Dark day as bills threaten asylum seekers and Indigenous rights

28th Jun 2012

“Two bills concurrently being considered by the Australian Federal Parliament flag the urgent need for a Federal Human Rights Act to protect the rights of the marginalised and disadvantaged,” Australian Lawyers Alliance National President, Greg Barns, said today.

Mr Barns was discussing The Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill and the Stronger Futures Bill both of which are threatening the human rights of people in this country.

The offshore processing bill seeks to remove genuine asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat to Malaysia and Nauru for offshore processing, despite their right to be considered and processed in Australia.

And the Stronger Futures Bill, seeks to further disenfranchise Indigenous communities with a continuation of the Northern Territory Intervention under a different name, but with the same paternalistic approach to Indigenous disadvantage.

“The Australian Government conducted a consultation in 2011 to consider whether Australia, as the only remaining democratic country in the world without a federal document protecting human rights, should have one,” Mr Barns said.

“It was deemed as unnecessary at the time despite overwhelming support for such a document. But it is legislation, such as that currently before parliament on offshore processing and Indigenous Territorians’ rights, that shows just how imperative it is for Australia to introduce such a federally protective document.

"The Bill seeking offshore processing of asylum seekers threatens liberty, freedom from persecution and right to asylum in this country. The Stronger Futures legislation treats Northern Territory’s Indigenous people as second class citizens under the law with a different set of rules for punishment,” he said.

“If a Human Rights Act had been introduced in 2011, when it should have been, it would have provided crucial guidance for politicians considering the human rights and international implications of the legislation that is now before them. It would also have assisted the courts when making decisions in this area of law.

"There would be savings for the taxpayer, too, as ludicrous amounts of government money spent on ineffectual parliamentary committees, reports, policy advice and ineffective question time sessions would have been avoided. Rather, focus would now have been on developing effective policy on these areas.

"Australians are getting fed up with the endless pontificating of politicians and party opportunism in the face of tragedy and reactive responses to policy crises that lead to emergency discussions in the policy room – rather than rational, proactive and measured responses based on law,” Mr Barns said.

“Parliamentarians are not experts in areas that they are trying to legislate. It is pretty obvious from the debate that has been raging over the last couple of days, that a federal protective human rights instrument would have been an invaluable tool for wise decision making as part of this process.”

Tags: Human rights Asylum seekers and refugees Indigenous rights Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory