Govt to send refugees by boat to offshore detention

The World Today - Thursday, 13 April , 2006 12:38:00
Reporter: Michael Vincent

ELEANOR HALL: In an effort to reduce the recent diplomatic tensions with Indonesia, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has just announced changes to Australia's immigration laws which will see all people who arrive here by boat sent offshore to have their refugee claims assessed.

Under the changes these asylum seekers will be detained in the immigration centres set up on remote islands by the Federal Government after 2001, under what it called its Pacific solution.

The opposition parties have reacted with outrage. The Labor Party says the Government is tearing up "large parts" of this nation's immigration laws.

And the Greens leader, Bob Brown, has called John Howard a jellyfish for not standing up to the Indonesians.

This report from Michael Vincent.

MICHAEL VINCENT: No matter what their circumstances, no matter where they've come from anyone arriving in Australia by boat will be put on a plane and sent overseas.

Their destination, detention in one of the Australian Government's island immigration processing centres.

The Treasurer Peter Costello.

PETER COSTELLO: You can still have your claims assessed, but you would have them assessed in a third country and if you're a refugee you would then be admitted, rather than being admitted and then asking the question afterwards.

And so, this is one of the things that the Government will look at in relation to dealing with these claims. It's proved successful in the past and there's a lot to be said for it in the future.

MICHAEL VINCENT: But the Opposition says the Government is going to excise the whole of Australia from the migration zone just to appease Indonesia in the short term.

And Shadow Immigration Minister, Tony Burke, says it will be costly.

TONY BURKE: We are talking about millions and millions of dollars being thrown at a method of processing which is far and away the most expensive way of doing things.

But the second thing is, if we find as we did with the asylum seekers who were sent to Nauru and Mannus Island, that the vast majority of them end up back in Australia anyway, Indonesia's going to be no happier.

So instead of having a diplomatic answer to a problem, they've tried to change Australia's law under pressure from Indonesia and doing so in a way that it might make the Indonesians happy for a few months, but it won't be too long before we're back where we started.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has described as a "crisis" the recent deterioration in relations with Indonesia over Australia's temporary acceptance of 42 Papuan asylum seekers.

On AM this morning the Treasurer was asked if today's proposed changes to immigration rules would heal that rift.

PETER COSTELLO: Australia will decide how to deal with refugee claims and will do it in accordance with the Refugee Convention. So it's a matter for Australia, the way it decides to deal with these matters.

But having said that, of course we want to maintain good relations with Indonesia. We don't want to let these things sour the relationship in any way, and we want to resume close relations and continue close relations that we've made such progress on in recent years.

MICHAEL VINCENT: The minor parties have accused the Government of hypocrisy. The Greens say the Government is just trying to appease Jakarta in the face of human rights abuses in Papua.

And Senator Bob Brown says the Prime Minister is simply kowtowing to Indonesia.

BOB BROWN: Indonesia will want more. When you go weak at the knees, when you become a jellyfish as Prime Minister Howard has become on the issue of West Papua, once you begin appeasement there's more required down the line and I think Australians will be disgusted by this lack of backbone.

Prime Minister Howard's saying no, we'll break and abrogate international law in order to appease Jakarta and the West Papuans can go hang.

MICHAEL VINCENT: The Australian Democrats are just as outraged, calling the proposals appalling.

Senator Andrew Bartlett.

ANDREW BARTLETT: The Prime Minister might think it provides a short term solution to this so-called crisis, but the long-term consequences are going to be much worse. You don't solve human rights problems in our region by just acquiescing to them and appeasing governments that are refusing to act to stop them.

We have countries in our region, including Indonesia, who are emerging democracies. We should be trying to encourage them to come up to the levels of nations like Australia when it comes to human rights but instead we seem to be going down to their level and just taking an appeasement approach.

ELEANOR HALL: Democrats Senator, Andrew Bartlett, ending Michael Vincent's report.


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