On Sunday 30 October 2016, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that a new law via amendment of the Migration Act will seek to prevent all unauthorised boat arrivals from mid-July 2013 to now from obtaining any visa both now and in the future. This includes tourist and business visas, and regardless of whether they are found to be refugees or not. Only those who arrived on Manus Island or Nauru as children within the specified period would be exempt. Because of its retrospective scope, 1,300 people currently residing on Manus Island and Nauru may be affected by the law.
The Immigration Minister will, however, maintain discretion to let people into Australia despite the new law if doing so will be in favour of public policy. The purpose of the new law is to send a clear message to people smugglers that there will be no possibility of any settlement in Australia for individuals arriving by boat with people smugglers and without valid visas. While the opposition has not stated a firm position on the announcement, it has indicated that a lifetime ban on a genuine refugee visiting as a tourist or business person would be ‘ridiculous’.
Refugee advocates and Non-Government Organisations have spoken out against the new law, claiming it contravenes Australia’s obligations to the International Refugee Convention. Members of opposing political parties have called the law cruel and punitive against vulnerable people, while members of other parties, including the One Nation party, have welcomed the stance.