Australia’s conservative government has passed a new measure that toughens the country's immigration laws and reintroduces temporary visas for refugees that do not allow them to settle permanently in the country.
Changes to Australia’s Migration Act were narrowly passed after a fractious debate in parliament.
With the support of non-aligned micro parties and independent senators, the government has reintroduced three-year temporary protection visas, or TPVs, that do not allow refugees to live permanently in Australia. After the visas expire, the holders could be repatriated.
In return, ministers have promised to increase Australia’s overall refugee intake by 7,500 to 18,750 people each year and free hundreds of children held in detention.
The government insists that TPVs will give refugees the protection they need, and should their home countries be deemed safe in the future, individuals would be sent home.
The new laws will allow Australian authorities to process a backlog of 30,000 asylum applications.
In the end the changes were dependent on one vote - that of the Motoring Enthusiast Party's Ricky Muir.
He told parliament that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison had told him that without the new laws thousands of asylum seekers would be left in limbo.
“He has publicly stated what it means for those 30,000 people is they will just wait longer and longer and longer. I believe that this bill has many bad aspects. However, I am forced into a corner to decide between a bad decision or a worse a decision - a position which I do not wish on my worst enemies,” said Muir.
Critics of temporary visas say they heap great uncertainty onto the lives of the vulnerable.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told parliament that the immigration minister had used undue pressure on Senator Muir to ensure the laws were passed.
“He was told the only way to get these children out of detention was to pass this bill and this package. Using children as hostages is never okay,” said Hanson-Young.
Temporary protection visas were used by Australia’s previous conservative government, but scrapped by the left-of-center Labor administration after the 2007 election.
They are part of tough immigration policies designed to stop asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat. Those who do are sent to processing camps in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific island of Nauru, and are denied resettlement in Australia. Most of these people are believed to be from countries in South Asia and the Middle East.
The government in Canberra has also instructed the navy to tow or turn back migrant boats.