The development of satellite television and the Sydney 2000 Olympics finally succeeded in putting Australia on the world map. The combination of these two factors did a lot to promote the country as a unique tourist destination and a pleasant place to live. The year 2000 has become a benchmark for international tourism in Australia.
Working holiday visas introduced in 1975 for young visitors aged 18 to 30 also met with a considerable amount of success. This temporary immigration programme, designed exclusively for 27 designated nations, attracts 80 000 students each year. Beneficiaries subsequently return to their countries as enthusiastic ambassadors of the Australian way of life and the mythical Aussie culture of “a 'fair go' for all and support for the underdog”.
All this did not come easily. We had to work hard for it. It has been an uphill battle. We had to overcome the devastatingly negative image projected around the world by the adoption of the White Australia Policy in 1901 under the Immigration Restriction Act, one of the first pieces of legislation passed on Federation and maintained in force for three quarters of a century until it was finally rescinded by the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975.
It is this success and all the hard work that preceded it that we are now jeopardising by pursuing not only a selective immigration policy but also a deliberately repressive one aimed solely at deterring any future uninvited, unwanted migrants, asylum seekers and refugees from disembarking on our shores. Migrants detained in our offshore immigration centres are held hostage and made to suffer as a warning to others.
What we are doing is employing here the precepts of that ancient Chinese proverb: “kill the chicken to scare the monkey”.
It is a regression that plunges us back nearly half a century in our attitude towards migrants, wiping out all the hard earned progress gained since the abandonment of the White Australia Policy in 1975 and tarnishing our image once again for many years to come.
We have been operating offshore immigration centres on and off since 2001 on Christmas Island, Manus and Nauru. According to the latest official statistics, in June 2016, there were 202 migrants detained on Christmas Island, 854 on Manus and 442 on Nauru, for a total of 1 498 in offshore centres. In addition, there were 1 375 migrants in detention centres onshore. The overall total number of migrants in all detention centres was 2 873 in June 2016.
It appears there were no children held in any of the immigration detention centres, whether offshore or onshore at that date.
There were 613 people, who arrived unlawfully by air or boat, representing approximately 38.9 per cent of the total immigration detention population. There were also 964 people (about 61.1 per cent of the total immigration population) who arrived in Australia lawfully and were subsequently taken into immigration detention and had visa cancellations for either over staying or breaching their visa conditions.
The overall average period of detention (both offshore and onshore) was 441 days. The longest-serving detainee in immigration detention was Peter Qasim who was detained for more than 7 years before being released in 2005 on a bridging visa. It appears he had not been deported because he was stateless.
The Papua New Guinea (PNG) Prime Minister, Peter O’Neil, announced on 17 August 2016 that the Manus immigration detention centre would be closed. This was confirmed by Peter Dutton, our Immigration Minister, who indicated that those found to be refugees would be offered resettlement in PNG. Apparently, the large majority are refugees but nothing was said about the fate of the others. There was no indication of the date of the closure either.
This follows the PNG Supreme Court finding that the detention on Manus Island is unconstitutional. The PNG Constitution contains a Charter of Rights that strictly limits the circumstances under which people may be deprived of liberty.
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