As a Liberal, I heart Chris Bowen.
With great aplomb, Chris Bowen, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, has taken advantage of multiple maritime tragedies and High Court meddling to dramatically alter the approach that has led to the Government’s dismal record on asylum seekers.
He has convinced the wider world he is a tough nugget and is trying to meet community standards about immigration.
While the press gallery luvvies have attributed the Federal Government’s primary vote improvement to Abbott’s negativity and an anti-ETS campaign and a range of other self-serving myths about Abbott-the-unelectable, none have dared linked the poll boost to Labor’s toughening stance against the irregular (read: illegal) maritime arrivals.
Labor insiders know Bowen’s audacity of pragmatism has decoupled Labor from its ill-advised agreement with the Greens in the public’s mind. This, in turn, has marginalised the Greens further and seen the evil minor party’s own primary vote tank.
GALLERY GROUPTHINK MEANS NO INDEPENDENT ANALYSIS REQUIRED
The groupthink in the Canberra Press Gallery has concluded that the Gillard Government’s decision to withhold working rights on bridging visas for asylum seekers is worse than the Coalition’s policy to reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas.
To prove the point, feel free to watch ABC’s Insiders as some of Canberra’s more notable Gallery types try to overcome wanker’s cramp all agreeing about the horrors of Bowen’s notionally tough stance being tougher than Abbott’s which is axiomatically a negative development.
It is a good example about how little journos know about the complexities of the migration laws and regulations and how easily suggestible they are to the propaganda of advocate groups.
NEW BRIDGING VISAS STILL GENEROUS
This is what and why Bowen is actually implementing:
The onshore and offshore detention centres are bursting at the seams. Labor has been forced to release asylum seekers into the community while their applications for formal refugee status takes place.
In order to make this work within the Migration Act, applicants are first provided bridging or ‘unsubstantive’ visas. The applicants, as part of their visas’ conditions, must apply formally for protection through the Immigration Advice And Assistance Scheme (IAAAS) within five or six weeks of being in the community.
(NB: IAAAS contracts law firms and advocate groups to lodge tailored Protection Visa applications with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. It cost the Commonwealth in the last year of the Howard Government about $1 million; in the last financial year, the outlaw was $17 million. This is a lawyers’ picnic with the polished silverware included.)
Once the applications for protection are lodged making claims about persecution, subsequent bridging visas are generated. These will be the bridging visas that will not include conditions permitting paid employment.
Conditions on visas restricting the hours of work or make it illegal altogether exist for many visas. Quite appropriately these include most tourist and student visas.
Bridging visas, as the name suggests, allow the Department to assess the subsequent substantive visas. The turnaround is supposed to be ninety days, but often there are extenuating circumstances, ie administrative delays from the dirth of available officials.
If claimants are found to be genuine refugees in that relatively tight timeframe, then the visa holders will have unrestricted work rights, unrestricted access to Medicare, income support from Centrelink and employment assistance from Jobs Services Australia on permanent visas.
Yes, permanent visas for which migrant businesspeople, skilled workers and professionals are expected to fork out thousands to access while paying taxes and meeting our workforce requirements. Yes, a permanent visa that many refugees have to wait for after years in dusty, unsanitary and dangerous refugee camps through the offshore humanitarian program, including women at risk.
Of course, those who on bridging visas are rejected by the Department will continue to have appeal rights, which may include the High Court.
In the meantime, taxpayers will provide a modest $220 a fortnight to applicants and other services through the Asylum Seekers Assistance Scheme.
Bowen’s supposed cruelty remains incredibly generous when compared to Temporary Protection Visas (TPV).
Howard-era TPVs found the irregular maritime arrival to be genuine refugees. Although successful, TPV holders had to wait several years before applying for permanent residency. The idea being that if conditions in your home country had sufficiently improved and you were an irregular maritime arrival would return.
TPVs also had not work conditions attached to them, meaning that applicants were indeed both facing uncertainty and idleness.
STILL TOO MUCH SUGAR ON THE TABLE
Unfortunately for Bowen, Rudd’s and Evan’s inhumane legacy of asylum seekers as shark bait means it is very difficult for Bowen to slow down the powerful momentum the smugglers, dripping in their furs and diamonds, have gathered in the cities most Australian know nothing about, such as Quetta, Ghazni and Jaffna.
Smugglers, who largely go unpunished, continue to wag the immigration policy tail with impunity.
Bowen’s policy of releasing as many as 6,000 into the community also has a number of self-improvised explosives attached, namely absconding.
With as many as 60 per cent of applicants rejected by the Department and going to review, hundreds of asylum seekers who either know their claims are vexatious or are pessimistic about their outcomes, will melt into the wider society.
This public relations snafu will begin to be unfold in the first of half of 2013.
It is also only a matter of time asylum seekers on bridging visas will be found to be exploited as illegal workers or to have committed criminal acts in the community.
Furthermore, people-smugglers will continue to portray Australia as a soft touch. They will be able to argue that if you avoid overcrowded Nauru and Manus Island, you will only spend three months in detention before being released into the community.
Expecting the vast majority of Australians to risk the integrity of its migration and border protection policies with more community detention is not just risky.
LEFTWARD BATTLE WON
Bowen’s policies are moving in several directions at once. On the one hand, he has adopted a Pacific Solution and is trying to implement a no-advantage test for irregular maritime arrivals.
On the other, Bowen is facilitating the slow dismantling of mandatory detention. This is a milestone for the Australian far left who have been aiming to dismantle this policy when introduced by Gerry Hand during the Keating years.
When the Howard Government continued the policy, the broader left disingenuously mobilised around this issue. The Woomera detention centre in outback SA, opened in 1999, became the flashpoint. Built for 400, it overcrowded quickly, peaking with 1500 unauthorised arrivals. Protests and hunger strikes ensued.
In 2002, 1000 metropolitan leftwards with a litany of personal hygiene issues, converged on Woomera, helping 40 asylum seekers flee into the desert. It was a small but significant salvo in Australia’s asylum seeker debate, which remains a proxy for the broader culture war within Western nations.
The Pacific Solution and TPVs mothballed the detention centres over subsequent years until the arrival of Rudd and Senator Chris Evans.
The left and the Greens remain unperturbed about their convergence of their ideology with the criminality of global people trafficking, No amount of avoidable drownings seems to shame them.
When Rudd lost the top job in 2010, he warned Gillard’s leadership would lurch to the right (read: towards the sunlight). Rudd had in mind Gillard’s approach to immigration.
Rudd did not foresee one of his own supporters from the NSW Right would be assuring this lurch.
Bowen’s approach, a more effective and politically savvy policy than the one he inherited, could be enough to help the woman who deposed Rudd save some of the Party’s furniture come the federal election next year. If only he could take more of the sugar from the table.