Gillard to face opposition on offshore processing

World refugee day rally. Sydney, June 19. Photo: Peter Boyle

Australian Solicitor-General Stephen Gageler, who defended the government’s Malaysia solution in the High Court, confirmed the court’s decision “cast doubt” on all offshore processing, immigration minister Chris Bowen said on September 4.

Bowen and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s response has been to seek support for changing the Migration Act to circumvent the ruling.

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But refugee lawyer David Manne, who led the successful High Court challenge, and renowned human rights lawyer Julian Burnside have said any such attempt could be found unlawful by the courts.

“If there was a proposition to expel someone to another country, it would be business as usual,” Manne told the September 8 Australian.

“If we receive a distress call and that person wanted to challenge their expulsion and we thought there was a case in the court, we wouldn’t rule out a legal challenge.”

Burnside said the decision meant “we are bound — our protection obligations are defined by the obligations under the convention”.

He said amending the act would necessarily lead to the Australia withdrawing from the UN refugee convention.

The day after the decision Burnside told ABC radio’s The World Today: “I rather hoped that the Greens would not cooperate with the government in passing any legislation that might be necessary to try and legislate around [the High Court] decision.”

The Greens has also slammed government bureaucrats for advising Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott that onshore processing and resettlement “could lead to London-style riots”, the Australian said on September 9.

Brown said the officials should have been sacked for making such a naked appeal to racism and fear. Greens immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the advice was baseless.

“In June this year the department released a report it commissioned, to try debunking some myths, which showed the significant, positive contributions refugees have made to Australia,” she said on September 8. “It seems yesterday’s briefing ignores this report and its findings.”

Brown also criticised Gillard for moving further to the right on refugees than former Coalition PM John Howard.

He said on September 5: “I think it would be a real pity if the government used the High Court and the Solicitor-General as an excuse to cave in to the Coalition and to cave in to the right generally.”

He said the Greens had a Senate bill that would implement 30-day processing, rather than the average 218 days refugees now spend in detention, and repeal all offshore processing.