“1/11/12, by Michelle Grattan
THE United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has sharply criticised the federal government for leaving in limbo the asylum seekers who have arrived since its August 13 announcement of offshore processing.
It said it was increasingly concerned about the unresolved status of these more than 5700 people being held in detention in Australia and Nauru.
”This effective suspension of processing raises serious legal issues, as well as concerns for the health and wellbeing of those affected,” it said.
The government plan to excise the Australian continent from its migration zone – so it can send asylum seekers who arrive on or near the mainland to be processed offshore – had no bearing on Australia’s obligation to abide by its international obligations.
It was imperative all asylum seekers affected by the August 13 decision on offshore processing be provided with a fair and effective procedure with due process, as soon as possible, it said.
The government has not specified how long people will be held under the provision they should not receive any advantage over those who do not get on boats.
Amnesty International attacked the excision as ”a dangerous move that will not save lives and blatantly defies Australia’s commitment under the UN refugee convention”.
”As the only country of the world to excise its borders from its migration zone, Australia has now confirmed its place in a shameful race to the bottom,” spokesman Graham Thom said.
Amnesty said it was entirely hypocritical for the government to reintroduce the ”very same measure it vehemently opposed during the Howard years”, Dr Thom said.
Defending the excision, for which he introduced legislation on Tuesday, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told the ABC: ”What this change does is actually make the treatment of people more consistent, so that there is no difference as to whether you arrive at Christmas Island or you arrive at Darwin or Broome or anywhere else. You get treated the same way. So that is entirely consistent with the refugee convention.”
Opposition spokesman Scott Morrison said the boats would continue to come as long as the Labor government continued in power.
”The only message that people smugglers will understand when it comes to stopping the boats coming to Australia is a change of government.”
While the Coalition will support the legislation, two Liberal MPs, Russell Broadbent and Judi Moylan, will cross the floor to oppose the excision legislation.
Ms Moylan said: ”To me this is a very dangerous piece of legislation. When you look at the incremental changes that are made, we’re watering down the rule of law, we’re watering down people’s entitlement to natural justice.”
A convener of Labor’s Left, Doug Cameron, said there were a number in the caucus ”that are saying we need to get some guidelines and some structure around how this [offshore processing] is going to work”.