Enthusiasm Wanes For Labor’s Pledge On Islands

Enthusiasm wanes for Labor's pledge on islands

Sarah Smiles, Canberra
The Age
September 15, 2008

LABOR appears to have backed away from its pledge to return to Australian territory thousands of islands excised by the Howard government to prevent boat people from claiming asylum.

Despite making widespread changes to immigration policy from abolishing the “Pacific Solution” to easing mandatory detention it has made no move to tackle the “excision zone”.

The 4000-plus islands, stretching from Australia's north-eastern to north-western coast, were excised from the migration zone by the former government in 2005, when it had control of the Senate. The move was designed to deter boat people, who can only claim asylum under Australian law if they reach Australian territory.

Former shadow immigration minister Tony Burke told Labor's 2007 national conference that the additional excision was “crazy”.

But asked when Labor planned to end the excision nearly 10 months after the federal election a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Evans said a decision had not been made. Instead, he stressed the Government's commitment to a “strong border security”.

Jack Smit, spokesman for the human rights organisation Project SafeCom, questioned Labor's inaction. “They are scared politically; they still have the same fear of John Howard that they had around Tampa, and it's about time they stood up and said 'no more',” he said.

David Manne, co-ordinator of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said the Government's lack of action on the excision zone was a “radical aberration” from its campaign of reform.