Australian immigration minister fails to reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas

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The Australian government has been defeated in the upper house of the Australian parliament in a vote on the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). The Coalition which now governs Australia promised to reintroduce TPVs if elected at the last election.

TPVs are temporary visas, lasting three years, which were granted to asylum seekers under the Conservative government of John Howard. After three years, the circumstances of the holder of a TPV were reassessed to see if the TPV holder would still be in danger in his or her home country. If the danger was passed, the visa would not be renewed. TPVs were abolished by the Australian Labor government which took power in 2007.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison introduced legislation to reintroduce TPVs shortly after the Coalition's victory in the general election in September 2013. The Coalition won a healthy majority in the lower house of the Australian parliament, The House of Representatives, but failed to win an outright majority in the upper house, the Senate.

'TPVs 'punish the most vulnerable'

This allowed a coalition of Green and Labor senators to defeat the government. Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young described TPVs as 'cruel'. She said 'All they did was punish the most vulnerable, the most genuine, the most deserving refugees simply for having dared seek protection for their families'.

She added 'Refugees on TPVs often refer to living in fear of being returned home back to the dangers they fled in the first place'.

An opposition motion to prevent the reintroduction of TPVs was passed by 36 votes to 26.

TPVs 'not necessary'

During the debate, one Labor Senator, Kim Carr, said that the TPV was no longer necessary because all refugees arriving in Australian territory by sea are now sent to Papua New Guinea or Nauru for processing not in Australia.

This change to the law was introduced by the previous Labor government in July 2013. The then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that 'arriving in Australia by boat will no longer mean settlement in Australia'.

Mr Rudd claimed that the motivation for the change was to protect asylum seekers, a number of whom have died while trying to get to Australia. He said 'Australians have had enough of seeing people drowning in the waters to our north. Our country has had enough of people smugglers exploiting asylum seekers and seeing them drown on the high seas'.

Rudd tried to look tough on immigration

But some commentators claimed that the policy was actually an attempt by Mr Rudd to look 'tough' on immigration to win votes from voters hostile to immigration. Mr Rudd lost the election and has since resigned from parliament.

After the defeat, Mr Morrison criticised the Labor Party for blocking TPVs. He said 'The government will be making further announcements on this in the times ahead. But right now, what's clear is that the Labor Party has repeated one of its worst mistakes in government.

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