Labor has decided not to support the Turnbull government’s latest asylum bill which was announced in a most hamfisted way on the Sunday morning before last, and which contains very unacceptable overreach measures. So now it will be a matter for the Senate cross benchers. The Turnbull-Dutton bill is a disgraceful mishmash of dog whistle measures.
For me, an acceptable legislative package would be one that
- Precluded permanent resettlement in Australia for IMAs (irregular maritime arrivals) resettled in a third country
- Left unaffected the liberty of citizens and permanent residents of other countries to apply for temporary entry permits to Australia, regardless of their past status as IMAs
- Allowed ministerial discretion to permit permanent resettlement in Australia. This discretion could be exercised with bipartisan support (after an undeclared but agreed) date for any remaining warehoused refugees on Manus Island and Nauru who could not be resettled elsewhere despite the government’s best efforts.
The Turnbull-Dutton announcement of 31 October was crass politics. The best political outcome would be legislation which reflects a strong bipartisan commitment to third country resettlement for those on Nauru and Manus Island, with Turnbull and Shorten agreeing that there would be a need to resettle any remaining refugees in Australia after the agreed date.
The political problem is that such a scheme requires trust between Turnbull and Shorten. As we know, there is none. The announcement of this proposed legislation required prior agreement between Turnbull and Shorten to be workable. There was no prior agreement; just a cheap Sunday morning ambush. Poor fellow my country, and the cruel uncertainty for the proven refugees on Manus Island and Nauru (including children) will continue indefinitely. And make no mistake: none of this has anything to do with stopping boats. They have been stopped for over 800 days and over 30 have been turned back, and all without any legislation of this sort. How long will it take for Turnbull and Shorten to put the children who are proven refugees on Nauru FIRST in their consideration of future options? Obviously, much longer than three years and three months. Let’s hope the cross-benchers consider amendments to the Turnbull-Dutton bill taking out the dog whistle, designing a bill which is well tailored to maximising the prospect of third country resettlement for the proven refugees, and conceding the need to resettle in Australia any proven refugees who cannot be placed in the foreseeable future. The cruelty in our name has gone on too long.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ
Professor of Law
Australian Catholic University