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Offshore processing 'very different from detention': Labor candidate

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Labor’s hopeful for SA’s marginal seat of Boothby says the Opposition backs offshore asylum seeker processing but “we separate that from offshore detention”, while the Liberal candidate has backed an increase in Australia’s refugee intake, at a forum ahead of this week’s federal poll.

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Anthony Albanese’s Opposition has been on the defensive throughout the campaign on its approach to border security, with no direct policy currently available on the party’s website policy hub.

The Labor leader last month issued two separate clarifications on the issue, confirming that the Opposition did not support temporary protection visas but backed the other pillars of the Coalition Government’s border protection regime, boat turnbacks and offshore processing.

“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,” he said at the time.

He also issued a clarification that offshore detention remained a Labor policy, saying it “was established in 2013 when I was the deputy prime minister”, but that boat turnbacks were a preferable response when safe to do so.

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

The issue was raised today at a candidates forum for SA’s most marginal seat of Boothby ahead of Saturday’s election.

All candidates for the key seat – which Labor’s Louise Miller-Frost is heavily favoured to win – were invited to be grilled by Scotch College students at the school’s chapel, with one asking each hopeful’s position on immigration detention.

“Labor’s position is we do support offshore processing but I make that very different from detention,” Miller-Frost responded.

“For instance, we used to have an offshore processing centre in Indonesia where the refugee camps are, so people didn’t have to get on boats to come to Australia or wherever… we processed them where they were coming from in those third countries.”

She said that “refugees coming to Australia almost without fail come through a third country”.

“If we go to those third countries and have the offshore processing there, that makes their journey shorter – it means they don’t have to get on boats… so that’s why we support offshore processing [but] we separate that from offshore detention, which is what we’re seeing at the moment.”

She said the current policy had seen “people locked up for nine years, which absolutely is cruel, unnecessary and needs to end”.

“We would support offshore processing but not indefinite detention, and the processing needs to be rapid… it needs to have outcomes,” she said.

Labor has appeared to take a harder line on border protection during the current campaign in a bid to avoid the Government exploiting perceived policy differences on the issue.

But a spokesman said Miller-Frost’s comments were consistent with earlier statements made by Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally.

Liberal candidate Rachel Swift, who has worked with the United Nations in Africa, said she supported offshore processing.

“I’ve done work in refugee camps; I know what it’s like when someone’s born in a refugee camp, grows up and then has their own children there,” she said.

“So someone jumping the queue is a problem.”

She said “the vast majority do not come directly from the country of persecution [but] from third party countries”.

“Which means if you allow people to come by boat you allow people to profit from their misery, and cause thousands upon thousands of deaths,” she said.

“Go to the Mediterranean and look at what’s happening out of north Africa… that is inhumane.

“There were 82 million refugees worldwide before the conflict in Ukraine… we need to have systems that protect people when they come to our shores.”

Swift said she was “incredibly supportive of us taking refugees but I will not do anything that puts innocent lives at risk at sea, for the profit of people who are smuggling people into Australia – that is inhumane.”

However, Swift said while she was “very passionate about people coming through the correct processes” she was also “very supportive of us having more humanitarian visas”.

“This conversation is one we should constantly be having as part of a democratic country,” she said.

Independent candidate Jo Dyer, however, called Australia’s immigration detention regime “a shameful period in our history”.

“I’m sure there will be a royal commission into it at some stage in the future and that will be to our great shame,” she said.

Dyer said the country should “dramatically increase” its refugee intake and “process quickly and expeditiously here in Australia”.

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