Labor deportation laws blocked, ‘please explain’ issued

David Pocock speaks on controversial detention bill

Source: Parliament of Australia

Laws that would impose a mandatory minimum one-year prison sentence for immigration detainees who fail to co-operate with attempts to deport them have been held up and sent to an inquiry.

Labor tried to ram legislation through parliament this week.

On Wednesday, the Coalition, Greens and crossbench teamed up in the Senate – in what independent senator David Pockock described as an “almighty backfire” – to delay its passing and send it to a parliamentary inquiry as they questioned the need for urgency.

The legislation, which passed the lower house on Tuesday, also included penalties of up to five years behind bars and a $93,000 fine. The immigration minister would also have the power to ban visa classes for countries that did not accept deportees.

Coalition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said it was difficult for the opposition to support the bill’s immediate passage without proper scrutiny in case of unintended consequences.

Concerns included that banning visas from a particular country could lead to an increase of people trying to illegally sail to Australia with people-smugglers.

“They couldn’t explain how many people this would affect, they couldn’t explain what the consequences of this would be for any upcoming High Court cases, they couldn’t explain how or when they would use this legislation,” Paterson said of the government.

The laws come ahead of a High Court decision involving an Iranian citizen known as ASF17 who has made a legal bid for freedom.

The man is seeking to have an earlier High Court ruling, that indefinite immigration detention was illegal for those who could not be returned to a third country, also cover detainees who refuse to co-operate with their deportation.

The government received the draft legislation on Friday after commissioning it to pre-empt the court’s April 17 ruling. Wednesday is parliament’s last sitting day until mid-May.

The inquiry will not report until May 7.

Paterson said the opposition would support parliament being recalled if the government made the case for its urgency or passed legislation after the decision.

“The government has also said they’re confident about their prospects in the ASF17 case,” he said.

“If they somehow fail in this case … we stand ready to bring the parliament back.”

The government had received advice that the legislation needed to be passed in this sitting week, Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said.

Independent MP Monique Ryan raised concerns the legislation could mean if the government made a mistake when determining if someone was a refugee or not, they could be deported to a country where their lives were at risk.

But Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen said there were numerous opportunities for a person to apply for asylum.

“We are talking about people who came to Australia, overstayed a visa or came under false pretences,” he told ABC News.

The Greens have attacked the bill for being racist and demonising asylum seekers.

“This is one of the many insidious ways power and privilege are wielded to perpetuate systems of oppression and marginalisation,” Senator Mehreen Faruqi said.

The Human Rights Law Centre argues that fast-tracking some of these applications meant they wouldn’t be fully considered.

The Sydney Catholic Archdiocese also hit out at the new laws. Julie Macken from the archdiocese’s Justice and Peace Office argued a significant number of people in indefinite immigration detention had their claims refused “through the broken and defective fast-track assessment process”.

Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power said that while the amended legislation wouldn’t apply to people found to be refugees, the concern stemmed from people who had strong claims but didn’t have a fair hearing or review.

Home Affairs Department secretary Stephanie Foster said the laws were drafted as quickly as possible to patch gaps in the immigration system,

Earlier, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles told parliament that people not co-operating was “undermining the integrity of our migration laws”, as he defended the legislation.

He said it was in line with Australia’s human rights obligations.


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