Albanese Government’s punitive proposal will endanger people’s lives

MEDIA RELEASE | 26 March 2024

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Human Rights Law Centre and Democracy in Colour have denounced the Albanese Government’s rushed law that would further punish people who have been unlawfully held in indefinite immigration detention.

The Migration Amendment (Removal and Other Measures) Bill 2024 gives the Minister for Immigration an unprecedented new power to require a person to do anything necessary to facilitate their removal from Australia, with five-year jail terms for failing to comply. The Bill also allows the Minister to impose a Trump-style travel ban by preventing visa applications from citizens of deemed ‘removal concern countries.’

If passed into law, the legislation will confront people fleeing persecution, torture and death with a perilous choice: return to a place where they may be harmed or killed, or be detained in prison for refusing to comply with removal. It will also allow the Minister, and future governments, the discriminatory power to prohibit visa applications from entire refugee-producing countries – such as Afghanistan or Iran.

The legislation is the latest in a series of rushed, draconian responses by the Albanese government to the High Court ruling in NZYQ.  In November 2023, the High Court ruled that it was unlawful for the Australian Government to continue to detain a person where there is no real prospect that their removal from Australia will be practicable in the reasonably foreseeable future. That case concerned a man who was stateless and was owed protection obligations, so could not be returned to his country of origin.

Next month in ASF17 v Commonwealth, the High Court will consider whether the same limitation applies to people who cannot be returned to their home country for other reasons – either because they fear harm, or there are medical or other barriers to their removal.

Like the hastily-enacted Bridging ‘R’ visa and continuing detention order regimes, the Bill has been rushed through parliament with minimal scrutiny and debate. The result will be more defective legislation that imperils vulnerable people and is open to legal challenge.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Human Rights Law Centre and Democracy in Colour urge the Albanese government to abandon the Bill and instead focus on building durable, lasting mechanisms to review immigration detention and release people safely into the community, where they can begin to rebuild their lives.

Quote attributed to Joannie Lee, Organiser at Democracy in Colour:

Today’s events flies in the face of our international obligations and skirt around our democratic processes. Putting forward this Bill in these circumstances is transparently trying to cover up their own broken asylum seeker system and stir up rhetoric that criminalises people seeking asylum to score ‘tough on migration’ points. This is a dangerous and cheap political trick that is putting people’s lives at risk.”

Quote attributed to Sanmati Verma, Acting Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre:

“The Albanese government must accept that it cannot indefinitely detain people simply because they don’t have a visa. As cruel as they are, criminal sanctions will not encourage people to return to face death or torture in their home country. Nor will they render people who are medically unfit capable of consenting to removal. These measures will further punish people who our government has unlawfully detained, and needlessly prolong their detention.

“Detention centres are cruel and violent places, where people are separated from their families and communities and subject to routine medical neglect and humiliation. Instead of inventing legal workarounds, the Albanese government should be working on safe and lasting ways to review detention and allow for people to resume their lives in the community, in freedom and with dignity.”

Quote attributed to Hannah Dickinson, Principal Solicitor and Head of Legal at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre:

“Yet again, the Albanese Government is rushing to pass a new law without due scrutiny that punishes some of the most marginalised people in our society, including refugees and stateless people.  

“Australia’s refugee assessment process is widely recognised as defective. It routinely fails to properly determine people’s refugee status, including under the so-called ‘fast track’ system that the Government has recognised as neither fair, thorough nor robust.

“People failed by these systems fear extreme violence, loss of liberty, and death in the countries they fled, and have often experienced unimaginable harm in detention in Australia. Instead of restoring integrity to broken systems through meaningful reform, this Bill exposes people to unjustified imprisonment, return to persecution, and family separation, and prevents people from seeking safety or family unity in Australia.”