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Both sides are wrong on refugees

Written By Voice Of Baptist Papua on September 20, 2011 | 10:42 AM

Who was it who told the Australian Parliament in August 2006: "This is a bad bill with no redeeming features"? Who went on to say: "The people who will be disadvantaged by this bill are in fear of their lives, and we should never turn our back on them. They are people who could make a real contribution to Australia."
Why, none other than Chris Bowen, who is now Immigration Minister. Back then, he was speaking against the former Howard government's plan to take a tough stance against asylum seekers from West Papua who had paddled to Australia seeking our protection.

Had it passed, the bill would have meant people sent to Manus Island or Nauru under the Pacific Solution would never have been able to set foot in Australia.
Thankfully, the legislation was defeated after some principled Liberal MPs, like Petro Georgiou and Judy Moylan, crossed the floor during the vote.
Five years later, Mr Bowen is not speaking up for people who could make a contribution to the country. He is instead attempting to turn his back on asylum seekers who are seeking Australia's help by expelling them to Malaysia.
Rather than taking a step back to consider an alternative approach after the High Court's ruling last month which declared the people swap deal illegal, the Gillard government has taken the opposite position. The court reminded the government of its obligations under international law and pointed out that off-shore processing was contrary to the Refugee Convention.
Australians who had hoped the government would stand up against a 2011 policy with no redeeming features - the Malaysia swap deal - have been disappointed. The government missed its chance to save taxpayers billions of dollars, as well as lessen the chance of asylum seekers developing mental illnesses which their indefinite detention overseas causes.
The Prime Minister remains spooked by the Coalition and insists that appearing tough on asylum seekers will lead to better border protection. Labor is participating in an ugly bidding war to maintain the cruel policy of off-shore processing.
The loss of Labor's moral compass has allowed Tony Abbott to continue his sham campaign for human rights, arguing they won't be protected should the government carry out its asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia. This from a political grouping which sent unaccompanied children to Nauru and wants to repeat the policy.
Don't forget, it was a Coalition government under which asylum seekers sewed their lips together and caused other acts of self-harm in detention centres in Australia and Nauru. The bidding war shows contempt for our obligations toward people seeking our help and should be stopped.
Late on Friday last week the government issued new amendments to the Migration Act to circumvent the ruling of the High Court. These amendments were replaced on Monday by new ones.
Both drafts breach the Refugee Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The changes mean the Immigration Minister of the day can simply decide in which country the government wishes to dump asylum seekers.
The government's amendments leave out any reference to natural justice, meaning no court will be able to decide whether a minister's decision was appropriate or lawful.
Despite Australia helping draft the Refugee Convention 60 years ago, the Gillard government appears doing everything it can to stain our proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need.
The Greens condemn the changes and will not be backing any of the amendments. Instead, the Greens will continue reminding both sides of politics of Australia's international obligations.
The Greens advocate what the majority of Australians want - the resumption of on-shore assessments of asylum seekers' claims, because that is the cheaper, humane and lawful option. They don't want to see last minute attempts by the government to water down Australia's obligations toward fragile people just to get its legislation passed.
First published in The National Times on September 20, 2011.
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