Election winner must have heart when dealing with asylum seekers - ALA

3rd Sep 2013

The Australian Lawyers Alliance is calling on the winner of this weekend’s federal election to adopt compassionate asylum seeker policies and in doing so both improve access to justice for some of the world’s most vulnerable and give Australia’s international reputation a boost at the same time.

“Of particular concern to the ALA is the Coalition’s policy to remove legal funding for advice and undertaking reviews of adverse decisions,” Australia Lawyers Alliance National President, Geraldine Collins, said.

“Any democratic society must have a process where people, who feel they have been denied justice, have a right to have their cases reviewed regardless of their ability to pay for such justice,” Ms Collins said.

“Genuine asylum seekers arrive on our shores having fled persecution with little more than the shirt on their backs. How are they going to access the finances to have their cases reviewed when they have no access to funds or any family support in Australia?” she said.

Ms Collins said without such rights, Australia may be complicit in the possible deaths of many who are returned to their countries of origin having fled persecution.

The Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme was established for this very purpose, but the Coalition’s policy is to prevent access to the service by the people for whom it was implemented to assist.

Concurrently, Australia would continue to erode its international reputation and further entrench a perception that it is a heartless nation still nursing a hangover from White Australia Policy days.

“The fact that the policy is to be retrospective, applying to those who are already in Australia and seeking access to legal services, is reprehensible and contrary to the ethical principle that law changes should never be applied retrospectively,” Ms Collins said.

She said another concerning aspect of the Coalition’s policy towards asylum seekers was a plan to increase state-based police powers and the presence of such officers in federal detention centres.

“It must be remembered that most of these people have escaped authoritarian regimes and such muscle-flexing may only fuel conflict rather than reduce it,” Ms Collins said.

“The last thing anyone wants to see is an escalation of violence, which is more likely to occur when traumatised people are placed in confrontational situations rather than having their issues dealt with by advocates, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists who are better equipped to assist in trauma recovery and depression associated with indeterminate incarceration,” she said.

Ms Collins said it was time Australia looked at prevention and humanitarian measures to help solve this global crisis.

“It is disappointing that the Coalition, which looks set for victory on September 7, has just announced it will renege on a promise to visit Indonesia a week after taking power to better examine issues affecting asylum seekers.

"Australia must throw away band-aid solutions and work towards an integrated regional response by first visiting and gathering evidence, utilising expert advice and then reacting humanely and thoughtfully to this world-wide issue,” she said.

Tags: Asylum seekers and refugees Access to justice