Labour MP admits asylum policy ‘very harsh’
Sydney Morning Herald
November 25, 2012
Federal government minister Tony Burke says denying asylum seekers the right to have a job is “very harsh” but is a policy needed to stop people drowning at sea.
Labor last week announced more asylum seekers would be allowed into the community on “rolling” bridging visas but they will have no work rights and only limited accommodation and financial support.
Left faction chief Doug Cameron has warned the policy could create a social underclass.
But Mr Burke on Sunday said people smugglers had been selling the fact that even if asylum seekers weren’t granted permanent visas they’d still get to work in Australia for a few years.
“That of itself has been a reason that people smugglers have been able to increase the number of people putting their lives at risk on the high seas,” he told ABC TV.
“Yes it is tough (policy). It’s very harsh, but I don’t want to see a situation where we do anything that adds to the risk of people losing their lives.
“(Drownings) are exactly why we are here in this policy area.”
Fairfax media reported on Sunday that 33 asylum seekers drowned on their way to Christmas Island last month after their boat sank in minutes.
The sole survivor, Habib Ullah, 22, spent three days in the water watching his fellow passengers from Afghanistan and Pakistan drown one by one.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr on Sunday said asylum seekers would continue to come to Australia because there were 40 million displaced people worldwide.
“You could change the government of Australia tomorrow and it would still be faced with this problem and we’d be working with the policy tools we’ve got,” Senator Carr told Sky News.
“It ain’t going to go away, because of the displacement of people throughout the world and the existence of the people-smuggling industry.”
Senator Carr said the only way to bust that industry was off-shore processing, which sent a powerful message that even if asylum seekers reached Australian waters they weren’t guaranteed resettlement.
Despite the difficulties, the public would continue to insist that governments keep trying to stop the boats, the foreign minister said.
The coalition wants asylum seekers released on bridging visas to be made to work for their welfare payments, like a work-for-the-dole scheme.
But Nationals Leader Warren Truss does not want those welfare payments – which would amount to around $30 a day – to be increased.
“The larger amount of money that’s offered the greater the attraction will be to come to Australia,” he told Network Ten on Sunday.
People who come to Australia “in the proper way” deserve proper support, he said.
“But to reward people who have come in here in an unauthorised way seems to me to be sending the wrong message.”
He called the latest deaths at sea the “tragic face of a disastrous policy failure”.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison hopes to introduce a private members’ bill into parliament this week to bring back temporary protection visas (TPVs).
They would only last until it was safe for people to return to their home country.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says there is no difference between Labor’s bridging visas and TPVs.
“It’s a race to the bottom on who can be the nastiest,” she told reporters in Canberra.
“It is a furphy to even try and say they are different in any really means. They both damage people.”
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