Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announce changes to the Migration Act in Sydney. Photo: Michele Mossop Asylum seekers at the Manus Island detention centre. Photo: Andrew Meares
The Turnbull government’s move to ban all asylum seekers who come by boat from ever setting foot in Australia has triggered dismay from refugee advocates and satisfaction from One Nation as the opposition comes under immediate pressure to support the legislation.
In an escalation of an already hard-line immigration policy, asylum seekers detained on Manus Island or Nauru from July 19, 2013 onwards would be ineligible for any sort of Australian visa – including for tourism, business or family reasons – for the rest of their lives.
It includes those deemed to be genuine refugees and any who chose to return to their home country. Children, whether they arrived unaccompanied or with parents, will be exempt.
The announcement paves the way for a potential deal to resettle refugees in New Zealand or the US while allowing the government to guarantee that no such person will ever settle in Australia.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on Sunday said the government was “in discussions with a number of countries” about a deal and stressed no destinations had been ruled out.
He has previously warned a NZ option would constitute a back door for asylum seekers to eventually settle in Australia. The visa ban would make that impossible.
Mr Dutton said the new laws were partly designed to prevent the practice of advocates marrying refugees to bring them to Australia under partner visas.
“That is not acceptable,” he said. “We are not going to allow arrangements that would subvert the program and the success we’ve had.”
Asked why it was necessary to stop refugees visiting as tourists, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was “a battle of will” to stop the people smuggling trade.
“It is incredibly important that we send the clearest message,” he said.
The government has long maintained that asylum seekers who come by boat would never be settled in Australia but the extent of this ban is tougher than expected.
Liberal MP Craig Laundy, formerly the assistant minister for multicultural affairs and a strong supporter of immigration, said the changes would merely “formalise” existing protocols making it difficult for asylum seekers to obtain visas.
Under the status quo, former asylum seekers considered to be at risk of breaching their visa conditions and staying in Australia were already likely to be rejected, Mr Laundy said.
Refugee advocate Pamela Curr described the new proposal as “appalling” and unnecessary.
“They don’t want to come here. They know what we’re like now,” she said. “We’ve gone from a country which offered protection to a country that offers persecution.”
Ms Curr also said it was true “a handful of people” had been brought to Australia from detention under partner visas but that it was a “perfectly legitimate” thing to do.
Senator Pauline Hanson welcomed that “the government is now taking its cues from One Nation”.
The government has immediately sought to put pressure on Labor ahead of the amendment to the Migration Act being introduced when Parliament returns in a week.
The ban is backdated to when former prime minister Kevin Rudd declared that no person seeking to come without a visa would ever settle in Australia.
Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said the party would consider the detail before making a decision on whether to back the measure, while the Coalition seized on Labor frontbencher Brendan O’Connor’s “disturbing” response.
He told Sky News the issue was “vexed” and that the opposition backed deterrence measures but would have to consider “whether there are unintended consequences of the legislation, whether it’s too harsh, whether it’s in breach of own international obligations”.
Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim said the proposal marked a “new low” and an “escalation of the cynical race to the bottom” on refugee policy.
Mr Turnbull said “extensive advice” meant he was “absolutely” satisfied they complied with international law.
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