The government has done what it couldn’t weeks ago, and passed through refugee legislation that will reopen Naru and Papua New Guinea processing centres.
An expert panel, consisting of former defence head Angus Houston and Australian Cypriot Paris Aristotle, passed down their review this week which includes 22 recommendations reminiscent of Howard era policy.
Both parties conceded and accepted the recommendations, which is set to cost the government over $1 billion this year.
In the Houston Review’s recommendations, offshore processing will be green lighted again, and will see the government increase the current humanitarian program from 13,000 to 20,000 immediately, and expanding it to 27,000 within five years.
In a small win to Labor, the Houston Review didn’t completely scrap the Malaysia Solution, rather suggested further restructuring.
About 200 people have arrived on boats since the review was handed down, those of which will be some of the first to be processed overseas.
Processing could begin within a month, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard has already spoken to Naru to start preparations.
Ms Gillard said it is time to move forward quickly.
“The time for politics is over. The time for action is here. It’s time to get this legislation amended,” she said.
In an attempt to deter people using risky ways to get to Australia, the government will not be speeding up the process for refugees that arrive on boat, rather processing them in the same time as overseas immigrants.
This issue had the Greens up in arms, who believe refugees would be left to languish under a much harsher policy than the Howard era’s.
Greens senator Hanson-Young said the government had lost its moral compass.
“This legislation will not save lives; it will kill people,” she said.
“It will send brave, courageous people insane.”
Political debate this week saw harsh words thrown at the Prime Minister, who had to justify a policy backflip.
Liberal frontbencher Julie Bishop angrily questioned Ms Gillard asking “will she now apologise for her policy failure that led to a 1,000 deaths at sea, 22,000 illegal arrivals and a $4.7 billion cost blow-out?”.
Fiery political debate on this issue has angered Labor MP, Steve Georganas, who told Neos Kosmos the politicising of this issue was “unfortunate”.
“When you go overseas and see the issue people are having with refugees, we are miniscule compared to the global situation,” he said.
“The debate has gone right out of hand.”
In the past decade, the issue has seen refugees fleeing persecution labeled as “cue jumpers” and “security risks”.
Mr Georganas as well as most politicians don’t want to see lives lost at sea, and feel this policy is a step in the right direction.
“We need to do whatever we can to prevent lives being lost at sea. They’re human beings, they’re not cargo. People like you and me, with children, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers,” he told Neos Kosmos.
Preparing the processing camps will cost $530 million and running the centres, where asylum seekers could stay for up to five years, will cost almost $1.8 billion.
The next steps to refugee policy will be closely related to working with Australia’s neighbours for the long term.
Mr Georganas sees regional responsibility as the key to progress.
“It’s not just about Naru and PNG, its about putting a framework in place that every nation around us bears a responsibility, and we all do the same amount of lifting. We can’t deal with it on our own,” he says.
The legislation now proceeds for royal assent.