Mr Morrison requested that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) delay security checks for 700 refugees in late 2013, according to the ABC.
He was the Minister for Immigration at the time, and was advised by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that up to 700 asylum seekers “must” be granted permanent protection visas under the law.
This information was contained in confidential government documents sent to the ABC, known as the Cabinet Files.
The department presented Mr Morrison with several “strategies to reduce the likelihood of a permanent protection visa grant”.
One of these was to write to the Director-General of Security to request that ASIO delay the final checks for applicants who were close to being granted permanent protection.
At the time, Mr Morrison was rushing through legislative changes to ensure that asylum seekers who arrived by boat would never be granted permanent protection visas, the ABC reported.
He intended to delay the security clearances of up to 700 asylum seekers so that they would miss the deadline to apply for permanent protection.
The department advised Mr Morrison that if ASIO did not intervene, 30 extra asylum seekers could be expected to receive security clearances each week “based on recent average flows”.
The ABC said it was unclear whether ASIO complied with the request. However, the Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS) said Mr Morrison’s actions had caused some decisions to drag on for years.
“RACS is appalled by the news that former Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison directed ASIO to delay the security clearances of 700 refugees to block the grant of their permanent protection visas in late 2013,” the organisation said in a statement.
“The delays have created uncertain futures for many of our clients and have left many families torn apart. Morrison showed an utter disregard for the law through his actions.
“At the time of this direction, the minister’s legal obligation was to make a decision on refugee applications within 90 days. Instead, most decisions have taken three to five years, and some people are still waiting for an outcome.”
Mr Morrison told the ABC in a statement that his policy and practice as Immigration Minister was to “put Australia’s national security interests first”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government would “make no apologies for sending the clearest message to people smugglers”.
“[Scott Morrison] stopped the boats, he did an outstanding job in securing our borders,” Mr Turnbull said.
However, RACS principal solicitor Sarah Dale said Mr Morrison’s attempt to avoid granting permanent protection visas to legitimate refugees served no national security purpose.
“The people affected by Scott Morrison’s requests were found to be refugees at the time,” Ms Dale said.
“Delaying their security assessments does nothing to protect Australia’s national security. It only damages the lives of these people. We have seen first-hand the tragic human cost of delay and limbo on people’s lives.”
RACS senior solicitor Jemma Hollonds added: “Destroying family unity is also having disastrous effects on the mental health of refugees who, ultimately, are likely to remain in Australia for the rest of their lives”.