Republished from the Age
Sarah Whyte November 02, 2014
Proposed Abbott government changes to the Migration Act are incompatible with Australia’s human rights obligations, says a parliamentary committee on human rights chaired by a Liberal senator.
The report, delivered by the Parliamentary Committee into Human Rights, is scathing of nearly all of the government’s proposed changes to the act, saying they would put Australia at odds with international human rights law.
It is particularly critical of a proposal to cut the time in which asylum seekers’ refugee claims would be assessed, warning it could lead to genuine refugees being sent home to face persecution or torture.
Chaired by Senator Dean Smith, the committee comprises five Coalition, four Labor and one Greens members. Their report is used to advise senators how they make their decision on the proposed bill.
The changes proposed by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would re-introduce temporary protection visas to be applied to about 30,000 asylum seekers still living in Australia.
It would mean asylum seekers found to be refugees would get a three-year visa allowing them to work, but they would ultimately have to return to their country of origin.
The changes would also expand maritime powers covering people detained at sea, and allow Australian law to significantly limit the country’s responsibilities under international human rights laws.
The committee criticised the plan to expand powers to detain people at sea, saying it would have prevented the recent High Court case on behalf of 157 asylum seekers who were held on the high seas on the Australian customs ship the Ocean Protector for a month earlier this year. The asylum seekers were subsequently moved into detention on Nauru. The High Court is still considering the case.
According to the committee, the proposed amendments would “further constrain the already limited ability of the courts to evaluate Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers”.
On refugee assessments that needed to be “fast-tracked”, the report says: “The committee considers that the proposed fast-track arrangement appears to be primarily directed to ensuring the assessment and review processes are as brief as possible.”
Dean Smith, a West Australian Liberal Senator, said Australia’s sovereignty should not exempt it from the international human rights obligations it has made.
“The committee requires the government to demonstrate it is alert to and respects the obligations it’s made in international treaties,” he said.
“As a scrutiny committee, the committee acts to provide a technical and bipartisan review of legislation.”
Professor Jane McAdam, from the University of NSW’s Kaldor Centre, who will address the report at the centre’s annual conference on international refugee law on Monday, said the findings from the bipartisan committee were telling.
“It’s very clear that they think many aspects of this current bill breach international law,” Professor McAdam said.
“Essentially we are being asked to just trust the minister, where we know his main objective is deterrence. This is [based on] the assumption that any person who arrives by boat will not ever receive permanent protection.”
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the bill was in clear contravention of Australia’s human rights responsibilities.
“This bill will see refugees returned to danger, the breaking of international law and people being subjected to extended and damaging arbitrary detention. That can’t be allowed to happen,” she said.
The damning report comes as Australia continues to lobby for a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee to be voted on in 2017. Last month, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Fairfax Media that Australia’s bid is “consistent with our nation’s history of promoting and protecting human rights.
“Our strong and principled stand on numerous human rights issues in our role as a temporary member of the Security Council will form part of our campaign,” she said.