Coalition calls for freeze on bridging visas

Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has called for an immediate freeze on the provision of bridging visas for asylum seekers, after it was revealed a man released into the community on a bridging visa had been charged with indecent assault.

Mr Morrison said that a review was needed into the guidelines for how boat arrivals were released into the community.

He said that such a review must detail a "requirement" to notify police and neighbouring residents about people on bridging visas or community detention in their area and the establishment of "behaviour protocols ... with clear negative sanctions for breaches of such protocols".

Mr Morrison also called on Labor to suspend the further release of boat arrivals into the community on bridging visas and community detention, "in all other than exceptional circumstances", while the review was under way.

He said the freeze should not be lifted until Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor and his department could give the community a "clear guarantee" that there were safeguards in place.

His comments come in the wake of the arrest of a 21-year-old Sri Lankan asylum seeker, charged with indecently assaulting a student at Macquarie University last week.

An immigration department spokeswoman said the man charged was an asylum seeker on a bridging visa, but did not live at the Macquarie University accommodation.

The victim has told police she was asleep in her room in student accommodation at the university, in Sydney's north west, when a man broke into her room and assaulted her in the early hours of February 21.

A company called Campus Living Villages provides accommodation for asylum seekers at the university, under a contract with the Red Cross's Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme.

There are 8700 asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas while their claims for asylum are heard. Based on 2011-12 statistics, most are refugees. In that year, about 90 per cent of boat arrivals were later found to be refugees.

The Greens have described Mr Morrison's attempt to link an alleged indecent assault to refugees living in the community as irresponsible.

"It's clear that indecent assault is unacceptable and I am concerned for the young woman involved," Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

"An appropriate response to this incident is to let the legal system deal with it – it is a matter to be left to the courts."

Senator Hanson-Young said that a freeze on visas for refugees to live in the community was not a practical response. She said any review of bridging visas should be seen as a chance to give people back the right to work.

"A lot of the difficulties surrounding the housing of refugees, including the shortage of available accommodation, could be answered by letting these skilled people work," she said.

Speaking after the charges were laid in relation to the Macquarie University assault, former immigration minister Chris Bowen said that Australian law "applies to everybody, including those who are being housed in the community as asylum seekers – and the law should be allowed to take its course. And that's a process that should be respected."

With Bianca Hall, Stephanie Gardiner

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