A battle has erupted over ‘boat people’ after a divisive new law passed this week in Parliament, allowing 300 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru to be shipped to Australia as medical transfers.
Asylum seekers who need medical treatment will be sent to Christmas Island under the new plan.
Since the bill passed, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has gone on the attack, claiming the new law risks the resumption of boat arrivals.
“My job now is to ensure that the boats don’t come,” he said. “If they don’t come, it will be because of the work and the decisions we are now taking and the actions we are putting in place.”
The new law only applies to 1000 people currently on Manus Island and Nauru, but Mr Morrison claims that people smugglers did not care about the “nuance” of the law.
“If they do come, you can thank the Labor Party and Bill Shorten because he is the one who has led this process. He has led this process to weaken and compromise our borders,” he said.
Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for National Security, Mark Dreyfus, says the Prime Minister is “endorsing lies”. Labor’s Brendan O’Connor also said the PM had chosen to “misrepresent the truth” and “lie to the Australian people” in an attempt to gain political advantage, effectively turning a humanitarian issue into a guaranteed election fight over asylum seeker policy.
“Most remarkably and outrageously, we’ve seen him announce the opening of Christmas Island. Well if this wasn’t the biggest advertisement to people smugglers, I don’t know what is,” said Mr O’Connor.
“To open up a taxpayer-funded motel in Christmas Island to basically advertise to people smugglers in the region that indeed business is back – that is a desperate act.”
Tony Abbott claims these new rules mean people could “get on a boat, get to Nauru, get sick and get to Australia”, despite the new law not applying to new boat arrivals.
The new law, which Bill Shorten says is a humanitarian change that made no significant alteration to offshore processing of boat arrivals, states that those who are transferred must already be in detention.
The Department of Home Affairs said that 300 cases of people on Manus Island and Nauru are likely to be recommended for medical transfer.
However, Independent MP Kerryn Phelps and Greens leader Richard Di Natale believe that hundreds more could qualify for transfer and treatment.
The government has not declared how many transferees will be integrated into the community after treatment and how many will need to be held in detention centres.
According to a Sydney Morning Herald report, most refugees who arrived by boat have gone into the community in the past. As of December, 380 boat people were in detention and 15,674 in the community.
Former Australian Federal Police officer John Coyne said that the new law was well-constructed but it could encourage some to risk a boat journey.
“The narrative of the past six years has been one of crushing any hope,” he said. “You can’t underplay the impact that a spark of hope will have when people are desperate.”
What do you think of the new law? Do you agree with the reopening of the Christmas Island detention centre?