Opportunistic politicians trading in human misery for votes - ALA

3rd Sep 2012

“Professional people smugglers aren’t the only occupation trading in human misery in Australia – opportunistic politicians are capitalising on fear and ignorance with a quick easy vote-grab that harshly punishes some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” Australian Lawyers Alliance National President, Tony Kerin, said today.

Mr Kerin was commenting on the federal opposition’s announcement that if elected it would reintroduce five year mandatory sentences of asylum seeker crews just a few days after the government announced a reversal on a similar long-held policy.

“To legislate in human misery for cheap border protection votes is opportunist and fails to grapple with the complex issues of poverty, fishing, environmental pollution and the rights of asylum seekers,” Mr Kerin said.

“Judges have spoken out in anger about the way such laws remove judicial discretion and impose long sentences on people involved in varying degrees with alleged people smuggling activity. These judges have only just finished breathing a collective sigh of relief following a government announcement of an end to mandatory sentencing and now this from the opposition,” he said.

“To announce a plan to impose an extra two years on top of the three previously imposed will serve no other purpose than to rob two extra years of people’s lives.

"Disturbingly, an Australian Human Rights Commission report, the Age of Uncertainty, released this year, shows minors are also increasingly being swept up under such laws.

"We have also heard stories of people’s families dying while they are in prison, because such families cannot afford simple medical treatment for asthma for children while the main breadwinner is imprisoned in Australia.

"And children are being taken out of school because families can’t afford to keep them there.

"Starvation and hunger make desperate people do desperate things. Locking such people up unfairly for years only threatens life, destroys families and increases mental suffering for people who have so little,” Mr Kerin said.

Tags: Human rights Asylum seekers and refugees People smuggling mandatory sentencing