A Liberal backbencher has accused his own party of vilifying asylum seekers, after Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison called for special ''behaviour protocols'' for those released into the community and the mandatory notification of police and residents in areas where they were housed.
Mr Morrison said the charging of a Sri Lankan asylum seeker with the alleged indecent assault of a young woman in a Sydney university dorm ''demanded'' an immediate suspension of the community release program and a review to determine new ''behavioural protocols … with clear negative sanctions for breaches''.
But Victorian Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent said there should ''never be special categories of laws for different categories of people … the rule of law should apply to all and we should not set some people apart''.
Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
''This kind of vilification of asylum seekers is unacceptable in this nation,'' he said.
Mr Broadbent is one of a small group of backbenchers who successfully demanded the softening of asylum laws during the Howard government.
Fellow Liberal backbencher Mal Washer told ABC Radio on Thursday that he thought the "thrust" of Mr Broadbent's argument was correct.
Illustration: Ron Tandberg.
"In this country what we want to ensure is that people of all ethnicity and religious backgrounds are treated equally under the eyes of the law," he said. "And we don't want to discriminate one from the other on that and there's a risk of doing that when you say those things."
He said he was sure Mr Morrison "didn't mean it that way" but that his comments could be misinterpreted.
When asked about Mr Morrison's call to notify police and neighbours about asylum seekers in their local area, Dr Washer said: "I don't think that achieves much in reality."
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott defended Mr Morrison against claims of dog whistling.
''If anyone is guilty of that, I would ask you to look at what the government has had to say about 457 visas," Mr Abbott said after leaving a university conference in Canberra.
Mr Morrison said the government had ''no idea'' where 8700 people released on bridging visas pending assessment of their refugee claims were living, and it was ''very reasonable'' to ask why asylum seekers were not released with reporting requirements similar to offenders released on bail.
''This is a wake-up call … this case has exposed the complete absence of commonsense safeguards,'' he said.
Mr Morrison said the behaviour protocols should be the ''terms and conditions of how one is expected to behave in the community'', similar to codes applying in immigration detention centres.
Service providers such as the Red Cross and accommodation services should be required to report any breaches, he said.
But the government said Mr Morrison was ''cynically exploiting an incident which is before the courts to cause fear and unrest in the community''.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor said people on bridging visas were required to report regularly to the Immigration Department. They were also required to provide their address and to report any move.
She said people underwent security assessments before they were released from immigration detention, although Mr Morrison claimed asylum seekers could be released before their identity had been established.
A department spokeswoman said that of the 12,000 people who had been released on bridging visas since November 2011, when the program began, only a ''small handful'' had been charged with offences. The department could not specify what those offences were.
Based on 2011-12 statistics, most of the 8700 asylum seekers currently on bridging visas are refugees. In that year, about 90 per cent of boat arrivals were later found to be refugees.
Barrister Greg Barns, spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said his organisation was concerned about the ''fear campaign'' being run by Mr Morrison, "which implies that there are large criminal elements among asylum seekers, which is just not the case''.
Mr Barns said he had acted for many asylum seekers in the area of refugee law. ''Interactions by asylum seekers with police around Australia are few and far between,'' he said, and were ''usually very low-level stuff''.
With BIANCA HALL