31 Oct 2016

Australia readies lifetime ban for some refugees

5:21 am on 31 October 2016
Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declares victory for the ruling conservatives at a press conference in Sydney on July 10, 2016.

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Photo: AFP

Asylum seekers sent to Manus Island and Nauru after attempting to travel to Australia by boat would be permanently banned from applying to enter the county under a proposed new law announced on Sunday.

Speaking in Sydney, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government would seek to amend the Migration Act (1958) to prevent irregular maritime arrivals taken to a regional processing country from making a valid application for an Australian visa, even if they had been classified as refugees.

"The bill will apply to all taken to a regional processing country since the 19th of July, 2013," Turnbull said.

His announcement follows Thursday's decision by the PNG Supreme Court to dismiss applications made by Manus Island asylum seekers to be returned to Australia or another country with the capacity to take them in.

The court ruled the asylum seekers' lawyer, Ben Lomai, was unable to sign the applications on his clients' behalf even though he was not allowed to enter the detention centre to collect signatures.

Mr Lomai plans to refile a similar application this week with the necessary signatures, but a new hearing is unlikely to be scheduled before Australia amends the Act.

The current policy of sending asylum seekers who arrive in Australian waters by boat to countries like Papua New Guinea and Nauru where their status as refugees is confirmed or rejected has bipartisan support in the Australian parliament.

It was on July 19, 2013, that previous Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared that no irregular maritime arrival would ever settle in Australia.

The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the policy would not apply to anyone who was under the age of 18 on the date they arrived at either Manus Island, Nauru or any other country designated as a regional processing country.

Protest by refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Protest by refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island. Photo: Supplied

Up to 3,000 people on Manus Island, Nauru or in Australia undergoing medical treatment could be affected by the proposed laws.

Refugee lawyer David Manne said Australia should be doing more to protect displaced people and queried why the country needed to be taking even tougher measures.

"It is fundamental that Australia lifts its effort to make a far greater contribution to this global crisis," he said.

"The way to do it is not to propose further measures that are about protecting borders rather than protecting people," Mr Manne said.

The proposed bill will be introduced in the next parliamentary sitting week.

Turnbull said the legislation is about sending a united and concerted message to people smugglers. Mr Turnbull said there had not been a successful attempt by people smugglers to bring irregular maritime arrivals to Australia in more than 800 days.

"If they seek to bring people to Australia those passengers will never settle in this country," he said.

-Reuters, RNZ