LABOR has accused the government of returning to the asylum seeker rhetoric of the Howard era, saying those who arrive by boat are not the enemy.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has come under fire for directing immigration staff to refer to boat arrivals as “illegal maritime arrivals”, and asylum seekers in detention as “detainees” instead of “clients”.
Mr Morrison was unapologetic, saying he is simply calling “a spade a spade”.
“I’m not going to make any apologies for not using politically correct language to describe something that I am trying to stop,” he told reporters in Canberra Monday.
But new immigration spokesman Richard Marles is concerned a change of language would demonise asylum seekers.
“Which seems to see a return to the kind of language that we saw in the Howard years.”
In an indication Labor won’t follow the harder edges of the coalition’s approach to boat people, Mr Marles said: “This is an area where language is bullets”.
“It is really important that we are careful about what language we use and that we depoliticise this area of policy,” Mr Marles told reporters in Canberra.
“Those who come by boat are not the enemy.
“In terms of calling a spade a spade, people who seek asylum here are asylum seekers.”
Meanwhile, Mr Morrison defended the government’s handling of a disturbance outside the Manus Island processing centre on Friday, and disputed detainees’ claims they had been abandoned.
The “incident” between members of Papua New Guinea’s police and military prompted a “red” security alert at the centre, and staff were moved to a more secure location within the facility.
Asked if he was confident about PNG’s capacity to process asylum seekers at the centre, Mr Morrison said “there is nothing to suggest otherwise”.
“There has been extensive levels of support and training and mentoring being provided to Papua New Guinea and Nauru to manage those processes, and I haven’t seen anything to suggest that there are issues associated with that,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Marles said the government had failed to provide the full truth and full disclosure about the incident.
“It took 48 hours … before we had any word from minister Morrison,” Mr Marles said.
The Australian Greens leader Christine Milne said Mr Morrison must detail the government’s arrangements with security forces on Manus Island. -AAP