The conservative frontrunner to become Australia’s next prime minister declared “this is our country” as he unveiled a tough new temporary visa policy yesterday that would strip boat people of basic rights.
Liberal Party of Australia leader Tony Abbott, who opinion polls show is on track to win Sept. 7 national elections, said he planned to return to punitive refugee policies of the former conservative administration, also flagging an axing of appeal rights for failed asylum claims.
“This is our country and we determine who comes here,” Abbott told reporters, deliberately harking back to the ruthless stance of veteran Liberal-National coalition leader and former Australian prime minister John Howard.
Abbott’s policy would see the 32,000 boat people currently awaiting processing by Australia, and any future arrivals, placed on three-year temporary protection visas if they are found to be genuine refugees.
They would be forced into an indefinite work-for-welfare program, denied permanent residency or family reunion rights and stripped of appeal avenues over their refugee claims.
Abbott has already announced plans for military-led patrols off Australia’s northwest coast, where people-smuggling ships often make their way from Indonesia and Sri Lanka, vowing to turn them back.
His latest policy was condemned as cruel by refugee activists and the left-wing Greens Party, who described it as posturing by Abbott on the sensitive political issue.
“This is a Tony Abbott stunt to thump his chest and look tough,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told reporters. “There is no national emergency, there is a humanitarian emergency, and nothing Tony Abbott has offered today does anything to deal with that.”
Under Howard’s so-called “Pacific Solution” last decade, refugees who arrived on people-smuggling boats were banished to Nauru and Papua New Guinea and held behind razor wire in spartan detention camps for a prolonged period.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, an advocacy and activist group, said Australia would be the only country in the developed world to deny refugees the right of appeal under Abbott, accusing both major parties of effectively abandoning the UN’s Refugee Convention.
The Labor party unwound many of Howard’s policies when it took office in 2007 in favor of a more humanitarian approach, but years of record boat arrivals saw it return to offshore Pacific processing and roll out an even tougher scheme.