NEW rules denying asylum seekers the right to work for up to five years will be relaxed after a backlash from Labor MPs and one of the principal architect's of the Gillard government's policy to stem the number of boat arrivals.
In comments on Monday, the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said he wanted ''over time'' to work out how people arriving by boat had ''appropriate support and care, and where appropriate they have some mechanism in place to be able to support themselves''.
Mr Bowen announced last Wednesday those people who have arrived in Australia by boat since offshore processing resumed in August and could not be sent to Nauru or Manus Island would be released into the community with ''no work rights''.
Under the ''no advantage'' test, Mr Bowen said they would have to survive on a meagre payment of about $220 per week for up to five years, the same period it would take them to be resettled if they stayed in a refugee camp elsewhere in Asia. The move was forced by a surge of almost 8000 asylum seekers since the offshore processing regime was put in place on August 13 and provoked criticism that it would create a new refugee underclass.
Paris Aristotle, a member of the expert panel headed by former defence chief Angus Houston, has described the new regime as inconsistent with the policy's controversial ''no advantage'' test, punitive and in breach of Australia's international treaty obligations.
After representations from Mr Aristotle and others, Mr Bowen asserted on Monday that the new rules were ''not actually linked to the no-advantage principle as such'', and were more about the surge in numbers from Sri Lanka and the belief that many were ''economic migrants'' and not refugees.
He also vowed to work with those in the refugee sector to work out ''how we will deal'' with those found to be refugees under the new system, where asylum seekers whose claims are upheld must wait for as long as they would have waited to be resettled if they had stayed in a transit country - a period Mr Bowen concedes could be five years.
Writing exclusively for Fairfax Media, Mr Aristotle argues the correct response to concerns about economic migration from Sri Lanka is to ''properly and quickly'' establish if this is the case by processing applications. ''Those that are refugees should be protected and those who are not can be returned,'' he writes.
''The announcements last week to disallow asylum seekers work rights and timely access to family reunion, even after they have been found to be a refugee, were not recommendations of the panel,'' Mr Aristotle says.
''The measures are highly problematic because they are a punitive form of deterrence in response to a specific and new phenomenon in people smuggling from Sri Lanka which the government believes is for economic reasons as opposed to refugee protection.''
Mr Aristotle also expresses dismay at the opposition's proposal to slash the humanitarian quota back to 13,750 places and reintroduce temporary protection visas, saying it makes little sense.
Lamenting that debate on asylum seekers issues continues to be on a ''destructive and combative course'', he appeals to all sides to show leadership to end ''this destructive cycle''.