Minister seeks to evade the law by criticising refugee advocates

30th Aug 2017

By criticising lawyers seeking to assist refugees and asylum seekers, Minister Dutton is seeking to evade the government’s responsibilities, undermining accountability and the rule of law, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

On Monday, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection described lawyers defending asylum seekers as “un-Australian”. Laura Neil, barrister and National President of the ALA, said such statements are simply bullying by a government that appears to want to act free from the legal constraints that the rest of us are bound by. 

“What the Minister does not appear to want to accept is that lawyers who are defending their clients’ rights are actually trying to enforce the law, while this government tries to break it,” said Mrs Neil. “Every time Ministers attack lawyers who are defending vulnerable clients, with cries of ‘lawfare’ and the like, people need to understand that their government is in fact seeking to ensure that it can break the law with impunity. Rather than criticising lawyers, the government should just ensure that it acts legally in the first place.”

Mrs Neil noted that the Minister is using some of the most vulnerable people in Australia as political pawns.

“The people the Minister is targeting have lived through traumatic experiences, first in their home countries, and more recently on Nauru or Manus Island. Many have suffered horrific treatment in offshore detention, including sexual and other violence as a part of Australian government policy. Of course lawyers are going to use the law to try to protect them. When he loses in the courts, however, the Minister just resorts to guerrilla tactics to try to force these people to leave,” said Mrs Neil.

Mrs Neil noted there was no reason to force asylum seekers and refugees to return to offshore detention countries, where the cost to the Australian taxpayer is higher than it is if they stay in community detention in Australia.

“If Australia is unwilling to offer ongoing protection, there is no reason why these people should not stay in Australia while safe third countries are found for them. Australians are humane people. Why would we send people back to places where they have suffered violence and cruelty, at a greater financial cost? It is this government’s policy that is costing the Australian taxpayer, not lawyers seeking to ensure the government acts lawfully,” said Mrs Neil.


Tags: Human rights Migration law Asylum seekers and refugees Access to justice