Scott Morrison’s bill ‘tantamount to piracy’

The immigration minister is proposing to give himself 'unbridled authoritarian power' over the lives of refugees. Photo: Peter B

A Senate committee recommended on November 24 that immigration minister Scott Morrison’s sweeping migration amendments be passed by parliament.

The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 would give Morrison unprecedented powers without the scrutiny of either parliament or the courts.

The Senate committee received more than 5700 submissions from individuals, academics, lawyers, human rights workers and refugee groups. Most were highly critical of the bill.

The Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) said if the bill was passed into law, it would “entrench the secrecy that surrounds Morrison and the immigration department”. It would give “Morrison unbridled authoritarian power over the lives of people who need, and have a right to protection”.

But Morrison says the passing of the bill is the “only” way to “resolve the asylum legacy caseload” — the “legacy” being Labor’s doing, obviously. Morrison is now holding to ransom the outcomes of the more than 30,000 refugees in Australia so he can hold inscrutable power over all asylum seekers.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre debunked this disingenuous angle: “Scott Morrison is sounding increasingly desperate and petulant in his attempts to push through his cruel migration bill.”

But, “In the past year, he could have finalised a significant number of the 30,000 people’s refugee claims, rather than wasting his efforts trying to prevent them settling in the community.

“He claims that denying them permanent protection [via reinstating temporary protection visas] will act as a deterrent to other asylum seekers. This is completely disingenuous. Anyone arriving by boat after July 19, 2013 won’t be settled in Australia — yet the 30,000 people affected by this Bill arrived before this date. Denying them permanent protection is not about deterrence — it’s about punishment and political expedience.”

For those concerned with transparency and accountability of Australia’s actions, the bill is also a concern.

Boats could be stopped at sea, their passengers detained and taken anywhere — even if this would amount to returning them to the country they had fled — in complete secrecy. The High Court would not be able to rule on the legality of the policy.

RAC said this was “tantamount to piracy and a version of people trafficking”.

The “fast-track” and “screening out” processes will also be enshrined in law, tactics already used by the immigration department, which experts suspect has led to unlawful deportations of asylum seekers.

As for babies born on Australian soil to asylum seeker parents, the bill would render them stateless and subject to deportation along with their parents. The Senate committee said on this that the immigration department “ensures that the birth registration process is completed before any child born in Australia is removed to a regional processing country”.

Refugee advocacy groups were appealing to Australians to lobby independent and Palmer United Party (PUP) Senators to vote against the bill. The government needs four additional votes to pass the bill in the Senate.

PUP leader Clive Palmer had already promised his three Senators would give conditional support to the bill, but since Jaqui Lambie has become an independent, the government will have to negotiate with the Senate cross-bench for two more votes.

Labor and the Greens tabled dissenting reports on the bill, but only the Greens have pledged to vote against the bill if it is put to parliament.

Labor’s report said it was concerned about “elements” of the bill, including the secrecy and attempts to circumvent the judicial system. TPVs, so-called Safe Haven Enterprise Visas and a protection visa cap were also aspects Labor would seek to amend.

The Greens, on the other hand, said they “agree with the majority of submitters that this bill is a radical deviation from Australia’s long-standing commitment to international human rights law. If passed, this bill will seriously endanger the lives of thousands of asylum seekers.”

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