Party Room Rocks Turnbull Boat Plan

Party room rocks Turnbull boat plan

Brisbane Times
November 13, 2009

Landfall at last … some of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers at the Indonesian detention centre at Tanjung Pinjang last night. Photo: Yuli Seperi

THE Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, announced plans for a ''safe haven visa'' yesterday as part of a strategy to deter asylum seekers from sailing to Australia.

''Our border protection policy is to stop the boats,'' he said. ''We have done this before and we will do it again.''

But Mr Turnbull's plan to reinstate temporary visas for refugees drew condemnation from moderates in his party who say the party room was not consulted on the matter.

Scant details were available yesterday to differentiate the new visas from the temporary protection visas that Labor formally abolished in August last year with no Coalition resistance.

Mr Turnbull said his safe haven visas would require refugees to prove their ongoing need for protection at a set time no later than three years into their stay.

''We are determined to keep our borders secure, to prevent and discourage asylum seekers from risking their lives on perilous journeys,'' he said.

Three-year temporary protection visas were introduced under the Howard government in 1999 to diminish the attraction of Australia to asylum seekers. But their unintended consequence was to increase the number of women and children attempting the trip with men who might otherwise have travelled solo.

Holders of temporary protection visas were denied both family reunification and travel outside Australia. The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the Opposition policy was outrageous. ''This cruel relic of our political past should remain buried,'' she said.

The Liberal senator Judith Troeth said the party room was not consulted and safe haven visas were simply the old visas by another name.

''I'm sad and disappointed at the change of Coalition policy,'' she said. ''The fact is people owed protection underwent significant stress and worry.''

Senator Troeth also said the lull in boat arrivals between 2002 and 2006 was due to regional stability that reduced the push factors driving people out of their homelands.

Australia's highest number of boat arrivals were in the financial year in which temporary visas were introduced, with numbers reaching 4175, and the financial year immediately following.

According to a Department of Immigration fact sheet: ''[Temporary visas] did not have any deterrent effect. Indeed, there was an increase in the number of women and children making dangerous journeys to Australia.''

The Opposition immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, said safe haven visas would permit refugees to work.

''You will not qualify for welfare. If you are not able to work, and some may not, of course, due to ill health or age or whatever, then there would be a government allowance to make sure, of course, that you don't starve,'' she said. No decision had been reached on international travel.

Amnesty International said paying lip service to the Refugee Convention while contravening its principles was unacceptable.

The principal solicitor at the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, said the visas created a ''second wave'' of trauma for those who had fled the same terrorism and brutality Australian troops fought against in Afghanistan and Iraq.

''This graphically illustrates that we don't have a new border protection debate in this country. Both sides of government have got a commitment to stop boats at all costs,'' he said.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said about 3 per cent of temporary protection visa holders returned to their countries of origin. ''Of the 11,000 temporary protection visas under the Howard government, only just over 300 people actually left and went home.''

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said Mr Turnbull had announced ''four dot points'' that did not equate to policy.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald