Playing this asylum seeker card doesn’t stack up
Former Liberal MP Petro Georgiou remembers the 2006 attempt by Prime Minister John Howard to excise the mainland from the immigration zone. He wasn’t impressed then and he’s not impressed by Julia Gillard’s bid to succeed where Mr Howard failed.
“It’s just a wholesale abandonment of every principle,” Mr Georgiou told The Punch today.
There will be some current Labor MPs who agree and, critical to the passage of legislation, lots of Green senators and many of the seven cross bench MPs in the House of Representatives.
One of the aims of the proposed excision - as recommended by the Angus Houston panel on asylum seeker policy - is to discourage boats from setting off on the long and dangerous voyage to the mainland, which increases the possibility of a tragedy at sea.
But these people are hard to discourage.
The current excision laws mean boat people reaching the Cocos Islands, Ashmore Reef and Christmas Island are denied rights and can be sent to Nauru for indefinite detention or, when it opens soon, to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
This has not deterred people from taking the equally risky boat trip from Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Hundreds a week are turning up on the shores of our excised external territories.
And there is an argument that many boats are intercepted before getting close to Australia proper.
An equally big journey has been made by the ALP. Mr Georgiou recalls that six years ago the Labor Opposition was “hysterical” about the proposal to eliminate the rights to special visas and care for those who arrive on Australian territory looking for asylum.
John Howard originally told Parliament that excision of the mainland was “a ludicrous proposition” that would not be part of his Pacific Solution, recalls Mr Georgiou. But then some West Papuans fleeing Indonesian authorities made the short hop to the Australian continent and their journey changed the Prime Minister’s mind.
Mr Howard pushed excision through the House of Representatives where Mr Georgiou, Russell Broadbent and Judi Moylan cross the floor to vote with Labor against the legislation.
But that’s as far as the proposed law went. Mr Howard realised it would not make it through the Senate, where other Liberals might rebel, and dropped the idea.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen would need the Opposition’s backing to get the excision of the mainland through and might then have to wait until the High Court had a say on the matter.
The recommendations of the Houston panel were accepted by the Government and the Opposition so that support could be likely, although it would not be granted without a critical commentary from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his immigration spokesman Scott Morrison.
Petro Georgiou damns both sides.
“It’s just an attempt to play the refugee card,” he said.
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