Scott Morrison announces plan to increase refugee and humanitarian intake
The Federal Government has announced an increase in the refugee intake and other changes to legislation currently before the Senate in a bid to stave off another defeat in the Upper House.
The Government has agreed to increase the number of people who can come to Australia under its refugee and humanitarian program as part of negotiations over its legislation to resurrect Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs).
The program will go up by 7,500 places over four years, with the final year seeing 5,000 extra people added to the intake, taking it up from the current level of 13,750.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the move would be funded by savings.
“This increase, at a cost of more than $100 million, will be fully funded by offsets that I have committed to within my portfolio,” he told reporters.
“If you’re going to increase the intake, you’ve got to pay for it.”
Mr Morrison announced a range of amendments agreed to during negotiations for the legislation, which is being debated in the Senate today.
He said the bill would be amended to give the Senate the power to block any proposal to lower the new refugee intake level.
It would also be amended to only apply what is called the “fast-track” assessment process to the existing backlog of asylum seekers who have already arrived.
Those asylum seekers who are on bridging visas will also be allowed to work while their refugee applications are processed.
Mr Morrison said an agreement with independent Senator Nick Xenophon would see “greater alignment with UN High Commission for Refugees definitions and guidelines within the provisions”.
Greens label bill ‘a smorgasbord of suffering’
The legislation had been criticised by human rights lawyers for how it interpreted Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention.
Labor and the Greens are opposed to the reintroduction of TPVs.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told the Senate during debate the bill was “a smorgasbord of suffering, a buffet of brutality and it shouldn’t be allowed to pass this place”.
The Government has already done a deal with the Palmer United Party for support for the legislation in return for the introduction of what are called Safe Haven Enterprise Visas, which would allow recipients who work for three-and-a-half years in designated regions to apply for other temporary onshore visas.
However, the Palmer United Party wants the Safe Haven Enterprise Visas to provide a pathway to permanent residency, something the Immigration Minister has ruled out.
Mr Morrison said today’s changes were the result of discussions with Senator Xenophon and fellow crossbench senators Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm, as well as representations from Coalition backbenchers.
Asylum seekers worse off if bill not passed: Xenophon
Senator Xenophon described the legislation – which he urged the Senate to support – as Hobson’s choice, because he believed if the legislation did not pass, the Government would choose a non-legislative route to reintroduce TPVs.
“It does not mean that we stop being critical of the Government’s policies, but if we do nothing, if we do not support this bill, then I believe fervently that what will happen is that asylum seekers will be worse off if this bill is not passed, as imperfect as the bill is.”
He described the choice as a moral dilemma and a wicked problem.
Another independent senator, John Madigan, told the Senate he could not support the legislation in its current form.
“The bill will do many things but not least of which it will bring back TPVs,” he said.
“As I understand it, the Government will not back down on their view in support of TPVs and I have a problem in backing down on my view against them. As such I think we’re at this point in time possibly at a stalemate.”
He also told the Senate the bill was more complex with the amendments proposed today than without them.