Mon, Feb 18, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Morrison issues warning to future asylum seekers


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would strengthen the country’s maritime border protection, after warning that new laws passed in parliament last week would weaken its boundaries and raise national security concerns.

“The Australian government has zero tolerance for people smuggling and illegal boat travel to Australia,” Morrison said in a two-minute video message released yesterday. “No one who attempts an illegal boat journey to Australia will ever be allowed to settle here.”

Morrison, who heads a minority center-right government, on Wednesday lost a crucial vote on legislation that will allow doctors a greater say on the medical evacuation of sick asylum seekers held in detention centers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Australia.

The main opposition Labor Party has rejected the government’s assertion that the new rules would embolden people smugglers and lead to more boat arrivals, saying the rules would only apply to existing refugees in offshore detention, not new arrivals.

Morrison said in the video message that it was more than four-and-a-half years since the last successful maritime people smuggling venture to Australia. Since then, the government had intercepted more than 800 people from 34 boats.

“More than 1,200 people died attempting illegal boat voyages to our country. We will never allow this to happen again,” Morrison said.

The video is expected to be translated into 15 languages and aired in 10 countries considered asylum seeker hot spots.

Australian Attorney General Christian Porter yesterday told the Australian Broadcasting Corp’s (ABC) Insiders on Sunday that the prospect of a future Labor government applying new rules for medical transfers to asylum seekers is “no less real” than the medevac bill.

The medevac bill — which passed the lower house on Wednesday and Senate on Thursday, but is yet to receive royal assent — sets up a process for an independent medical panel to force a medical transfer from offshore detention unless the minister overrules it on security grounds or if the person has a “substantial criminal record.”

Porter said that although the “primary legal observation to make [is] that the legislation is not prospective” the fact that Labor had “softened” the rules was “another observation that’s no less important and no less real.”

“People smugglers aren’t bound by the terms of the Trade Practices Act” and would use potential future legal changes to market boat journeys to clients, he said.

Under the changes you “need not even be ill” to be transferred, because two doctors and the medical panel can approve transfers merely for assessment, he said.

The attorney general said the government “fully expects” that the panel will team up with the assessing doctors to override the minister, because “doctors will tend to agree with other doctors” although the urgency of transfers medical treatment are “matters of some subjectivity.”

Porter also defended the government’s decision to re-open the Christmas Island detention center, which has lead some critics to accuse it of encouraging people smugglers to restart their trade by suggesting Australia’s borders were weakened as a result.

The latest flare-up over refugees has put immigration policy back at the top of the political agenda ahead of a national election due by May.

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