Temporary Protection Visas v2.0

On Monday afternoon, the Greens will move a disallowance motion in the Senate. This is a response to the re-introduction of Temporary Protection Visas by the Abbott government. If the ALP support this motion, TPVs will be disallowed and permanent protection visas will be granted to asylum seekers who are found to be refugees.

TPVs are a three year visa granted to asylum seekers whose claim for refugee status is approved. People holding a TPV cannot apply for other visas while in Australia, cannot sponsor their children and spouses for family visas and are not entitled to settlement services which help new migrants adjust to life in Australia.

Much has been written on this topic recently. As Kerry Murphy outlines in the Conversation, this second iteration of TPVs are more punitive than previous Howard government policy. Peter Mares compellingly demonstrates the difficulty facing people on TPVs to find stable accommodation and learn English. Perhaps the most damning words on the topic come from the Parliamentary Library, who blog:

With visa conditions being similar to those imposed under the previous arrangement, TPV holders are likely to face the same hardships as were experienced by TPV holders ten years ago. Indeed, the negative impacts may be amplified if, as intended, TPV holders remain in a permanent state of limbo without any prospect of permanent residency.

The negative effects on people who hold a temporary protection visa are well established. Therefore the only possible reason to use such a policy is for the potential deterrent effect. While most articles mention how TPVs were an ineffective deterrent, it is rarely explained just how poor the policy is to deter people arriving by boat.

While Scott Morrison calls temporary protection “the central plank of our border protection policy”, we know TPVs show no deterrent effect. Worse, TPVs actively endanger women and children by inducing these groups onto boats.

Here is the number of people to arrive by boat by year under the Howard government:

Year No. Boats No. People
1996 19 660
1997 11 339
1998 17 200
1999 86 3721
2000 51 2939
2001 43 5516
2002 1 1
2003 1 53
2004 1 15
2005 4 11
2006 6 60
2007 5 148

(Source: Parliamentary Library)

TPVs were first introduced in October 1999. As the table clearly shows, in 2000 and 2001, TPVs were ineffective as part of the policy framework to deter people to seek asylum by boat. In 2001, with TPVs in full effect, more people arrived by boat than in any previous year. It is true the trend of people arriving by boat changed dramatically from 2002. However this is likely due to significant other factors such as the Tampa (August 2011), the sinking of SIEV X (October 2011) and the introduction of offshore processing (August 2011) and not the impact of TPVs.

This is worth emphasising: Temporary Protection Visas do not deter people seeking asylum.

Further, evidence suggests TPVs actively endanger women and children. Bridie Jabour (an excellent Twitter follow), writing in the Guardian, outlines how then Immigration Minister Chris Evans described the period after the introduction of TPVs in 1999:

“In fact, in the period after that there was a huge surge. Our figures show that in that period the percentage of women and children went from around 25% to around 40%. We saw more women and children taking the very perilous journey to come to Australia by unlawful boat arrivals”

The 15 per cent increase in the proportion of women and children attempting to seek asylum by boat is the direct result of the restrictions placed on family sponsorship. These women and children could previously have been sponsored, preventing the very type of boat journeys which all governments seek to stop.

With this in mind, the decision facing the ALP is simple. Prominent members of the left faction such as Laurie Ferguson, Melissa Parkes and Stephen Jones are all on record as opposing TPVs. More promisingly, Shadow Minister Richard Marles has said in relation to TPVs “it is worth saying that the position of Labor in Government around TPVs is well known”. Supporting the disallowance motion would be consistent with previous policy, help support close to 30,000 people currently awaiting their protection visa application and avoid inducing more women and children onto boats.

Undoubtedly there are ALP politicians who seek to sign up to whatever Scott Morrison dreams up, hoping to nullify the issue of asylum policy. This is wrong and lazy. The ALP have a policy argument waiting to be more rigourously articulated if they choose to.  Since the introduction of the PNG policy in July, the trend of people arriving by boat is clear:

Asylum seekers in 2013

(Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

If the policy is to be deterrence, then resettling people who arrive by boat in PNG and Nauru is effective. Granting Temporary Protection Visas is not. While the human and financial costs of offshore processing and resettlement are large, at a minimum the policy seemingly meets its intended outcome. TPVs do not. A policy debate about the merits of offshore processing and resettlement should continue to occur while the debate on TPVs is over.

Disallowing TPVs will not radically transform the lives of the approximately 30,000 people waiting for the result of their refugee visa application. These people, of whom over two thirds live in the community, will continue to be without work rights and settlement support. They are supported by 89 per cent of the dole and by a range of community organisations. However disallowing TPVs does prevent the infliction of further damage and provides continued hope for a permanent protection visa, with accompanying minimum standards such as the right to work and settlement support like English language classes.

While the Abbott government can likely pass this policy with a new Senate from 1 July 2014, the ALP can signal to their progressive supporters they will not simply follow Scott Morrison down whatever path the government chooses. This is the right thing to do given the negative impacts TPVs have on new migrants and the complete ineffectiveness of the policy to deter further people who seek asylum by boat. What happens after is more difficult, both holding the government to account and maintaining an asylum policy framework accepted by progressive supporters.

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