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Wong’s rebuke after migration plan thwarted

CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER - TIME TBA
Countries would only be blacklisted ‘if necessary’, Foreign Affairs Penny Wong said. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Penny Wong has hit out at the Greens and the Coalition after rival parties thwarted Labor’s attempts to rush through “shambolic” new deportation laws this week.

The government failed to ram its last-minute deportation bill through parliament after the Coalition joined the Greens and the crossbench to block the legislation in the Senate.

The bill, introduced ahead of a looming High Court challenge in April, attempts to jail non-citizens who resist deportation orders and grant the minister powers to ban visa applications from countries that do not accept their citizens being involuntarily returned.

Speaking on Sunday, the foreign affairs minister argued the government had insufficient powers to deal with rising cases of immigration detainees refusing to return to their home countries and accused Opposition leader Peter Dutton of playing politics.

“It’s regrettable that we’ve got the Peter Dutton and Adam Bandt alliance preventing action on this, but it does say something about the political opportunism,” senator Wong told Sky News.

“The fact this has been deferred for a couple of months is entirely on their heads.”

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Greens Senator David Shoebridge claims the measures will “punish diaspora communities” in Australia. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Under Labor’s proposal, new powers would compel an asylum seeker who had exhausted all legal avenues to co-operate with efforts to remove them, such as applying for a passport from their home country, or face a jail sentence of up to five years.

It would also grant the immigration minister the power to pause visa processing from countries that do not accept their own nationals being returned, such as Iran, Iraq, South Sudan and Russia.

Immigration advocates and minor parties have raised fears that the extraordinary powers could risk penalising refugees and separate diaspora communities in Australia from their home countries.

Senator Wong argued the blacklist powers would only be exercised “if necessary” and described the legislation as a sensible measure to manage the country’s immigration system.

“It’s not something that would be used in blanket way and it’s something that would be used as and when necessary. It’s an important part of our toolkit in terms of managing migration,” she said.

Greens immigration spokesman David Shoebridge said Labor’s ‘undercooked’ deportation bill would punish Iranian and Russian asylum seekers for the crimes of their home governments and called for clarity about which countries would be black-listed under the proposed laws.

“It was shambolic. They (Labor) thought that they could wedge through parliament to rush through legislation and they had no argument for why it was urgent,” he said on Sunday.

“Even the Opposition will be deeply troubled by legislation that is saying to diaspora communities across the country that you may never see your family again.”

Labor’s deportation bill has been referred to a Senate committee which will hand in a report by May 7.