The Federal Opposition will vote against the Government’s proposed lifetime visa ban for refugees who try to reach Australia by boat, with several Labor MPs saying the party will now be quicker to challenge the Government’s asylum seeker policies.
The Coalition introduced a bill on Tuesday that would prevent people who tried to arrive after mid-2013 from ever coming to Australia for any reason.
But Labor MPs and senators unanimously voted to oppose the legislation in Parliament.
The Greens also oppose the proposal, meaning the Coalition now needs a majority of balance-of-power Senate crossbenchers to make it law.
Labor Leader Bill Shorten said the bill was a desperate stunt from the Coalition.
“What worries me is we’ve got a Government more interested in appeasing the right-wing, the extreme right-wing of Australian political opinion, than actually getting on with the job,” he said.
“We recognise this legislation has been a desperate gesture by a floundering Government, simply aping the policies of One Nation without any proper analysis or evidence.”
The decision marks a break in Labor’s approach to asylum seekers and refugees.
The party has repeatedly criticised conditions at detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, and demanded the Coalition move more quickly to resettle refugees in third countries.
But it has also be been keen to minimise the political differences with the Coalition on the issue, and during the election Mr Shorten said he was on a “unity ticket” with the Government to defeat people smugglers.
This time, several Labor MPs came out quickly to criticise the Government when it unveiled its legislation for the life ban, calling the legislation inhumane and cynical.
Labor to take a more combative approach, some predict
Some in Labor now predict the party will be less hesitant about challenging the Government on the issue, and take a more combative approach.
“We’ve finally called them out. This was a dog whistle and we are saying that,” one Labor left MP said.
“We are more confident about saying that we need to stand up to the Government when they try to wedge us.”
Another MP called the Government’s legislation “deeply cynical” and said it provided Labor with the “perfect cover” to articulate its opposition.
Some of the fiercest critics of the lifetime ban have also been agitating for the ALP to re-evaluate all of its asylum seeker policies.
They say Labor’s latest stance does not fundamentally change the party’s policy — but argue it will help the ALP reframe the debate over asylum seekers.
“We’re not going to abandon offshore processing entirely, but this decision helps us keep up a conversation,” said one Labor source.
“We need to find a new solution for these people [on Manus Island and Nauru].
“This is not just a matter of the left any more — there are people on the right who recognise this has to change.
“We are going to continue to agitate on this, we need a more humane approach.”
Government ‘going to land’ resettlement deal
The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, said Labor’s decision showed they had not learnt lessons from their time in power.
— Peter Dutton (@PeterDutton_MP) November 8, 2016
“Once again on border protection policy the left has got control over the sensible right and Mr Shorten obviously has lost out to the crazy left within the Labor Party,” Mr Dutton said.
But he was confident the bill would pass without the ALP’s support because the policy is “sensible and it is measured”.
Mr Dutton also indicated the Government was getting close to signing a deal to resettle asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru.
“We have been in negotiation with third countries for a long period of time and we are going to land a deal,” he said.
If Labor don't support the visa change legislation, they are destined to repeat their past failures and return to border chaos
— Peter Dutton (@PeterDutton_MP) November 7, 2016
“We are going to provide third-country options because I don’t want to see people on Nauru and Manus.”
If the Government found another country to resettle refugees, Labor said it would reconsider the legislation.
“When we get those set of circumstances, and if they materialise, we will listen to what they have to say,” Mr Shorten said.
PNG asks Australia for help
Meanwhile Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister says he has asked Australia for help resettling genuine refugees but “no help has come” yet, AAP reports.
Rimbink Pato says 583 men have been determined to be genuine refugees but don’t want to be resettled in PNG.
“We’re faced with a stalemate and therefore we’re asking the international community, of course we’re asking Australia as well, because it’s really Australia’s problem that we have shared under the arrangement with the commonwealth to assist a friend in need,” he told EM TV.
“No help has come to us at this point in time and therefore we’ve got 583.”
Attorney-General George Brandis was asked about the comments during Senate question time on Tuesday but declined to comment because he had not seen the footage.