Piracy claim rekindles asylum seeker issue

By Greg Ansley

The Senate was finalising the passage of laws ending a year-long gridlock and imposing measures as tough as former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard's Pacific Solution. Photo / File.
The Senate was finalising the passage of laws ending a year-long gridlock and imposing measures as tough as former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard's Pacific Solution. Photo / File.

The alleged forced diversion of a ship to Christmas Island by a group of rescued asylum seekers has recharged political rhetoric as Australian teams arrive to prepare ground for new processing facilities in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The Senate was finalising the passage of laws ending a year-long gridlock and imposing measures as tough as former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard's Pacific Solution. Late last night the Senate was still debating amendments but the legislation was expected to pass.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said earlier that the captain of the rescue vessel was threatened when he tried to continue his passage past Java to Singapore.

The Opposition, still wringing political capital from Prime Minister Julia Gillard's backflip on offshore processing, attacked a "weak" Government for allowing asylum seekers to dictate terms and demanded they be investigated for piracy. The Government has already reversed its earlier, more tolerant approach to asylum seekers arriving by boat, not only adopting the offshore processing it condemned when in Opposition but also moving to make sure detainees suffer as least as much as refugees waiting out applications filed through formal channels.

This means that if approved, they will wait as long as others in camps abroad - a process that can take five or more years - and they will not be able to bring family to Australia.

To make sure they get the "not welcome" message, a film crew has flown with police, immigration, army and foreign affairs officers to Nauru and Manus Island in PNG to produce videos warning of what lies ahead. To be called "Australia by boat? No advantage", the videos will be distributed through social media in the hope of discouraging people from attempting the crossing from Indonesia that has killed 964 people in the past decade.

But so far the focus has been on deterrence through a harsh reception by Australia with almost no public attention to the most significant finding of the expert panel established by Gillard to find solutions - that a comprehensive, long-term international package needs to be developed.

This would include a wide and expensive array of measures extending through the Middle East and Asia, and new, improved co-ordinated strategies with traditional refugee resettlement countries including New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Europe.

"The scale of current and prospective asylum-seeker flows from the Middle East, South Asia and elsewhere is a large and growing problem," the panel's report said.

"Appropriate national policy settings and a more effective regional co-operation framework are necessary, but not sufficient, responses."

The Government says it has accepted all the recommendations.

But groups including non-government aid and development agencies, the Red Cross, Amnesty International and refugee advocates fear wider, longer-term measures are being pushed into the background.

Almost none have been raised since Monday's release of the panel's report, although Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the Government was working on what would be a difficult and lengthy process.

The panel added: "A more comprehensive and sustainable regional framework for improving protection and asylum systems is a key prerequisite for creating safer alternatives to people smuggling."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 30 Aug 2014 20:58:13 Processing Time: 1304ms