Further criticism of mainland excision

There has been widespread criticism of controversial legislation which excises the Australian mainland from the migration zone.



The law, which passed the Senate this week, is supposedly designed to deter asylum seeker boat arrivals.


But as Erdem Koc reports, refugeee advocates say it won’t go far in achieving that aim.


The Amendment Bill to the Migration Act now awaits royal assent after passing the Senate with the support of Labor and the Coalition.


The new laws means all asylum seekers arriving by boat can be processed at Australia’s overseas detention facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.


Previously, only people arriving on Ashmore Island, the Cartier Islands, Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands were subject to overseas processing.


Anyone who arrived in mainland Australia — such as the 66 Sri Lankans who arrived in Geraldton last month — could apply for asylum and remain on the mainland while their claims were being processed.


Now, the law applies to any asylum seeker who arrives by boat.


The legislative change mirrors a failed plan put forward by the Howard government in 2006 — something Labor had bitterly opposed.


Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor says it will discourage people from embarking on life-threatening boat journeys.


It’s a notion adamantly denied by Social Justice Network spokesman Jamal Daoud.


“I don’t think we can stop boats to come to Australia totally anyway, during any other time in the Australian history. But if the government is looking for more humane way to deal with this issue and save lives and to break the people smugglers’ module as they claim, they could introduce for example, a processing centre in Indonesia in Jakarta.”


This is a sentiment echoed by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.


Its chief executive Kon Karapanagiotidis says the legislation fails to acknowledge and deal with the larger issues at play.


“Why do these people get on to boats in the first place? It’s because of war and conflict. Why do we spend billions locking them up? Because we want to appease red-necks. What is the alternative? It’s actually building regional frameworks, tackling the reason people fleeing, and processing people compassionately. People, when fleeing for their lives, are going to keep getting on boats when our government and our country offers no other safe passage for them in our region.”


The idea was one of the 25 recommendations put forward by Labor’s expert panel on asylum seekers.


The Houston panel was tasked with advising the government on the best way to dissuade asylum seekers trying to reach Australia on boats.


Amnesty International’s refugee campaign coordinator, Graeme McGregor, says there’s really only one way to achieve that goal.


“In order to deter people from making that journey, we would have to make conditions in Australia even worse than they are in other countries in the Asia-Pacific where people are persecuted for seeking asylum, where they’re publicly caned or imprisoned and treated as criminals. We would have to make conditions for asylum seekers in Australia and its territories as bad as the conditions that people are actually fleeing because at the end of the day these people are fleeing for their lives – that’s why they make the journey to Australia.”


Graeme McGregor says the fact that the legislation only applies to asylum seekers who arrive by boat suggests it’s a political move on part of the government.


“Asylum seekers arriving by boat have as much right to seek asylum in Australia as asylum seekers applying from overseas or arriving by plane. That is the right for them granted under international law. The reality is that these people are desperate and they’re seeking safety. And so the method in which they arrive here really should not be an issue.”


Mr McGregor points to what he says is the irony in the new legislation.


While it’s supposedly attempting to stop asylum seekers from undertaking the dangerous boat journey to Australia, he says those who do will be placed in even more dangerous environments on Manus Island and Nauru.


It’s the same concerns that Greens leader Christine Milne raised as the Bill passed through the Senate.


“In ten years, 15 years, 20 years, when there is a national apology to the children detained indefinitely in detention for the sole, supposed crime of seeking a better life in our country because they’re running away from persecution with their families — not one of you will be able to stand up and say, oh, we didn’t know, oh it was the culture of the period, oh it was the best way we thought of saying their lives by locking them up in places which t he UNHCR has said is completely unsuitable.”


Kon Karapanagiotidis from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says the new law will be effective for a long time to come.


And he says now, there are simply not enough people who are prepared to speak up against it.


“The way in which most media would report this and the way in which most of our so-called leaders would report this is some great day and some bullshit message that they’re sending to the people smugglers. Unfortunately I think the misinformation and lies are so deeply embedded in our psyche and culture, I think most Australians won’t have an issue with it, and how sad is that. What an indictment on our country is that.”


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