The government and opposition have rejected a bid to open the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea for inspection by Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner.
They have also blocked an attempt to give the Australian media the same access to the centres that it has to mainland and Christmas Island detention facilities.
There were angry scenes in parliament on Thursday morning as Labor successfully passed its legislation to excise the entire mainland from the migration zone, with Coalition support.
Previously asylum seekers who made applications for refugee protection on Australian soil could be released into the community and were not subject to the government’s no-advantage rules.
Now only those who arrive by plane and claim asylum will have that right and those who make it to the mainland by boat will be subject to the same conditions – including detention on Manus Island or Nauru – as those who arrive at Australian territories including Christmas Island and the Cocos/Keeling Islands.
The Howard government tried to excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone in 2006, but failed after a backbench revolt led by Liberal moderates.
Amid heated debate on Thursday, the Greens tried and failed to change the Migration Act to give Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs the same access to offshore processing centres as she has for those detained on the mainland.
”These centres [are] costing Australian taxpayers billions of dollars,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said. ”The legal rights of the refugees that are locked up indefinitely have been taken away. There is no transparency at all currently on Manus Island and Nauru.”
But Labor Senator Kate Lundy said enshrining those rights in Australian law would undermine the independence of sovereign nations.
”As sovereign nations, it is the exclusive decision of the governments of both Nauru and PNG to determine to whom they grant lawful entry into their respective countries,” she said.
”With regard to accessing regional processing centres, as a corollary to that, it’s at the discretion of those governments of both Nauru and PNG and not appropriate to be legislated by the Australian government.”
Senator Lundy said the government continued to work with the governments of both countries to introduce ”suitable arrangements” for media access. No media outlet has yet been able to access the centres.
Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs Matt Thistlethwaite said Australian politicians and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had visited the centres.
The UNHCR issued scathing reports on both camps, and recommended the government remove children from the Manus centre.
”The government believes that requiring another country to provide assurances that it will provide access to the Australian Human Rights Commissioner is something that this government cannot guarantee, therefore it’s not appropriate to put it in this legislation,” Senator Thistlethwaite said.
Senator Hanson-Young said there was ”no other explanation” for the government’s stance than it having something to hide.
”If there is nothing to hide, then open the doors.”
She said there were no laws that protected asylum seekers’ human rights or enshrined transparency or oversight mechanisms in law.
The Greens were also blocked in their bid to remove children from the Manus Island detention centre, and to prevent more children being sent there by the government and opposition.
Senator Doug Cameron joined forces with the government, despite previously calling for Manus Island to close because of its poor conditions.
After the vote, Senator Cameron declined to comment, saying his position was on the public record.
Senator Lundy said asylum seekers were checked for ”particular vulnerabilities” before being transferred to offshore processing centres, and exempting children from being sent to Manus Island would encourage people smugglers to put children on boats.
An emotional Senator Hanson-Young said Australia was subjecting asylum seeker children to abuse.
”I don’t say this lightly … we are subjecting these children to child abuse, to institutionalised child abuse. To child abuse by policy. We are creating a damaged generation.”Source: Sydney Morning Herald – Mainland excised from Australia’s migration zone
- In Australia, some asylum women and kids to be released soon (craighill.net)
- Australian mainland off-limits to asylum seekers (radionz.co.nz)
- Mainland excised from Australia’s migration zone (thevine.com.au)
- Parliament to excise mainland from migration zone (abc.net.au)
- Senate debates continent excise plan (news.theage.com.au)
- Mainland excision bill passes Senate (news.theage.com.au)
- Mainland excision laws pass parliament (news.theage.com.au)
- Advance Australia Fair (madeleinewhitby.wordpress.com)
- Parliament excises mainland from migration zone (abc.net.au)
- Australian mainland to be excised from migration zone (tasamemos.wordpress.com)
- Australia gets tough on asylum-seekers (gulfnews.com)
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