Australian Government Likely Has To Compromise On Asylum Seeker Ban

Government hopes to prohibit refugees from Manus, Nauru camps from ever setting foot in country

By Julia Holman

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Nov. 9, 2016) – The Government may have to compromise if it wants its legislation banning refugees who are in offshore detention from ever visiting Australia to pass the Senate.

Senator Nick Xenophon and his party colleagues were briefed on the issue yesterday by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

The Government's proposal is to ban refugees who are on Manus Island and Nauru from ever visiting Australia even on a business or a tourist visa.

Senator Xenophon said his party might not vote as a bloc on the issue.

"It does go much further than current laws and it is a vexed moral issue," Senator Xenophon told AM.

"It is a conscience issue for the team. I expect we will all have differing positions in relation to this, and I respect that."

He said the numbers in the Senate were "very finely balanced" on this issue, but personally he would be more likely to support it if there was an increase to the humanitarian intake.

[PIR editor's note: On Nov. 8, 2016 RNZI reported that 'The opposition Labor party in Australia will oppose the government's bill that blocks boat people from ever returning there.']

He said back in 2014 he voted with the Government to introduce temporary protection visas because there was a significant lift in refugee numbers

"We pushed really hard to increase the humanitarian intake, which we did by 7,500 people," he said.

"That's 7,500 souls that would otherwise be languishing in a refugee camp somewhere in the world that will be able to call Australia home.

"And in my view, Australia is a big country with a big heart, I would like to see an even bigger increase in our humanitarian intake." 

Another crossbench senator, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, said he would not be pushing for an increase in the humanitarian intake, although he did not want to see the numbers go down either.

But he was sceptical about whether the Government could stop refugees who become citizens of a country like Canada or New Zealand from visiting Australia.

"Suppose a refugee is banned from ever coming to Australia as a result of arriving here illegally, then goes to New Zealand and becomes a citizen of New Zealand and then wants to visit Australia," he said.

"Are they seriously going to prohibit that person from entering the country? How would we even know who that was? If they've got a New Zealand passport we just let them in automatically anyway."

Government needs support of eight crossbenchers

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he wanted a vote in the Lower House by the end of the week.

With Labor and the Greens opposing the legislation, the Government needs the support of eight out of 10 Senate crossbenchers.

However, Nick Xenophon said the Upper House would not be in any hurry to make a decision.

"I still haven't reached a final position and I don't believe it's fair to say that my colleagues have necessarily reached a final position," he said.

"It depends what all the elements of the legislation are and whether the Government is prepared to move on some of those elements of the legislation.

"If there is some way that the humanitarian intake can be increased, that a third country can be found for those languishing on Nauru or Manus Island, that you don't compromise the strong position that we have on people smugglers, and to make sure that we don't see a revival of that trade and with it the drownings at sea and the gross exploitation of those asylum seekers, then maybe, just maybe, we can come up with a solution that is far from perfect but would be an improvement on what we have now."

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