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Liberal Senator's immigration heroism

  • 11 September 2009

On Wednesday, the Senate made two decisions which take immigration reform forward. The first was to pass the Abolition of Detention Debt Bill, the second was not to disallow the abolition of the '45 day rule' regulations.

In the House, several Liberals had spoken in favour of the reforms, but in the Senate, only Senator Judith Troeth supported these reforms.

Senator Troeth is one of a few Liberals who have spoken out against the harsher features of Immigration Policy under the Howard Government. She contributed to reforms in detention and opposed the harsher elements of the 'Pacific Solution'.

In her speech this week she spoke of meeting with people affected by the laws, and those who have studied the adverse social and psychological impact on asylum seekers. Her speeches in the Senate this week illustrate that the Coalition can consider another way to approach immigration policy, rather than just be 'tough'.

'The comment has been made that the more we 'soften' ... policies towards refugees the more we can expect a flood of refugees,' Senator Troeth said. 'And words like 'flood', 'panic' and 'hundreds of thousands of people arriving on our shores' are used all too often.'

'Australia received ... 4500 asylum claims. That is 0.05 per cent of the worldwide total, and almost all of them did not arrive by boat. So I challenge the theories of those who want to say that this is opening the floodgates. Firstly, that is an unpalatable concept to those of us who think about it and, secondly, it simply is not true.'

The Abolition of Debt Bill meant that no longer would those in detention be charged for their detention. In reality, very few ever were, and only about 2.5 per cent of the charges were ever recovered, as those granted protection visas as refugees had the debt waived. The Government argued it was costing more than the amount recovered to maintain the scheme. Senator Troeth agreed that the debts law had to go.

'Let us just do away with it,' she said. 'The law does not help. Even if it is never collected, the fact is that it is still a blot on our statute book and I for one will not accept that it should be in continuation. No advanced society should have on its books laws like this, and so I