The Abbott Government Has A Last-Minute Win In The Senate On Asylum Seekers

Immigration minister Scott Morrisson with PM Tony Abbott. Photo: Getty/ Graham Denholm

Motoring Enthusiast Party senator Ricky Muir has given Immigration Minister Scott Morrison the Christmas present he wanted most: tough and wide-ranging changes to asylum seeker legislation, which passed the Senate after midnight last night during the final sitting before the Christmas break.

The Government’s changes passed 34 votes to 32 with Muir’s support, but the Victorian senator did not relish his decision, saying the bill had many “bad aspects”, but he was “forced into a corner to decide between a bad decision or a worse position which I do not wish on my worst enemies.”

His concern was that without the legislation, which includes the reintroduction of three-year temporary temporary protection visas, 30,000 existing asylum seekers would be left in legal limbo.

Muir said he’s spoken to people working with asylum seekers.

“They told me that this bill is not completely fair but that the detainees are tired, they have had enough and they want out,” he said.

Muir also had a letter from asylum seekers that “was a plea, a loud cry for help” outlining that if temporary protection visas were the only option, they would “accept it because the mental anguish and pain can’t go on”.

The changes mean that more than 100 children in detention on Christmas Island will be released before Christmas – one of several pledges the Immigration Minister made in the last minute appeal for the votes of Clive Palmer’s two senators.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young accused the minister of using the children as hostages saying “only a sociopath would do it”.

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie was also unimpressed.

“This Government has now been in for 15 months. These kids have been sitting there for 15 months and you want a pat on the back? You’ve got to be kidding yourselves. These kids could have been out 15 months ago.”

Under the deal with the Palmer United Party, Australia’s annual refugee intake will increase by 7500 and asylum seekers will have the right to work while their claims are being assessed.

Hanson-Young claimed Palmer had been tricked on the deal.

“These new visas will be a path to nowhere for the overwhelming majority of refugees and, despite what Mr Palmer says, there is no access to family reunion in the legislation,” she said.

The new legislation includes increased powers to detain people, intercept and turn back boats and transfer asylum seekers elsewhere in the world. Refugee assessments will also be fast-tracked and 60 years after first signing UN Refugee Convention, Australia will distance itself from its obligations.

The House of Representatives will sign off on the legislation today in its final sitting before the Christmas break.

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