A proposal by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to increase Australia’s refugee intake is a ploy to shore up support for the failed Malaysia people swap deal, the opposition says.
Mr Bowen will propose at the Labor Party’s national conference this weekend to increase Australia’s resettlement of refugees from 13,750 to 20,000.
“I have had the view for some time that we could and should take more refugees,” he told ABC Radio on Thursday.
The announcement was made after two more boats carrying more than 200 asylum seekers were intercepted by border protection units off the West Australian coast – one on Wednesday night, the other early on Thursday morning.
Mr Bowen said offshore processing of refugees had to be one of several measures to reduce the number of people jumping onto boats heading to Australia.
He said increasing the refugee intake would not deter people from arriving in Australian waters in leaky vessels “but if it is part of a broader mix, which included offshore processing, that would be important”, he said.
Labor abandoned a plan to put its bill to allow offshore processing of asylum seekers in Malaysia to a vote in October, after it could not guarantee its passage through parliament.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison accused Mr Bowen of attempting to shore up support from left wing Labor MPs who opposed the Malaysia solution.
Labor backbencher Doug Cameron appeared to agree. “It (Mr Bowen’s proposal) should not be tied to a political ploy that says we’ll do the right thing if you give in to the Malaysia solution,” he told ABC radio. The Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) was also sceptical.
“Mr Bowen knows there will be pressure on him from Labor for Refugees at the National Conference this weekend,” spokesman Ian Rintoul said.
“If this announcement was anything more than a smokescreen, he’d have presented a real timeline for the increase.”
The Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) welcomed Mr Bowen’s plan, while noting that his electorate takes in the culturally diverse western Sydney suburbs of Fairfield and Smithfield.
“I commend the minister for his ongoing and vocal support of a more generous, more open-minded and more multicultural Australia,” MIA CEO Maurene Horder said.
She added the Institute supported onshore processing of all humanitarian entrants.
Meanwhile the Australian Greens said Mr Bowen’s proposal to raise Australia’s humanitarian intake was long overdue, but should not involve sending asylum seekers offshore.
“The government should abandon any attempt to resurrect the Malaysia people swap deal which was ruled unlawful by the High Court,” Greens senator Sarah-Young said in a statement.
The Greens believe Australia can address the issue of asylum seekers risking their lives at sea by arriving by boat by taking more people directly from camps in Malaysia and Indonesia.