Greens would boost refugee intake

The gloss has worn off Julia Gillard’s leadership with the prime minister’s plan to process asylum seekers in East Timor, says Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

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Voters were thrilled to see the ascension of the country’s first woman prime minister, but Ms Gillard has shown a lack of true compassion by backing a Howard-era plan to process asylum seekers offshore, the Greens senator says.

The prime minister this week announced East Timor as a possible location for a refugee processing centre, but later had to tone down her remarks after Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao responded negatively.

“The gloss has worn off,” Senator Hanson-Young told reporters on Friday.

“The straight-speaking, straight-shooting prime minister is now trying to say that she didn’t ever insist that her detention camp would be in East Timor, that that was simply one option.”

Labor and the coalition should not feed into the fear of asylum seekers as part of their bid to win political power, she said.

“Let’s not use the lives of vulnerable people to play politics simply in time for election,” she said.

Senator Hanson-Young was speaking in retiring Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner’s seat of Melbourne as the Greens grab a chance to in the seat upon his departure.

She was flanked by Adam Bandt, the Greens candidate for the seat, who connected the asylum seeker debate to Melbourne’s multicultural heritage.

Melbourne wouldn’t be the cultural capital that it is today if Australia hadn’t welcomed waves of Italians and Greeks after World War II, or thousands of Asians and Africans in recent decades, he said.

“If one in 10 Labor voters switch to Greens, we win our first ever seat in a general election,” he said.

The Greens unveiled their asylum seeker policy on Friday at a bowling club in Melbourne’s Flagstaff Gardens.

The Christmas Island detention centre would be closed and Australia’s annual refugee intake boosted under the plan, aimed at undercutting people smuggling while supporting asylum seekers.

The Greens’ plan calls for the annual intake of refugees to be increased to 20,000, up from the current 14,000 to 15,000.

This plan is aimed at eliminating the market for people smuggling while offering asylum seekers a “long-term practical and humane” approach.

The closure of the Christmas Island detention centre would allow funding earmarked for offshore processing to be used instead on new “community reception centres” in major cities.

Senator Hanson-Young said the centres would process all asylum seekers’ claims.

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