What Minister Morrison is giving up for Lent


Lent graphicWhen I was young, I remember being encouraged to give up lollies or chocolate for Lent. Always a good idea, until Easter Sunday ruined the diet. Later the focus was on doing something positive in Lent, rather than giving up something relatively trivial. It seems the focus of the Immigration Minister is to give up granting Protection visas and doing nothing positive for refugees. On 4 March, he made a decision limiting the number of protection visas (those granted to refugees onshore only) to 2773. It is likely this limit has already been reached, so no more protection visas will be granted before 1 July 2014.

The Minister did this once before, on 2 December 2013, when the limit was 1650. That was at the same time as a Senate disallowance motion against the reintroduction of the Temporary Protection Visa (TPV). The TPV regulation was disallowed in the Senate, then the Minister retaliated by limiting the number of protection visa grants to 1650. Some time later he removed the limitation and visas were granted again after a new regulation was introduced to prevent the granting of protection visas to those who arrive by boat.

The stated justification is that the quota of onshore visa grants has been, or will very soon be reached. As the new Government reduced the total of the refugee and humanitarian program from 20,000 back to 13,750, this means that there are less visas available. The increase in the program to 20,000 was one of the few good things to come from the Expert panel Report of August 2012, so the reduction of over 6000 visas is an extremely retrograde step, especially as the lack of visas was one of the reasons encouraging people to get on boats in the first place.

Probably the new limitation was introduced before the Senate could vote on this new regulation as the second disallowance vote was scheduled for this week but it has been adjourned to the end of the month. The Minister decided to get in first, probably as part of the pressure on the ALP not to support the new disallowance motion.

In the meantime, the High Court is also considering the regulation that prevents the grant of any protection visa for those arriving by boat. Currently, protection visas are available if someone meets the refugee or complementary protection criteria (protection criteria), provided they did not come by boat. If they meet the protection criteria but came by boat, they cannot get a protection visa.

The visa the Minister has been offering is the old visa used for the Kosovars back in 2000. This is a temporary visa, with no family reunion, and a legislative bar preventing a person with the visa from applying for any other type of visa, unless the Minister personally intervenes in their case. You can guess the likelihood of this Minister personally intervening to allow someone who arrived by boat applying for another type of visa. There is a number of cases of people who have married or formed long term relationships with refugees who arrived by boat, but legislatively they are prevented from lodging an onshore partner visa because their beloved came on a boat.

The Minister is determined to get the TPV reintroduced in some form. This is despite all the academic literature criticising the long term detrimental affects of the TPV on the mental health of refugees. This is despite the likelihood they may already have some anxiety, stress or PTSD from the experiences in their home country which gave rise to their refugee case.

More recently there has been serious criticism of the long term mental deterioration of people on bridging visas without permission to work, a policy of the former ALP Government. The report by Curtin University researchers Lisa Hartley and Caroline Fray is succinctly entitled 'Policy as Punishment'.

They conclude that the policy of the former Government to issue bridging visas with a no work restriction to those who arrived by boat after 13 August 2012, is extremely detrimental and is causing serious harm to people who may yet be granted protection in Australia. Asylum seekers are given the choice of payments below the poverty level, or to work for cash. We should be encouraging people to work and pay tax, not to force them into the black economy out of necessity, and then further punish them by cancelling their bridging visas

This no work restriction, like the reopening of Nauru and Manus Island, is presented as deterrence, but in reality is, as the authors state — punishment. The current Government supports the 'Policy as Punishment' and the ongoing vilification of asylum seekers by the Government is part of that policy.

This latest punishment — no more visas until July — is cruel. The people affected by this are those awaiting the grant of a visa because Australia accepts they meet the protection criteria but were just awaiting final checks such as a police clearance for Australia.

These refugees are living with us in the community, and many are contributing to the economy and well-being of Australia. They came seeking protection, and when their cases were accepted by the Government as requiring protection, we should be encouraging them to be part of our community, not vilifying them and punishing them. Maybe we should change the second verse of the national anthem — because we have nothing to share for those who've come across the seas and sought our protection. The cruel consequences of these policies will haunt us for years to come.

