Asylum seekers arriving by boat will again be locked up in detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea after deadlock-breaking legislation passed parliament.
About 200 people have arrived on boats since former defence chief Angus Houston’s expert panel delivered the report on Monday that broke the stalemate with recommendations that included a return to offshore processing.
The report recommended a tough “no advantage” principle, which will ensure asylum seekers who get on boats will not be resettled any faster than those who go through regular channels.
The Greens slammed the major parties for failing to set time limits on detention, rejecting calls for a 12 month review and shirking on Australia’s international human rights obligations.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young claimed there were ten unaccompanied children on Christmas Island at risk of being deported to Nauru and who won’t have any legal guardian protection under this legislation.
“Under Julia Gillard’s Pacific solution which is what this legislation is, there are even less protections (than John Howard’s)” she said.
Earlier on Thursday, as former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser watched on from the Senate gallery, Senator Hanson-Young urged Australia to learn from his leadership during the 1980s handling Vietnamese and Chinese refugees.
“This legislation will not save lives, it will kill people,” she said.
“It will send brave, courageous people insane.”
Senator Hanson-Young said the government had lost its moral compass.
Labor frontbencher Kate Lundy defended the government’s stance, saying its motivation was to save lives, unlike the opposition which had put political ambition ahead of the national interest.
She said granting unaccompanied minors special treatment would be the “height of irresponsibility” because people smugglers would send boatloads of children without their parents.
Senator Lundy confirmed there were ten unaccompanied minors among the new arrivals, who may be deported to Nauru.
For backbenchers in Labor’s left faction, the legislation leaves a bitter taste.
Labor senator Gavin Marshall told the Senate the Labor caucus was not unanimous in its decision to support the measures.
“Many of us have great difficulty reconciling this decision with our personal values and I admit it conflicts with my own,” he told parliament.
“But as the party of government we don’t have the luxury of indulging in our self-righteousness.”
He remains gravely concerned about the bill’s punitive aspects and the effectiveness of the no-advantage principle as a disincentive.
The opposition gleefully pointed out Labor’s u-turn on the Pacific Solution.
Liberal frontbencher George Brandis said he had no doubt about the good intentions of former immigration minister Chris Evans when he announced proudly in 2008 that he would dismantle the Howard government’s “inhumane” asylum seekers policy.
“How often have we heard the road to hell is paved with good intentions?” Senator Brandis said.
Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce said Labor now understood the former government of prime minister John Howard was correct in its approach to asylum seeker boat arrivals.
“I want to thank the people of the Labor left who have come to the position they now support the coalition’s policy, Howard’s policy on immigration,” he told the Senate.
The legislation now proceeds for royal assent.
Greens amendments to introduce an independent review of regional processing within 12 months and provide increased protection and welfare arrangements also failed.
Senator Hanson-Young in a last ditch attempt sought to amend the bill to include a 24 months sunset clause, which also failed.
Labor’s legislation was worse than the Howard governments, she said.
“I have no idea of how any of you will sleep straight at night.”
Senator Milne said the government had been unable to provide appropriate detail about the bill during the debate because it had rushed it through parliament.
“I feel ashamed as a parliamentarian,” she said.
The government’s bill was passed with the support of the coalition 44-9.
It now awaits royal assent. (WNA).