detention advisory group, said the Government's decision to retain the centre in case of future arrivals was the right one.

The Howard government decided to build the 800-person detention centre on Christmas Island five years ago, after the number of people in detention rose to more than 3500 in 2000. Fewer than 300 people are now in detention and none are on Christmas Island.

The Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes, said yesterday the 800-person compound should not be used as a detention centre.

“There shouldn't be immigration detention on Christmas Island at all,” he said.

The remoteness of the site, in the Indian Ocean, and the size of the island's population made maintaining the centre for that purpose untenable, he said.