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Budget makes asylum seeker vilification official

  • 22 May 2014

The Government's vilification of people arriving by boat has now reached the level where the term 'illegal' features in the Budget documents.

Immigration Minister Morrison has insisted on referring to people arriving by boat as 'illegals' for some years. When he became Minister, he directed his staff to refer to people as 'illegal', despite the Migration Act using the less pejorative term 'unlawful non-citizen'.

This is not just a lawyer's linguistic debate; if it were not important, the Government would not insist on the term. 'Illegal' has a connotation of criminal behaviour, and that is why they use it. It is vilifying and dehumanising and is linked to smuggling. 'Unlawful' evokes something more in line with getting a parking ticket.

Using the term 'illegal' in formal documents to describe boat arrivals is like calling people who receive social security payments 'dole bludgers', and insisting that bureaucrats use this term in documents and meetings.

The term in the Migration Act for those arriving without a visa is 'unlawful maritime arrival'. Yet the Budget papers have a section entitled 'Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMA) Onshore and Offshore Management'. It is ironic that after this deliberate vilification, one of the stated objectives is to 'treat IMAs with dignity and respect'.

We 'treat them with respect' by refusing to give them permanent residence or family reunion. We remove access to funded assistance with refugee applications and to any funded advice whatsoever. Those to whom the Labor Government 'recklessly' granted permanent residence now have the lowest priority in sponsoring spouses and dependent children, which means years of waiting.

The Government has stated its intention to reintroduce some form of temporary protection visa, despite reports by psychologists about the harm such a program caused in the Howard years, and two recent attempts to reintroduce it by regulation being disallowed in the Senate.

Previously people who arrived by boat or air without a visa and were taken to detention could obtain migration and legal advice. Legal Aid has not been available for asylum seekers for many years, as the funding comes from Immigration. Without funded legal assistance in detention or in the community, people do the case themselves, or rely on pro bono help. A few may have funds to pay for private lawyers and agents.

Now the Government has ceased funding to help people with review cases in the Refugee or Migration Review Tribunal. This cut is short-sighted as it means more unrepresented applicants in a system