Australia refugee law ruled as unfair

Posted by admin on Nov 11th, 2010

By ROB TAYLOR, Reuters, November 11, 2010 4:01am

CANBERRA – Australia’s minority government suffered a setback in its promise to strengthen border security when the country’s highest court ruled on Thursday that tough laws meant to deter asylum seekers were unfair. The unanimous ruling by the High Court of Australia’s seven judges will force the Labor government to reshape its policy of detaining asylum seekers on offshore islands and blocking their access to appeal courts when refugee claims are rejected.

That could undermine Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s election promise to choke off an influx of seaborne asylum seekers, and reopen a divisive debate about asylum seekers that could eventually hurt her government’s popularity.

Border security is historically a volatile issue in Australia, with voters fractured over asylum seeker treatment.

The judges said two Sri Lankan Tamil men who arrived last October were denied “procedural fairness””after unsuccessfully seeking a review by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, who said their cases did not qualify under current laws.

“Because these inquiries prolonged the detention of the plaintiffs, there was a direct impact on the rights and interests of the plaintiffs to freedom from detention at the behest of the (minister),” the High Court ruled.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the judgement would now have to be carefully examined to see if current laws and regulations needed to be changed.

Gillard’s government will be wary of upsetting the Green MPs which it relies on to stay in power. Greens have in the past been strongly critical of the asylum laws.


The court ruling bans the different treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by boat from those arriving by plane. Boat arrivals have since 2001 been denied legal challenges after offshore parts of Australia were excised from immigration laws.

The conservative opposition has promised to bring back stronger border laws dumped by Labor in 2007, including the detention and processing of asylum seekers in tiny Pacific island countries.

Gillard has tried to assuage voter anger by negotiating with East Timor to set up a regional immigration detention centre processing asylum seekers there under international law, and funded by Australia.

The two Sri Lankans at the centre of the court’s decision were detained on Australia’s Christmas Island, between Australia and Indonesia, last October and lodged asylum claims, arguing they would be persecuted if sent home.

“This failed regime … was never about what was right under domestic or international law. It was always about putting people out of legal sight, and taking away their ability to access protection as refugees,” said upper house Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

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