Crossbench senators say amendments to controversial legislation will give hope to thousands of asylum seekers
December 7, 2014 Crossbench senators have helped to pass substantial changes to Australiaâ€™s migration laws after a long and heated debate. After the Senate vote the bill proceeded to the government-dominated House of Representatives and was passed. Asylum-seeker advocates have criticised the bill, which contains measures including the reintroduction of temporary protection visas, the redefinition of who can be deemed a refugee, and places limitations on legal avenues of appeal.
Labor and the Australian Greens opposed the legislation, but the government had the crucial six crossbench votes it needed.
It was a tough call for many crossbench senators, who negotiated improvements to the bill, but still considered it far from perfect.
Senator Ricky Muir â€“ who was the final undecided vote â€“ described his anguish after speaking over the phone with crying staff from a Christmas Island detention centre.
â€œThe crossbench shouldnâ€™t have been put in this position, but we have,â€_x009d_ the Motoring Enthusiast party senator said.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon also wrestled with the decision, but like Muir believed the amendments would give hope to thousands of refugees stuck in detention.
In return for their support â€“ and that of the Palmer United party â€“ the government agreed to quickly process the claims of 30,000 asylum seekers languishing in detention centres across Australia. PUP leader Clive Palmer said that backing the legislation meant 1,500 asylum seekers â€“ including 468 children â€“ would soon be leaving Christmas Island.
But Labor and the Greens accused the government of using those children as a bargaining chip, arguing that the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, could release them at any time, if he wished.
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie â€“ who opposed the legislation â€“ attacked the government for keeping children detained for so long.
â€œThese kids have been sitting there for 15 months, and you want a pat on the back? Youâ€™ve got to be kidding yourselves,â€_x009d_ she said.
Particular concerns were raised about the return of TPVs, a Howard-era policy condemned by refugee advocates and repealed by the previous Labor government.
The government also agreed to increase Australiaâ€™s humanitarian intake of refugees and to give those on bridging visas the right to work.
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