Whole of Tasmania should be immigration centre – Julian Burnside

Human rights advocate suggests the whole state be used as a detention centre, with refugees living within the community

The state of Tasmania should be declared an immigration detention centre, with asylum seekers allowed to live within the community, human rights barrister Julian Burnside has suggested.

Burnside said the whole state could fulfil the definition of a detention centre if its ports were carefully monitored for asylum seekers looking to depart.

Speaking at a lecture in Hobart on his proposed “Tasmanian solution”, Burnside said the idea would be more humane than either the Coalition’s or Labor’s asylum-seeker policies.

“If politicians are obsessed with the idea that asylum seekers must be kept in detention then that could be legally satisfied by declaring the island of Tasmania a place of detention,” he said.

“Have officers of the Commonwealth at each port of departure and then allow the asylum seekers to live in the community in Tasmania. They would still legally be in detention.”

Burnside, a prominent advocate for refugee rights, claimed the plan would save the government about $3bn and would help stimulate the Tasmanian economy.

“The point of it, of course, is that it’s much less damaging to the people involved and it would be far less expensive even if every one of them received full Centrelink benefits, which they’d spend in the Tasmanian community,” he said.

The QC later told the ABC that the “Tasmanian solution” could be broadened to a “rural solution”, where asylum seekers would be required to live and work in regional Australia.

“A variant of the idea is once they have had preliminary health and security checks they are allowed Centrelink benefits and to work on the requirement that they live in specified rural and regional areas,” he said. “Rural areas would benefit immensely from people coming in and spending money.

“Tasmanian people seem, broadly speaking, quite enthusiastic about the idea. If we also did the rural solution I think we’d find pretty quickly that people would queue up asking for people to be sent to their towns. We are throwing money away on paying foreign jail operators to keep asylum seekers in miserable conditions. We could save ourselves billions of dollars a year.”

The Tasmania proposal marks a shift in tone from Burnside, who has been implacably opposed to the detention of asylum seekers in the past.

Before the election he lambasted Labor’s plan to send asylum seekers arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea. Burnside said that Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison “all parade their Christian beliefs while betraying Christian values”.

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