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Latest Government asylum move draws strong reactions

Peter Dutton, Malcolm Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's proposal to stop asylum seekers who arrived by boat from ever entering Australia has received mixed reviews. While some have praised the idea, others have condemned the plan as discriminatory and unjust.It could even face a challenge from the High Court.

It is a battle of legislation versus law.

It is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's plan to, in his words, send "the strongest possible signal to the people smugglers" against Article 31 of the United Nations Refugee Convention.

The idea is to ban adult asylum seekers who have been processed in detention facilities on Nauru and Manus Island from ever coming to Australia, even as tourists.

The Government says it is working along similar lines to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who announced in 2013 that none of the asylum seekers would ever be settled in Australia.

A day after unveiling the plan, both Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton have defended it, saying it complies with the advice they have been given.

But Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns says he is not so confident of its legality, either domestically or internationally.

He warns, if passed, the ramifications could be severe.

"It's unprecedented anywhere in the world, it adds a further layer of cruelty to the Australian immigration regime, and it's completely counter to Australia's obligations under the Refugee Convention. We're also concerned as to whether or not the law is constitutional. The High Court's taken a relatively dim view of some attempts by governments over the years to effectively undermine the responsibilities under the Convention. But it's incumbent, I think, on the ALP and on the minor parties to make sure that this bill doesn't see the light of day, because it's a very, very dangerous piece of legislation, it's an extreme measure, and it's not the sort of measure that you would want to see in a country such as Australia, which prides itself on tolerance and openness."

Lawyer Madeline Gleeson is a research associate at the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales.

She says she questions the need for new powers.

She says the alleged problem of people entering another country, then trying to get into Australia on tourist visas and stay permanently, is vastly overstated.

"I think we'd all like to know if this is really that big a problem, because my understanding is that the right to choose who comes into this country and on what visas already rests with the government. That's a power they already have. So it's not exactly clear what additional this law would be adding, other than a lot of time and effort and enhancing Australia's negative image overseas."

Peter Dutton says one of the advantages of the legislation is helping avoid the nation getting tied up in endless legal battles with people trying to stay.

He says most people do not realise shoring up Australia's borders is a never-ending task.

"And we are not going to take a backward step until we can get those people off Manus and Nauru to third-country arrangements or back to their country of origin, or settling in PNG or settling in Nauru or Cambodia or wherever the case might be. But I'm not going to do it in such a way that allows the people smugglers to get back into business, because, if you look at what's happening on the Mediterranean now, thousands of people are losing their lives on the Mediterranean. If you look at what's happening in France, across continental Europe, have a look at what's coming out of Libya, and we have a significant problem ongoing. (Just) because we don't have boats arriving each day doesn't mean that our efforts at sea and in the air and through the intelligence agencies and certain ports and the rest of it that, somehow, that's no longer required. It is. And the threat of boats recommencing, if you get half a dozen through, you'll get 60, and you'll get 600."

One of the few voices in support of the proposal is One Nation senator Pauline Hanson.

She has told the Seven Network, at the moment, the country cannot support a sudden influx of

"In principle, I do back the policy. I think we need to make a very tough stance and put out a clear message: Refugees are not welcome here. Now we know the majority come here for economic reasons, that they actually come here and end up on our welfare system. Australians are fed up with it, and, as a matter of fact, so am I. Look after our own first. When we become a very wealthy country, hopefully, again, then we can look after other people."

Lawyer Greg Barns is unconvinced.

"It's bizarre and absurd, and it's also discriminatory. You can arrive by plane and have your application dealt with. If you come here on another mode of transportation -- i.e., boat -- then you get punished. It's a very minor problem, and it can be dealt with under existing law."