POLITICS

New Zealand Still A Live Option, as Dutton Defends Lifetime Ban Plan For Refugees

Is this a way to make a cross-Tasman resettlement deal work?

31/10/2016 10:09 AM AEDT | Updated 31/10/2016 10:11 AM AEDT
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Alex Ellinghausen, Fairfax
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says there are "no constitutional issues here" a lifetime ban plan for refugees who sought asylum by boat

CANBERRA – The Immigration Minister insists "no we are absolutely not" in breach of Australia's refugee obligations with moves to apply a lifetime ban on refugees who had sought asylum by trying to reach Australia by boat.

Meantime, it appears Australia is edging closer to a deal with a third country of settlement for refugees, as this proposed lifetime refugee ban could be a way to accept a longstanding offer from New Zealand to take detained people off Australia's hands.


"I am very keen to get people off Manus and Nauru, but I will not do it in a way that when we create vacancies they are just filled by new arrivals," Dutton told RN Breakfast.

"That would be a disaster."

The proposed lifetime refugee ban, which would come through new laws being fast-tracked into parliament next week, applies to refugees even if they attempt to come to Australia later as tourists or for business.

The United Nations children's agency UNICEF has condemned the proposed legislation and Greens Leader Richard Di Natale has called it barbaric and "cynical politics."

Refugee advocates say the proposal to amend the 1958 Migration Act to prevent boat arrivals, or attempted arrivals, from ever getting an Australian visa is punitive and places Australia in breach of the UN refugee convention.

"We are absolutely confident in terms of the constitutionality and that we meet our international obligations," Peter Dutton told RN Breakfast, adding he viewed Australia was "absolutely not" in breach of the UN Refugee Convention.

"If we weren't, we would not be proceeding with it."

The Immigration Minister said he'd received advice from the international division of the Attorney-General's Department and the Australian Government Solicitor.

"There are no constitutional issues here," he said. "We have tested the legislation."

UNICEF Australia said the lifetime ban, which would apply to all adults detained at the Manus Island or Nauru detention centres from July 19, 2013 -- including those who have chosen to return home, is "not a reasonable, necessary or proportionate measure."

It also said it was "entirely unnecessary" and "squarely punishes refugees more than it creates a credible warning to people smugglers."

Under the plan there would be exemptions for children and the Minister would have discretion.

"As is the case with most migration cases now, or sections within the Migration Act, there is a ministerial discretion to act in the public interest," Dutton explained.

"So there may be individual cases around families, for example, where the minister of the day, he or she, can provide a migration outcome. That is, that person can be allowed in."

Labor is under pressure to support the legislation, however the Government is expecting the move will fit in with the opposition's policy of not allowing boat arrivals to settle in Australia.

Nick Xenophon, who has previously supported the Government on tough immigration policies, wants to see the legislation.

"It is one thing to be tough to stop the people smuggling trade. It is another thing to be unnecessarily cruel," he told Sky News.

"Let's see where this proposal actually ends up."

The Turnbull Government has been negotiating with other nations to resettle the refugees being held on Manus Island and Nauru, but is keeping quiet on how the negotiations are going.

New Zealand has long offered to take some of the refugees and it is thought this new lifetime ban plan will pre-emptively shut down a new backdoor to Australia.

"When we do have a third country resettlement arrangement in place we are not going to have a situation where people then come to Australia through a different visa class," Dutton said.

"That gaming (of) the system would send a clear message to the people smugglers that the government's policy was ineffective."

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