Kerry Murphy headshotKerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers. He is a student of Arabic, former Jesuit Refugee Service coordinator, teaches at ANU, and was recognised by AFR best lawyers survey as one of Australia's top immigration lawyers.

Topic tags: Kerry Murphy, Scott Morrison, Lent, refugees, asylum seekers, TPVs, immigration policy



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Existing comments

I encourage every practical help for refugees and that is why I was utterly horrified by the more than 1,000 deaths at sea under the Rudd-Gillard government. The policies that led people to their deaths had to be stopped in some way. Genuine refugees on Manus Is will end up in Australia. Those who are not genuine refugees ( ie had the $40,000 plus to get to Indonesia and/or have lied) will be sent back. I recommend every humanitarian improvement on Manus and treating every person with dignity. I am relieved that the deaths at sea have stopped under this government as would every person who truly cared for the fate of these people. Our energies should be in lobbying for a greater refugee intake from the camps where poor refugees live.

Skye | 11 March 2014  

Skye, Do you really think that it is appropriate to punish and persecute a cohort of people in order to prevent another cohort from putting themselves at risk and in some cases tragically loosing their lives. Its an excuse offered by a government that has lost its morality inits quest for a political victory. We should open our doors to these people and share the wealth that has been given to us by God. The way we proclaim we do in the second verse of our national anthem "For those who’ve come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share;"

Andrew Teece | 11 March 2014  

I find it very disturbing that you are making a judgement about what Minister Morrison is giving up for Lent. The refugee problem is not simply a matter of opening borders - it is far, far greater - but that is for another time. Leave Lent out of it and your judgements to a greater power.

Jackie | 11 March 2014  

What ever happened to Jesus saying "whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto me. Obviously all these Christians don't read or don't care the milk of human kindness has well and truly curdled. And they pander to the lowest common denominator whatever the. Redneck equivalent is here in Australia. It still whites only isn't it even if it's not spoken out loud. Wonder if push came to shove would they allow the Ukrainians.

Irena | 11 March 2014  

Our government declares that it has succeeded in stopping deaths at sea - if it was so committed, why does it not use all those expensive boats sent out to send Asylum seekers to PNG to bring them to Australia where they would have some hope for dignity and a new life. Manus Is with its recent one death is in no way proof of "successful" prevention of deaths at sea, when it is a living hell with no hope of a decent life. I refer readers to Mike Carlton's piece in last weekend's SMH, quoting Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison's first speech to Parliament in 2008.

Rosemary Grundy | 11 March 2014  

Organisations and firms make big money out of refugees. I note you are one and therefore, would decry anything that the federal government did that impinged on your income. What is the greater wrong, to turn back people illegally coming into the country or to make money out of them?

shirley McHugh | 11 March 2014  

there is no law in Australia that limits the number of protection visas granted, the law still states that if they fit they are granted. The notion that we can spend billions to help less and less while millions of kids starve to death each year is grotesque beyond measure. The refugee convention was written and ratified when everyone went everywhere by boat, Abbott and Gillard came on boats, it is not an unusual thing to do. we are punishing people for being stateless.

Marilyn | 11 March 2014  

Andrew, I don't believe in punishing anyone or increasing anyone else's pain. I think that our efforts should be to help refugees in the camps who have no money and no resources to travel anywhere. We should help the poorest of the poor. We should be taking in the persecuted Syrian Christians and other minority groups who suffer. Why can't we lobby for an increased refugee intake in a humane way. Not via dangerous boat journeys which are sure to end in tragedy a lot of the time.

Skye | 11 March 2014  

Another excellent article. We forget so quickly and fail to see how a humanitarian response helps us as a nation and as individuals. it is not, in my opinion, whether or not people contribute to Australia; it is whether their suffering is something we can alleviate. Some people may not directly contribute. Some are too traumatised to contribute. Australia as a nation, a very wealthy nation, can contribute. And being able to pay one's way to Australia does not mean a person is not a refugee. Pol Pot murdered the wealthy and the educated, would they not have been refugees? Some people paid to get out of Nazi Germany where rich and poor and in between were murdered. Were they not refugees? I am reminded of Shylock's speech in the Merchant of Venice. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that” Mistreatment begets mistreatment.

