'You're cruel': Q&A panelists clash over asylum seeker lifetime visa ban

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley on the ABC"s Q&A program. Source: Twitter

The government's plan to stop any asylum seeker or refugee who arrived in Australia by boat from ever entering the country has sparked heated debate on the ABC's Q&A program.

A panelist has labelled the government's proposed new asylum seeker policy "cruel" on the ABC's Q&A program.

The policy would see any person over the age of 18 who came to the country by boat from 2013 banned from ever obtaining a visa to enter Australia, even on tourist or business grounds.

During the discussion it was revealed the policy would also apply to people already processed as refugees and living in Australia on bridging visas.

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley, the only government representative on the panel, originally denied the policy would apply to people living in Australia, but had to backtrack when host Tony Jones revealed the Immigration Department had confirmed it would.

"Well, it's a relatively small number and let's not overlook the purpose for this," she said.

"The purpose for this legislation is to make sure it's very clear.

"What we want is people in Manus and Nauru to be resettled if they're genuine refugees or if they're not found to be genuine refugees, to return to their homes so that we can bring the genuine refugees."

Fellow panelist, chef and author Stefano de Pieri, rejected Ms Ley's explaination.

"It sounds like a fable," he said.

"You're telling us an amazing story to hide your cruelty. You're cruel.

"You're having kept people in limbo for years and years, having deprived them of their freedom.

"Who invents this cruelty?"

Panelist and I Love Farms general manager Emma Germano criticised the government's policy for the damage it could do to "brand Australia", as well as the course Australian refugee policy had taken over the past decade.

"It just seems incredibly punitive," she said.

"You're talking about sending a message to the international community and people who might be thinking about getting on a boat , but it also sends a message to the other nations on what our attitude to refugees and asylum seekers and people who are seeking to come to Australia is and I don't know that that's necessarily what brand Australia should look like.

"The government's just gotten the refugee thing wrong for the last 10 years...we're talking about people's lives and people who are suffering incredibly and the numbers that we're looking at are a drop in the ocean compared to the rest of the world."

Ms Ley said Australia was talking more people "on humanitarian visas than almost any country in the world".

"You have to see the camps and understand their lives and really appreciate that the generosity that we are offering them is well above many other countries," she said.

Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon took the opportunity to suggest the policy was already crumbling around the government's ears.

"I think this is very sad," he said.

"Possibly the worst aspect of this is it's in response to nothing. There's no build-up here. There was not a problem to fix.

"What they are now saying is if you have the audacity to flee persecution and make your way after paying people smugglers on to a boat, you will get a life sentence."

Panelist Dean Wickham, of the Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council, criticised the way the Coalition and Labor used the plight of refugees for political point scoring.

"It seems to me that it's turned into the new world game," he said.

"We have people picking sides and it kind of turns out a bit like FIFA at the moment."

The episode, which was filmed in Mildura in rural Victoria, also covered the government's to-ing and fro-ing over the proposed backpacker tax.

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