A LIBERAL backbencher has accused his party of ”vilifying” asylum seekers after the Coalition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, called for ”behaviour protocols” for those released into the community.
Mr Morrison also said there should be mandatory notification of asylum seekers to local police and residents in the areas where they are housed.
He said the charging of a Sri Lankan asylum seeker with the indecent assault of a young woman in a university dorm in Sydney ”demanded” an immediate suspension of the community release program and a review to determine new ”behavioural protocols … with clear negative sanctions for breaches”.
But the Victorian backbencher Russell Broadbent said there should ”never be special categories of laws for different categories of people … The rule of law should apply to all and we should not set some people apart.”
”This kind of vilification of asylum seekers is unacceptable in this nation,” said Mr Broadbent, one of a small group of backbenchers who successfully demanded the softening of asylum laws during the Howard government.
Mr Morrison said the government had ”no idea” where 8700 people released on bridging visas, pending assessment of their refugee claims, were living and it was ”very reasonable” to ask why asylum seekers were not released with reporting requirements similar to offenders released on bail.
”This is a wake-up call … This case has exposed the complete absence of commonsense safeguards,” he said.
He said the behaviour protocols should be the ”terms and conditions of how one is expected to behave in the community … the expected standards of conduct”, similar to codes applying in immigration detention centres. Service providers such as the Red Cross and accommodation services would be required to report any breaches of these standards.
It did not make sense to ”wait around for another incident to happen before we put a better system in place”.
But the government said Mr Morrison was ”cynically exploiting an incident which is before the courts to cause fear and unrest in the community”.
A spokeswoman for the Immigration Minister, Brendan O’Connor, said people were subject to security assessments before they were released from immigration detention, but Mr Morrison said asylum seekers could be released before their identity had been properly established.
A spokeswoman for the Immigration Department said that, of the 12,000 people who have been released on bridging visas since November 2011, when the program began, only a ”small handful” had been charged with offences. The department was not able to specify.
Based on 2011-12 statistics, most of the 8700 asylum seekers on bridging visas are refugees. In that year, about 90 per cent of boat arrivals were later found to be refugees.
Barrister Greg Barns, a spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, denounced the ”fear campaign” of Mr Morrison, ”which implies that there are large criminal elements among asylum seekers, which is just not the case”.
Mr Barns said he had acted for many asylum seekers in the refugee law area.
”Interactions by asylum seekers with police around Australia are few and far between,” he said, and were ”usually very low-level stuff”.
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