The former home affairs minister insists temporary protection visas need to remain in place as a message to deter people smugglers and asylum seekers from making the dangerous trek to Australia.
Former home affairs minister Karen Andrews has insisted Labor must keep temporary protection visas as a “massive signal” to deter people smugglers and asylum seekers.
Four vessels have been intercepted by Border Force and Sri Lankan officials in the last five weeks with refugees claiming they were told they would not be turned back to their home country under a new government.
Sri Lankans are desperately trying to flee the island which is going through its worst economic crisis in 70 years and has led to shortages in food, fuel and other essential items.
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Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil flew to Colombo this week to meet with Sri Lankan leaders to discuss how Australia could assist in the humanitarian and economic crisis as well as how to tackle the issue of asylum seekers.
She pledged the government will provide $50 million in support, including $22 million to the World Food Program and $23 million in development assistance.
The other $5 million was recently provided to the United Nations agencies in Sri Lanka.
But Ms Andrews believes more could be done by the Albanese government to stop further boats from making the dangerous journey.
She stressed the importance of Operation Sovereign Borders and argued temporary protection visas must remain in place as a deterrent.
“It is a massive signal to the people smugglers to even suggest that those are going to go and that’s the policy Labor took to the election,” Ms Andrews said on Sky News.
Labor flagged during the Federal Election campaign it would abolish temporary protection visas and move to permanent protection visas if it won government.
Ms Andrews told First Edition host Peter Stefanovic that one of the key pillars of Operation Sovereign Borders is temporary protection visas.
“It is really important .. quite frankly Labor can’t say that things haven’t changed when they made it very clear that they’ll stop temporary protection visas,” she said.
The former home affairs minister praised Ms O’Neil for making the trip to maintain the relationship between Canberra and Colombo.
“The Labor government has a massive issue they have to deal with now which is the start up of boats coming to Australia, so the relationship with Sri Lanka and the ability to return people to Sri Lanka is incredibly important,” Ms Andrews said.
Stefanovic posed to Ms Andrews whether she would back a legal increase of Sri Lankan migrants to Australia to boot migration.
Ms Andrews said there is an “opportunity” to look at bringing in skilled migrants to fill the skills shortage but there were legal channels that did not involve risking their lives.
“Absolutely we should be looking at where we can draw these people from and get these people to move legally to Australia and we should be welcoming them with open arms,” she said.
“There’s a number of classifications where we know that we need workers here in Australia, some of those are hospitality, tourism but also in the IT professionals.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Labor will “rue the day” it legislates to remove temporary protection visas.
Mr Dutton told Sky News host Chris Kenny Labor has the Operation Sovereign Border “formula” and it would be a “disaster” if it removed temporary protection visas.
“If they pull that limb, Operation Sovereign Borders falls over,” he said.
“When they say they support Operation Sovereign Borders – they don’t. They support their own version which doesn’t have temporary protection visas.
“And that will be their undoing when it comes to boats, tragically and regrettably.”
The Australian government announced on Wednesday it will send Sri Lanka thousands of GPS trackers to install onto its sprawling fleet of fishing trawlers in a bid to stop asylum seeker boats from leaving the collapsed nation.
Ms O’Neil made the announcement where she opened the Fisheries Monitoring Center in Colombo on Tuesday alongside Sri Lankan leaders and officials.
An estimated 4,000 boats will be installed with the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) where the location of the large fleet will be monitored from the new centre.
The $5 million tracking system will allow the Sri Lankan government to enhance maritime awareness, tackle people smuggling, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, to counter terrorism and ensure crime syndicates did not use the boats.
Additionally, it will allow the Fisheries Ministry to monitor and ensure fish are legitimately caught and overfishing does not occur to protect maritime ecosystems.
Vessels without trackers or those who remove or disable them will be penalized by the Sri Lankan government.