The Senate has passed sweeping changes to Australia’s immigration laws, including the re-introduction of temporary protection visas (TPV), representing a much-needed legislative win for the Abbott Government.
Senators sat until the early hours of the morning debating the legislation, which eventually passed with the support of the two Palmer United Party senators, Family First senator Bob Day, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and a clearly anguished Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiast Party.
Senator Muir told the Chamber the Immigration Minister had made it clear that tens of thousands of asylum seekers would be left in limbo unless the legislation was passed.
“I am forced into a corner to decide between a bad decision and a worse decision; a position I do not wish upon my enemies,” he said.
“A decision that involves human beings, children, mothers, fathers, lives of people who have had to endure unthinkable hardship; people pushed to the point where they go to any lengths to seek asylum.”
Senator Muir told the chamber he had received a letter from asylum seekers.
“They state that if a TPV was the only option this Government was going to offer, accept it because the mental anguish and pain can’t go on,” he said.
“It was a plea, a loud cry for help.
Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) have been reinstated. Image via Thinkstock
“I have also tonight spoken with people who have worked closely with the detainees on Christmas Island. They told me that this bill is not completely fair but that the detainees are tired, they have had enough, and they want out.”
Before the vote was taken, Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash said it was vital to “take the sugar off the table”.
“Tonight we bring an end to 50,000 people coming here illegally by boat because the people smugglers had a product to sell,” Senator Cash said.
“Tonight we will put an end to the deaths at sea because the people smugglers were able to market permanent protection in Australia.”
In exchange for the crossbencher’s support, Scott Morrison agreed to lift Australia’s refugee intake by 7,500 places, give asylum seekers on bridging visas the right to work and remove all children from detention on Christmas Island.
The new TPVs grant refugees protection in Australia for three years but could see them sent back to their home countries after that if the Government deems conditions there have improved.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Image via Nine Network
New five-year safe-haven enterprise visas would also be introduced to encourage refugees to live and work in regional areas, and could eventually offer a pathway to a permanent visa.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Mr Morrison used asylum seeker children to put pressure on Senator Muir.
“He was told that if he did not do what the Government wanted, the children would get it,” she said.
“He was told that the only way to get the children out of detention was to pass this bill and this package.
“Using children as hostages is never OK and only a sociopath would do it.”