Parliament must reject a spate of Bills that will introduce sweeping powers and deny basic rights

Legal experts have released a unified statement (attached below) calling for three migration Bills currently before Parliament to be rejected in their entirety due to the threat they pose to the rule of law, basic human rights and transparency.

The suite of Bills targets refugees, people seeking asylum and other migrants who are in immigration detention or facing visa cancellation or refusal. If passed, these Bills would cause more people to be held in indefinite detention, potentially for the rest of their lives, or to be deported to countries where they face serious harm or have little connection to, with many also facing permanent separation from their Australian spouses and children.

Elements of the Bills give sweeping powers to the Minister for Home Affairs and seriously compromise the ability of people to get a fair hearing, creating dangerous unaccountability which offend our traditions of democratic governance subject to the rule of law.

The Bills in question are:

  • The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention) Bill 2020 – which will, if passed, allow the Minister to prevent refugees and people seeking asylum from having everyday items, such as mobile phones, while in detention. This is a clear attempt to hide the suffering of people in detention, but in doing so also prevents their access to independent health and legal services as well as family and friends.
  • The Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2019 – which will introduce arbitrary and unreasonably low thresholds for the Minster to revoke or refuse visas for people based on the maximum possible sentence they could receive, rather than the sentence they actually received. This change would catch a much wider group of people who may have received only very light sentences or committed only minor offences. This Bill could see refugees and people seeking asylum who have been in Australia for years forcibly sent back to their country of origin to face persecution or serious harm when they fail this further widened, discretionary “character” test.
  • Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Information Provisions) Bill 2020 – which will allow the Minister to use secret information to revoke the visas of refugees and people seeking asylum. This Bill not only prevents a person from knowing what information is being used against them, but also prevents them from even knowing if secret information is being used. It also prevents the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) from having access to the information unless the Minister provides permission, even when the information is highly relevant to deciding people’s cases, preventing the AAT from performing its role in conducting merits reviews of cases.

There is great concern that these Bills could at any moment be rushed through Parliament without proper scrutiny. This was the case in May this year with a Bill that entrenches the ability of the government to indefinitely and arbitrarily detain refugees whose visas have been cancelled. The Migration Amendment (Clarification of International Obligations for Removal) was pushed through the Senate with debate gagged and inadequate analysis of its radically harmful implications.

The Bills would deny justice as well as negatively impact the mental and physical health of refugees and people seeking asylum, who already suffer under a punitive and arbitrary system.

Carolyn Graydon, Principal Solicitor and Manager of the Human Rights Law Program at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said: “Legal experts are united in their call that all of these Bills should be rejected in their entirety. They collectively deny fundamental rights, purposefully block scrutiny of government actions and represent a remarkable incursion of the rule of law.”

David Manne, Executive Director and Principal Solicitor Refugee Legal said: “This package of bills seeks to impose further draconian restrictions on the basic rights of refugees to get a fair go before the law. The proposed laws betray fundamental safeguards under the rule of law and inevitably leads to widespread violations of rights and severe harm to many vulnerable people across the country.”

Sanmati Verma, Deputy Chair of the Visa Cancellations Working Group said: “Together, these Bills are intended to drastically increase the power of the Minister for Home Affairs and her Department while limiting the ability for those powers to be challenged. They are a power grab by the government, and must be robustly rejected.”

Lucy Geddes, Project Lead for the Asylum Seeker Health Rights Project at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said: “The proposed powers to prohibit mobile phones in immigration detention and to enforce bans with invasive search and seizure powers are not supported by evidence. They are likely to have a significant, negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people in immigration detention and their ability to access independent medical and legal advice and other critical supports.”

ENDS

Media contact: Sam Brennan 0428 973 324 or sam.b4@asrc.org.au

Image: Flickr/ Thousand Words Photo

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