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Farewell the unlamented TPVs

The Government decision to invite people with Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) to apply for Permanent Residence is welcome. These visas caused great suffering and were based on false premises. Their replacement has been a victory for human values. It will delight both its immediate beneficiaries and the many people who for many years have argued and prayed for it. It leaves, of course, much work to be done in commending a humane and considered policy built on more sound premises towards people who seek protection.

Temporary Protection Visas were first introduced by the Howard Government in 1999, abolished by the Rudd Government in 2008, and reinstated by the Abbot Government in 2013. They have formed a brick in the wall of measures taken to deter people from travelling by boat to claim protection. The visas and their replacement affect only a relatively small group of people:  those who arrived in Australia by boat before 2014.  They allow people to live in the Australian community, to work and have some access to Medicare and income support. They have no access, however, to tertiary education, and after three years must reapply for the visa. They have no path to permanent residence.  The conditions of the Visa exclude them from receiving loans for business and from finding secure employment. Nor are they able to sponsor family members to migrate to Australia. Their life, therefore, is lived in shadows, separated from family, unable to make plan for lives, and to commit themselves to their work. Many women, men and children have lived this half-life for over ten years.

Those who support the TPVs believe that they are an essential element in the measures that prevent people from travelling by boat. If only one of these deterrents is removed, they believe, people smugglers will be emboldened and desperate people encouraged to seek protection in Australia. They often appeal to the large number of boats that came some years after the earlier abolition of the TPVs by the Rudd Government.

The Government and supporters of the abolition argue that the influx of boats was a response to local crises that drove people from their homes, that the Government has now shown itself prepared and equipped to turn back any boats, and that new arrivals are excluded from settling in Australia. They also argue that after ten years and more it is cruel and humanly destructive to keep people and their families living on the margins. Nor is it in Australia’s best interest to restrict the economic contribution that such resourceful people could make.


'We should not be fixated on double locking our doors, but in fostering regional cooperation in offering hospitality to people who have lost their homes and livelihood and addressing the causes of their flight.'


I would argue further that the suffering and lack of respect inherent in the TPVs is just one of the many manifestations of an unjust and morally unjustifiable policy. As part of an elaborate system of deterrence the TPVs impose suffering and denial of ordinary human rights on one group of people in order to deter others. The goal of deterrence is taken to justify the TPV means. The toxic fruit of this poisoned ethical tree can be seen also in the dehumanising of people on Manus Island and Nauru and the incarceration in hotels of people brought back to Australia from Nauru with serious mental health issues. The demands of administering a policy based on this ethic inevitably harden the hearts and blind the minds of people to the human suffering and irrationality that it entails. 

This more fundamental flaw of refugee policy means that the decision to abolish TPVs is to be welcomed, but also that it is not sufficient. They are part of an interlocking system. The decisions that awarded TPVs to some applicants, excluded others, and allowed only limited review, also need to be reconsidered. The process was arbitrary, lacked independence and was unfair. Cases were judged on the papers without interview, and the review was also conducted by members of the Department. The Government should therefore also reconsider under a more just process the 12,000 cases of people who have appealed negative decisions or have been denied TPVs.

The Government is to be applauded for reviewing and replacing the temporary visa system. The system was neither necessary nor respectful. We should, however, see this decision as an incremental step towards shaping a refugee program that respects both Australia’s care for secure borders and the humanity of people who seek protection in Australia. Whereas most nations have refugees on their borders, Australia is fortunate in its distance from the conflicts that make people flee their homes. We should therefore not be fixated on double locking our doors, but in fostering regional cooperation in offering hospitality to people who have lost their homes and livelihood and addressing the causes of their flight.




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre 

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, TPV, Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Deterrence, Humane



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