Albanese forced to clarify Labor’s border protection policies for second time

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has been forced to clarify Labor’s policies on border protection for the second time in a week after he mistakenly said his party supports temporary protection visas for asylum seekers.

Albanese was asked in Cairns on Sunday whether Labor supported Operation Sovereign Borders and temporary protection visas. He replied: “Yes.”

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese made the comments in Cairns on Sunday morning.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Labor has for years supported two of the three pillars of the Coalition’s policies on boat arrivals – offshore detention and boat turnbacks. But Labor does not support temporary protection visas on the basis they unnecessarily leave refugees in limbo for years.

Instead, Labor has a policy of abolishing the visas and converting them to permanent visas.

Temporary protection visas ensure asylum seekers in Australia have only limited work rights and are not permitted family reunions.

Minutes after his press conference had ended, Albanese re-emerged to say: “Earlier on I heard half the question, I didn’t hear all of it.”

“Labor’s policy is to support Operation Sovereign Borders – we support offshore processing, we support resettlement in third countries. We don’t support temporary protection visas.”

It was the second clarification Albanese has been forced to make on border protection in four days.

On Thursday, Albanese said people attempting to arrive in Australia by boat will be turned back to avoid offshore detention, but didn’t say whether offshore detention was still a Labor policy. That day he was also forced to clarify his statement hours later by confirming Labor still supported offshore detention.

“It [offshore detention] was established in 2013 when I was the deputy prime minister. I was asked today about boat turnbacks – our position is clear, we continue to support them,” he said on Thursday.

He said boat turnbacks were the “preference” to offshore detention.

“At the moment there aren’t people who have gone into offshore detention because the boats have been turned back. It’s been effective.”

The clarifications have led to the Coalition attempting to make border protection an issue heading into the May 21 poll, despite there being no boat arrivals in years.

The issue of boat arrivals has been a battlefield in previous elections after more than 1000 asylum seekers died at sea between 2007 and 2013 under Labor governments.

But the Coalition has been widely criticised by humanitarian organisations for keeping asylum seekers in detention centres for years and being slow to find alternatives for them to resettle.

At least 12 people have died in Australia’s offshore processing centres of Nauru and Manus Island since 2013.

Australia last month came to an agreement with New Zealand to resettle 450 refugees from Nauru as well as people who are in onshore detention – nine years after the offer was first put on the table.

Jacqueline Maley cuts through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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