Damaged human rights record will plunge further

22nd Jan 2014

The Australian Lawyers Alliance said today that Human Rights Watch’s assessment of Australian asylum seeker policy as ‘draconian’ will plunge further in coming months if legislation currently on the table passes in the Parliament of Australia.

‘In 12 months, the outlook could be even worse,’ said Geraldine Collins, National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

‘With the unlawful turn back of boats, Australia’s navy vessels straying into Indonesian waters, the barring of judiciary in Nauru, offshore detention of children, separation of women from their newly born children and a continual bureaucratic axe hacking at any rights left under Australian law, one must ask: when will the line be drawn?’

In its ‘World Report 2014’ (PDF), Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned Australia as having ‘damaged its record and its potential to be a regional human rights leader by persistently undercutting refugee protections’.

HRW in particular condemned Australia’s ‘scare mongering politics’; unwillingness to publicly raise human rights abuses with trade partners and indefinite detention of asylum seekers following ASIO assessments.

‘New legislation on the Parliament table now, plans to scrap the rights of persons who have been assessed by ASIO as a risk from being able to seek appeal, or to apply for an alternative protection visa once knocked back,’ said Ms Collins.

‘‘Significant harm’ as a grounds for protection in Australia may also be scrapped entirely.’
‘It is clear that is a strong disregard by the Australian government towards the importance of appeals, the rule of law, and Australia’s obligations under international law. This is a position that has attracted significant international recognition.’

‘Human Rights Watch’s report presents an opportunity to the Australian government to say ‘we were wrong’.’

‘Failure to do so means that the race to the bottom will continue until a significant event causes this race to stop. There has been enough tragedy. It is time for new policy.’

A number of inquiries are currently assessing aspects of the issue. The Immigration Department is currently conducting an inquiry into Australia’s Humanitarian Programme: the consultation period is incredibly brief: a few days. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is also currently inquiring into proposed laws regarding significant harm and ASIO.

‘The outcomes of these inquiries remain yet to be seen, but the very brief time periods provided for consultation appear to indicate the goodwill for such recommendations to be implemented. It would appear thus that the Australian government is not willing to listen to its citizens. HRW’s report also highlights Australia’s unwillingness to listen to the UN Human Rights Committee,’ said Ms Collins.

‘It’s a descent into nothingness.’

‘In 12 months, Human Rights Watch’s report of Australia could be even more scathing if there is not a true reversal in current asylum policy, which is indeed ‘draconian’,’ said ALA National President, Geraldine Collins.

See the ALA's submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on the Migration Amendment Bill 2013 [Provisions] (Cth) here.

Tags: Human rights Migration law Asylum seekers and refugees