Labor drip feeds justice to refugees

January 10, 2023
Refugees rally for permanent protection outside Parliament House last November. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

The federal government indicated just before Christmas that 19,000 refugees living in limbo on temporary visas would be able to apply for permanency from early 2023.

But another 12,000 refugees, many of whom were subjected to Scott Morrison’s “fast-track” process, will not be eligible to apply.

Labor promised to end the cruel practice of imposing temporary protection visas (TPVs) on to people found to meet the definition of “refugee”. It could have done this with the stroke of a pen immediately after it was elected, but it didn’t.

Important details of Labor’s latest announcement remain unclear: a process or a timeframe for refugees to apply for permanency has not been outlined.

Independent MP Klyea Tink told The Guardian it was “teasing [refugees] with hope”.

The Refugee Council of Australia said “all TPV and SHEV [Safe Haven Enterprise Visa] holders needed permanent protection”.

The Australian Refugee Action Network said while a welcome relief for some “without an official announcement, including all 31,000 people subjected to Morrison’s rigged ‘fast track’ system, we hold grave concerns that 12,000 people who’ve been part of our communities for a decade will be left in fear of being torn from their homes and forced to danger”. It wants permanent visas for all 31,000 people caught up in the “fast-track” system.

The 19,000 eligible for permanent residency will be able to access social security, travel overseas and apply for visas for relatives in other countries.

Labor must outline a prompt pathway for permanent residency for the 12,000 on bridging visas, who have also suffered more than a decade of discrimination.

Labor has also said it plans to abolish the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and replace it with a new appeals body. Coalition governments stacked the AAT with partisan appointments of people who often had limited legal qualifications or relevant experience.

Historically, refugee applications are largely rejected by the Immigration Department — reflecting a bipartisan racist anti-refugee policy.

However, around nine out of 10 asylum seekers who undertake the appeals and court process are found to be refugees. This proportion decreased over the last 10 years of Coalition rule.

In opposition, Labor stressed its opposition to TPVs as proof that its policies were different and better than the Coalition’s.

While the December announcement holds out hope, Labor continues to support boat turn backs and offshore detention. Home affairs minister Clare O’Neil even boasted in December that “every single person who has attempted to enter Australia by boat has been returned by this government”.

Labor has again started to lock refugees up in hotel detention. At least three refugees were brought to Australia from Nauru in December for medical treatment. They received hotel detention with security guards instead of doctors.

Anti-refugee policies undermine the rights of all working people. They deflect public attention away from the billionaire class responsible for imposing low wage growth, climate catastrophe and the undermining of public services.

Green Left opposed the mandatory detention of refugees bought in by the Paul Keating government in the 1990s. We exposed the John Howard government’s lies about the Tampa affair and “children overboard” in 2001.

For more than three decades we have campaigned for justice for refugees here and around the world.

While we welcome Labor’s update, refugees and asylum seekers need certainty. This means abolishing all temporary visas for refugees and offering permanent protection.

We can hope that a new appeals body will deliver justice to more refugees. But that’s more likely to happen if we organise to grow the movement for refugee rights, including on the streets.

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