Morrison backtracks on visa halt but fight continues over new regulation

Immigration minister Scott Morrison has reversed a freeze on protection visas after facing a legal challenge. AAP

Immigration minister Scott Morrison has reversed the freeze he announced earlier this month on the granting of protection visas for asylum seekers.

Morrison’s backtrack came after a move by refugee lawyers to have his action struck down by the High Court.

But the minister is seeking to achieve his objective by another means and now says the cap, which also hit those who had arrived validly, is no longer necessary.

The freeze followed the Senate knocking out the Coalition’s introduction of temporary protection visas.

At the time Morrison said that ‘no further protection visas can be provided to onshore applicants this financial year", adding “I have no intention of lifting any bar so long as, in this country, the option of temporary protection visas is not available”. He said he would act to mitigate the impact on those who had arrived legally.

After Parliament’s action Morrison reintroduced that part of the regulation which prohibits a person obtaining a permanent protection visa unless they have arrived on a valid visa.

This new regulation continues to operate unless removed by Parliament or the court.

Refugee lawyers have brought a challenge on behalf of a Ethiopian 15 year-old boy who arrived as a stowaway.

The court held a directions hearings today and the case will be considered early in the new year.

The lawyers were originally challenging the cap on visas and refugee lawyer David Manne today welcomed its revocation overnight. “The cap lacked any sound or rational basis on public policy or law,”, he said.

But Manne said his client was also challenging the new regulation “which seeks to completely disqualify people in his situation from being granted a protection visa at all”.

The regulation was “completely inconsistent with Australian and international laws about protection owed to refugees like our client”. It would “disqualify our client when he had been on the verge of being granted protection”.

Meanwhile asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas now have to sign up to a detailed “Code of Behaviour”.

The “enforceable” code will be a condition of bridging visas and their renewal. Morrison said it would allow the government to “get on with renewing visas that have lapsed”.

The code “makes it clear that anti-social behaviour as well as criminal behaviour will not be tolerated”, he said. The Coalition promised the code before the election.

It says the asylum seeker must not disobey any Australian laws including the road laws.

It also bans people bullying others, or engaging in anti social or disruptive activities “that are inconsiderate, disrespectful or threaten the peaceful enjoyment of other members of the community”.

People must obey instructions to undertake treatment for a health condition for public health purposes.

They must also “co-operate with all reasonable requests” in resolving their status, including requests to attend interviews and provide documents.

Morrison said: “The government makes no apologies for providing a strong and enforceable reminder of the behaviour that is expected of people living in the community on a bridging visa.” He said the government had a “zero tolerance approach,” to those who violated the privilege they had been granted to live in the community.

The minister said that 35 bridging visas for boat arrivals had been cancelled on the basis of criminal charges since the election. Offences included murder, theft, indecent assault, domestic violence, assault with a weapon, driving under the influence and people smuggling.