The Coalition's asylum seeker policy is a "work in regress", and shows "a lack of appreciation of the ethical issues related to migration", according to strongly-worded responses from Catholic critics.
Father Andrew Hamilton SJ, consulting editor for Eureka Street, wrote in an editorial today that the Coalition's new policy was a return to what it had in place while in government "adding new nasties that make it look tougher".
"The policy failed asylum seekers and Australian interests then and, if implemented, it would fail them again."
The Australian Catholic Bishops has also released a statement on the issue, saying that a return to the Pacific solution would show a lack of appreciation of the ethical issues related to migration.
Bishop Joe Grech, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference spokesperson for refugee and asylum seeker issues, said: "It has always been the view of the Catholic Church that human beings such as asylum seekers should be treated as human beings, not as political footballs."
In his Eureka Street editorial, Fr Hamilton wrote: "Offshore processing was harmful to Australia's interests previously because it depended for its effectiveness on the cooperation of other nations, but undermined the basis for cooperation. It expected other nations to receive those found to be refugees.
"The system also harmed Australia's interests because it corrupted administration. The judging of refugee claims was outside the rule of law and was arbitrary. Immigration Department officers acted as the moral equivalent of people smugglers, enticing uninformed and vulnerable asylum seekers to leave Nauru. According to Phil Glendinning, many who returned were killed on return to Afghanistan."
Fr Hamilton says that while the current Government's suspension of visa processing, prospective relocation of asylum seekers to detention camps "and the pressure to view Afghanistan and Sri Lanka as safe places of return, are unconscionable", but the Coalition's policy is worse.
"It appeals to prejudice about asylum seekers and not to the truth of why they come, to the truth of the relatively small burden they are to Australia."
The ACBC said in its statement: "A touted return to the temporary protection visa (TPV) policy would be included in (the Coalition's proposed) changes.
"The negative mental health effects of TPVs have been widely recorded and have led in the past to an actual increase in boat arrivals, especially women and children, because of the lack of access to family reunion," the bishops said.
"This policy sounds as though it could be quite punitive toward asylum seekers who have left their countries of origin because of dire and dangerous situations," said Bishop Grech.
Director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, Fr Maurizio Pettena, said that many also do not realise the wealth that we enjoy in Australia as a result of migration.
"It has been demonstrated time and time again that refugees and asylum seekers work extremely hard in the Australian community, contributing much to the fabric of this country," said Fr Pettena.
Coalition's new nasties for asylum seekers (Eureka Street)
Catholic bishops question Coalition's proposed policy changes on refugees (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference)
Clandestino 1975 on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0