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Labor and the Coalition's cruel credentials

  • 20 August 2013

The Government and Coalition asylum seekers policies are brutal. Labor is subcontracting our international obligations to poor neighbours who do not have the resources to resettle refugees who may well have trauma issues. Not to be outdone in the cruelty stakes, the Coalition has four proposals, each of which has serious flaws.

First, we have the old Temporary Protection Visa (TPV). The TPV was introduced in 1999 and shortly afterwards there was a serious spike in arrivals by boat, often with women and children who could not be sponsored by the men already here. The TPV is punitive, yet has no deterrent effect. I have never met anyone who thought the TPV was a deterrent to them coming to Australia.

Assuming the Coalition mean the first version of the TPV from 1999, this means no sponsorship of spouses and dependent children until the refugee is granted permanent residence. Previously it was taking five or more years before permanent residence decisions were made. Given the processing times for partners, this could mean six or more years separation from spouses. A number of psychologists reported on the deleterious effects on people's mental health of being forced to separate for such long times with the future uncertain.

Then you had to reapply for another protection visa, and endure more processing costs and delays while this was assessed. By 2004 it was clear that the policy was too harsh, and refugees were then allowed to apply for other visas such as skilled visas, student visas or partner visas for those who had married or partnered onshore since they were granted protection.

We do not require those resettled from offshore, or those who arrive with a visa and then make a successful claim, to reprove their refugee status after three years. Some psychologists have commented on the detrimental effect the actual process has on people who have to recount their traumatic experiences again and again.

The second proposal is to simply remove the review process. The logic here seems to be not that the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) is performing poorly, but that it is approving too many cases. This proposal shows the inherent bias in the Coalition against people coming by boat; a bias shared at least by Labor Senator Carr, reflected in his uninformed comments on Iranian asylum seekers.

The Coalition states that they will use a system similar to that used by UNHCR — single case officer, internal review