By JR on Friday, October 14, 2011
JULIA Gillard has predicted an increase in boat arrivals after yesterday being forced to abandon offshore processing and softening the treatment of asylum-seekers who arrive by sea.
Under Labor's new asylum-seeker regime, increasing numbers of arrivals will be allowed to live in the community and work while on bridging visas as their claims are processed.
After failing to garner the support of enough crossbenchers for legislation that would revive her proposed Malaysia Solution, the Prime Minister last night warned "we are at a real risk of seeing more boats" but urged Australians to blame Tony Abbott.
"There is only one reason that we are not in the circumstances to have offshore processing and that's because of Mr Abbott and his determination to trash the national interest," Ms Gillard said in Canberra yesterday. "Mr Abbott's conduct leads us to circumstances where we are at real risk of seeing more boats."
As the drama unfolded last night, refugee sources told The Australian in Jakarta that four boats were within several days of sailing, carrying about 300 asylum-seekers in total.
However, the Indonesian national police's anti-people-smuggling taskforce is at a high state of readiness, working closely with Jakarta-based Australian Federal Police agents,
Since the August 31 High Court decision knocked down Canberra's Malaysia Solution, four vessels carrying 392 asylum-seekers have made it to Australian waters. In that time, however, the Indonesian police have prevented at least three other departures by intercepting up to 200 passengers travelling on land.
Another boatload of 44 people was intercepted at sea last month off Sulawesi after mechanical trouble.
The Prime Minister's comments drew contempt from the opposition, with immigration spokesman Scott Morrison saying Labor had capitulated to the Greens and calling for Ms Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to resign. The Opposition Leader urged Labor to admit it could not deal with border security and call an election.
The Greens, most refugee advocates and Labor MPs from the Left faction welcomed the move, saying onshore processing was the most humane way of dealing with asylum-seekers. Under the government's plan, most eligible boatpeople will be issued with sub-class 050 bridging visas, the same visa issued to asylum-seekers who arrive by plane.
It is understood the government will begin issuing bridging visas to boatpeople sooner rather than later. Although the government retains spare capacity for about 2400 asylum-seekers in the overstretched detention network, officials are keen to ensure pressure in the system is relieved before it is allowed to build.
The bridging visas allow asylum-seekers to be paid 89 per cent of a Special Benefit allowance (roughly the same as the Newstart allowance). This means singles get $443 a fortnight, and families $570.
After two hurried cabinet meetings and a caucus meeting, Ms Gillard last night revealed the new arrangements, under which all asylum-seekers will be processed onshore. All would face mandatory detention on arrival, but after existing detention facility space was exhausted, the government would allow detainees to move into the community on bridging visas.
The changes come only weeks after bureaucrats and experts warned Ms Gillard that a failure to reinstate offshore processing, which was declared illegal by the High Court in August, would trigger an increase in people-smuggling. The experts predicted about 600 irregular arrivals a month, and warned of resulting social unrest.
Announcing the move last night, Ms Gillard said offshore processing in Malaysia would have been the most effective method to deter the people-smugglers. She warned that onshore processing would spark "the real risk" of more boats.
"I understand that will cause community anxiety," the Prime Minister said. "I believe it is very important that if we do see more boats, to separate in the community's mind, in all of our minds, the problem of seeing more boats from the people who are on those boats. We are a generous country, we are a compassionate country. It is not a matter of blaming the people who are on the boats for these circumstances."