The Federal Opposition says stopping the flow of refugee boats rather than suspending asylum seeker applications should be the Government’s priority.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans says the Government is acting in the nation’s best interests in deciding to suspend refugee applications from Sri Lanka for three months and Afghanistan for six months.
But the Opposition spokesman for customs and border protection, Michael Keenan, says the interception of two boats within 24 hours of the Government announcing its new policy shows it will not stop the flow of boats.
“It’s actually the Australian Government that controls the flow of immigration into Australia,” he said.
“At the moment that’s not the case. And we do think the Government should take action but I don’t think this action will necessarily make much difference.
“It’s more about pretending to be tough.”
Senator Evans says 400 additional beds will be set up at Christmas Island in the coming weeks to cope with extra occupants expected as a result of the Government’s decision.
He says the Darwin Immigration Centre is also an option to house the asylum seekers.
But Mr Keenan says the Government is breaking a promise to Australians if it chooses to use the centre.
“They promised they wouldn’t process people on the Australian mainland, now they’re going to break that promise,” he said.
“They should really try and stick to that promise but then of course the only way of doing that is to try and actually stop the number of illegal arrivals that are coming down.”
The president of the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory says there is too much focus on asylum seekers who reach Australia by boat.
Sabaratnam Prathapan says recent boat arrivals have been taken out of proportion.
“There are other people, especially from Europe, who come by air and they overstay here and nobody seems to worry about that, maybe because they come from Europe,” he said.
“Only a small percentage of the people who come come by boat and we seem to make a big fuss about it.”
Meanwhile, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wants the Government to prove that its new policy on asylum seekers does not breach Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act.
The Government has said it has strong legal advice suggesting that the policy is within the law.
But Senator Hanson-Young is not so sure and says the Government should release that advice to the public.
“You don’t determine somebody’s refugee status on the basis of where they come from, you determine their refugee status on the basis of their claim,” she said.
“If we suspend all processing of claims, and detain people indefinitely, then we cannot be sure whether these people are refugees or whether we are detaining people who should be deported.
“It’s not right for the government to simply – for the sake of political gain – detain people indefinitely because they have made some decision that perhaps Sri Lanka or Afghanistan is a safe place to be – it’s clearly not.”
Senator Hanson-Young yesterday described the action as a “redneck” policy, which proves that Mr Rudd is a “coward”.
The Government says conditions in those two countries are improving, and its likely fewer claims will be successful.
Refugee lawyers are considering taking the Commonwealth to court, arguing it has breached administrative law by discriminating against a race of people.
The Human Rights Commission has also condemned the move as a breach of Australia’s international obligations.