Nine days before the Senate changeover, the High Court ruled that immigration minister Scott Morrison’s cap on the number of protection visas he could grant was invalid.
In March, using his arbitrary ministerial powers, Morrison limited the maximum number of protection visas to be granted in the financial year to 2773 — the exact number already given. This was in response to Labor and the Greens uniting in the Senate to block the reintroduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs).
Morrison said the cap would remain in place unless the two parties reversed their opposition or until he could put TPVs to the vote again in the new Senate.
The High Court ruled on June 21 that Morrison did not have the power to withhold visas from those found to be refugees. Under present law, the minister has 90 days to issue a protection visa — which is still a permanent visa — to an individual found to be a genuine refugee.
Human rights lawyer David Manne brought the case to overturn Morrison’s law. He said he believed at least 1400 people had attained refugee status since the cap, but had consequently been unable to receive permanent residence.
Manne said the court ordering Morrison to reconsider the cases of those eligible for a visa would force the government to change its policy.
“The current laws do not permit the government to set a limit on the amount of protection visas to be granted each year," he told ABC online on June 21.
“The Government has been on a campaign to come up with devices to block people getting a permanent visa ... and those devices have been found to be unlawful.
“If they're found to be a refugee and have met other technical [and] public interest requirements ... they must be granted a protection visa and that entitles people to permanent residence.”
The government’s climate of uncertainty and fear is taking its toll on many asylum seekers in Australian care. Another Tamil man set himself alight in his Melbourne home on June 20, the third to do so this year and just days after the funeral of self-immolation victim Leo Seemanpillai.
The Tamil Refugee Council said the man had arrived in Australia two years ago and was on a bridging visa, which can be withdrawn at any time by the immigration department.
The council said he was being treated for minor burns to his legs.
Morrison said the man’s action would not alter his case because doing so could “encourage others to take similar action”.
But desperation levels continue to run high and similar incidents are bound to happen, as refugees are stuck in limbo fearing re-detention or forced repatriation.