Jill | 11 March 2014  

This morning I met with an asylum seeker who arrived by boat to explain the consequences of our Government's policies on asylum seekers. Through the interpreter the person said to me "I find myself looking into a dark mirror". I felt ashamed as a fellow human being.

Brendan McCarthy | 11 March 2014  

Shirley, no-one is coming here illegally. Would you turn patients away from hospitals if they didn't have a prior appointment? The principle of seeking asylum is exactly the same.

Marilyn | 12 March 2014  

Thank you for another excellent article Kerry, a voice of reason in the face of so much cruelty. The comments that follow are also carefully thought out, with all points of view covered, and readers can make their own conclusions. (Aren't we fortunate to be able to openly discuss and disagree without fear of retribution?) It is important that we don't lose sight of the most important thing - the men, women and children - asylum seekers and refugees who are kept in limbo, both on the mainland and in the detention centres. They left terrible situations, endured terrifying journeys and now find themselves in an even worse place - treated as undesirables and criminals by a country they came to for refuge. Your articles remind us that we can do better than this Kerry - and by doing nothing we are simply part of the awful conspiracy that refuses to deal with difficult situations. There are many better solutions - let's stand up for what we know to be a better way to treat vulnerable people. Imagine if our own family members were in these predicaments? Do unto others ... Keep up your amazing work Kerry.

Ali | 12 March 2014  

Come on Kerry, why can't we do something? There is a helpless feeling afoot.

Mahdi | 12 March 2014  

Thank you Kerry.It is strange this government has not increased visas for refugees coming "The legal way" through camps, as they cull the boat arrivals. We ask other nations to respect democratic rights and freedom (condemning Russa's military presence in Crimea)i when we won't do our fair share and assist in creating a peaceful world, lending a generous hand.(we would rather spend billions on sending a meagre military presence). When will governments learn it is also in our interest to take on a strong global humanitarian role.The world belongs to all of us, we need good relationships not hostile (or veiled) threats...gone are the days.The rich will suffer unless they look after the poor

Catherine | 12 March 2014  

If people were trying to escape from a burning house by jumping out of a window instead of fighting for a place moving out, slowly, from the designated door, would we send back into the furnace because they were not using the prescribed way?

Eveline goy | 12 March 2014  

Immigration agents will lose a lot of money if the refugees stop

S Richards | 12 March 2014  

Shirley and S Richards, I can assure you we do not make lots of money doing this work - it is much easier to do 457 business visas and plenty more money to be made there. This is not about money but about bad and punitive policy.

Kerry | 12 March 2014  

Dear Murphy, I am one of the Asylum seeker who seeking protection from Government,Could you believe this that i worked 6 year as a lawyer and left my country because of fear of prosecution by Taliban,Recently 11 Lawyers and 2 Judges are being killed in Pakistan and Pakistani's Government is unable to provide safety to Lawyer's Community as well as people belong to media,judiciary,Business man,Army personnel etc,i lived with my family in Melbourne included two children and one of them is born in Australia but still We are like a Football ,Every Party kick us ,and we can't do nothing,Please share my feeling with your Newspaper.

Shakeel Ahmed | 13 March 2014  

It puzzles me why the discussion on refugees always assumes that people who come on boats are all genuine refugees....the people waiting in camps for years on end to my mind should be given greater consideration....unfortunately some genuine boat refugees may be lumped in with the non refugees in boats. I can understand people wanting a better life . I came here because of political uncertainty in my home country & fear of a future for my children. I would have not been accepted in Australia without meeting the strict criteria for entrance, so I say the queue jumpers should be scrutinised like we were......God help the genuine refugees. May the officials be given wisdom to sort out who is who. I believe our current government is trying to get some balance back into the whole vexed question.

Penny | 24 March 2014  

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