IF BRENDAN O’Connor needed reminding of the challenge of taking on the immigration portfolio, it arrived overnight in the form of a boat carrying 60 asylum seekers intercepted north-east of Christmas Island.
One of Mr O’Connor’s duties during his former stint as home affairs minister was to oversee boat interceptions. Now his job is to significantly cut the number of arrivals – and deny Tony Abbott one of his big weapons ahead of the September 14 election.
The job description is much more onerous and complex than that. He will have to respond to assertions that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island is in breach of its international obligations and deal with a host of challenges arising from Australia’s policy of mandatory detention.
These include responding to last year’s High Court decision that upheld a challenge to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers deemed security threats by ASIO, but not told why.
Mr O’Connor has welcomed his appointment and committed himself to implementing all the recommendations of the expert panel that was set up after Parliament could not agree on an approach to discourage boat arrivals.
More than 10,000 asylum seekers have arrived by boat since the government endorsed the panel’s recommendations last August.
He strongly supported all of the initiatives by Mr Bowen while he was minister, including the controversial people-swap agreement with Malaysia that is still the subject of negotiation.
At Labor’s national conference in December 2001, he insisted that people smugglers were not ”modern-day Oskar Schindlers”, but criminals who sought to profit from the misery of others. ”This is exploitation, whichever way you cut it,” he said. ”There is no humanitarian or altruistic dimension to their dealings.”
Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison accused Mr Bowen of abandoning the portfolio after presiding over 394 boat arrivals and said Mr O’Connor would deliver ”more of the same”.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.