|Scott Morrison during question time in parliament. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP|
The immigration minister has issued a permanent protection visa to an unaccompanied minor who fled Ethiopia and arrived in Australia by boat, in a major backflip that could have ramifications for other asylum seekers in Australia.
Since the Coalition government came to power in September, Scott Morrison has aggressively stated it would not issue permanent visas to asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia and has attempted to cap the number of permanent visas it offers.
But he has now issued a visa to the 15-year-old boy whose case led to a high court ruling that such a cap was invalid.
After the ruling, Morrison had initially indicated he would still not grant the boy a permanent visa, and had appeared intent upon getting around the ruling by introducing a new public interest test in July.
Morrison said following the ruling: "The policy of the Australian government is that those who arrived illegally by boat or plane ... should only be granted a temporary visa.
"This policy forms part of a suite of measures that have been critical to the government's success to date in preventing maritime people-smuggling ventures as part of Operation Sovereign Borders.
"The government will continue to implement this policy consistent with the powers established under the Migration Act and national interest."
He had then asked the boy’s lawyers to argue why it was in the national interest for a visa to be granted.
But now Morrison appears to have changed tack, with a decision that the boy’s lawyer, David Manne, said was a “great outcome for my client but also a great outcome for the whole of our nation”.
Manne said the boy was “so happy to finally have an answer … I just can’t believe it”. Manne added the boy had been through a “terrible cycle of uncertainty” as his case progressed through the court.
“I look forward to the government recognising that not only is it in the interests of our client and all refugees in Australia, but in the interests of Australian society to give people a permanent visa to rebuild their lives,” Manne said.
“We look forward to the government adopting the same approach for other refugees.”
The boy is understood to have arrived by boat as a stowaway 16 months ago, lodging a protection claim in April last year.
He is said to be a keen and talented sportsman, currently studying in Melbourne.
“It’s hard to comprehend the courage it took him to flee in such fear and then, having arrived here, have the courage to present his case before the high court,” Manne said.
“The circumstances are extraordinary, but in another sense what he’s done is something that ought to be considered normal in this country. Anyone should be able to raise questions with the court and ask if the government has the power to do what it is saying it wants to.”