Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is defending the practice of 'screening out' asylum seekers, saying it is controversial but entirely appropriate.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen won't rule out sending back to Sri Lanka any of the 56 Tamil asylum seekers who have agreed to drop a High Court challenge against their removal from Australia.
The group, in detention in Darwin, was due to have their case heard on Thursday.
At issue is the practice of "screening out", where asylum seekers are asked to explain why they came to Australia and the circumstances in their home country.
The federal government has agreed to let the group stay and have their claims processed either in Australia or offshore, subject to 24 hours notice of their involuntary return to Sri Lanka.
When asked if the government intended to return the Tamils, Mr Bowen told ABC Radio: "There will be a range of circumstances in place for those individuals.
"I won't go into those individual cases."
Mr Bowen defended the way some asylum seekers were being screened out, saying it was one of the mechanisms to deal with those people coming to Australia for "economic purposes".
"Yes, it's controversial but it's entirely appropriate," he said.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison isn't impressed by the government's backdown.
"Once again lawyers are running the government's policy, not the government when it comes to asylum seekers," he told ABC radio.
Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the interview process must be set out in law.
"I've been very concerned that this process is so informal, that there's no proper legal representation in these interviews," she told ABC radio.
Rather than assessing the claims to determine whether people were entitled to protection, the government had been more concerned with "the grubby, dirty politics in a competition with (Opposition Leader) Tony Abbott", she said.
Labor also was intent on giving the impression "hordes" of people were being returned to Sri Lanka, Senator Hanson-Young said.
She wants federal legislation to be changed to stop would-be refugees being returned to dangerous situations in their home countries.
Senator Hanson-Young noted about 600 Sri Lankan asylum seekers had already been returned by the government.
"We need to change the way these processes are being done so that people are not deported back to danger and so that we know we're not breaching our obligations to very genuine refugees," she told reporters in Canberra.
Senator Hanson-Young urged the government to properly assess asylum seekers before deciding to deport them.
"Everybody has the right, if you arrive in Australia, to seek asylum," she said. (Source: World News Australia)