Labor and the Greens have opened a Pandora’s Box with their changes to the medical evacuation laws for asylum seekers.
Their efforts may be well intended, but then the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In a sign of the troubles to come, Attorney-General Christian Porter said already up to 300 people on Manus Island and Nauru are close to securing the medical approvals they’ll need to be brought over to Australia.
With people smugglers watching from foreign shores, that’s likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.
Speaking on Sky News yesterday, Porter said Australia’s security agencies are in a ‘race against time’ to undertake the needed background checks on asylum seekers.
Porter said he was afraid some detainees may have been convicted of serious crimes but not yet sentenced.
‘We are going through all the people and we are in a race against time to do that… It puts us — our government and border protection, security and intelligence agencies — under enormous time pressure.’
The Coalition fought the changes in the law. But they still passed, presenting a historic defeat for Scott Morrison’s government.
While immigration ministers still can refuse medical transfers to convicted criminals, the Coalition is worried this will depend on the length of the prison sentences in question.
The new laws will also only be valid for those asylum seekers already in offshore detention. Labor believes this amendment should act as a sufficient deterrent to people smugglers, who are watching events closely.
But the Australian Associated Press reports that Defence Minister Christopher Pyne isn’t buying it. He called Labor’s tweaking of the bill an ‘irrelevant red herring’, saying it would encourage people smugglers to restart the boats regardless.
Pyne added it was ‘a mere technicality’ that new asylum seekers wouldn’t also be given fast-tracked transfers. Speaking to ABC radio he said, ‘What Labor is trying to do is pretend that they can be half-pregnant.’
Shorten defends Labor’s actions
With his eyes on the upcoming election, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten attempted to defend Labor’s actions. In a statement to reporters Shorten said:
‘I totally repudiate the attacks of the government, seeking to whip up fear and hysteria, seeking to lure people smugglers to entice people onto boats to come to Australia… They should be ashamed of themselves for luring people to Australia by somehow implying that this government hasn’t got strong borders.’
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton disagrees…strongly. He aired his concerns on 2GB radio:
‘If the Labor Party thinks that nuance is going to be heard by desperate people paying money to a people-smuggler they are completely deluded at every turn.’
Expecting a potential deluge of new migrants hoping to claim asylum status in Australia, Morrison has ordered Christmas Island to reopen. The move is part of the prime minister’s $1.4 billion answer to the amended medical treatment laws.
We can only hope it will be enough.
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