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Australia takes the low road on asylum seekers

  • 17 August 2012

Back from its winter recess, the Australian Parliament has now passed the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 which was first introduced to the Parliament in September last year as a response to the High Court's decision striking down the so-called Malaysia solution.

Ten months ago the stand-off between the Government and the Opposition over this bill related to the choice between Malaysia and Nauru as prospective offshore processing countries.

The Coalition wanted Parliament to insist that any country eligible for designation as an offshore processing country would be a signatory to the Refugees Convention. The Government wanted to retain the liberty of designating Malaysia immediately as an appropriate offshore processing country.

The Houston Expert Panel has provided the necessary political circuit breaker. The Coalition dropped its insistence that any potential offshore processing country be a signatory to the Convention. The Government dropped its insistence that Malaysia be pursued immediately as an appropriate offshore processing country.

The Government and Coalition remained in agreement that the Parliament should legislate to lock out the High Court from scrutinising the human rights protections offered in any offshore processing country. No major political party wants the High Court scrutinising future offshore processing arrangements in the same way that the High Court was able to strike down the Malaysia deal which the Coalition still describes as 'abominable'.

The panel was in agreement with the High Court that last year's Malaysia deal fell well short on human rights protection.

On Tuesday, Philip Ruddock, the chief architect of the Pacific Solution Mark I congratulated the panel for its competent outlining of the issues and options. He then put this challenge to Government:

What they are saying is that this Government's proposal is for mandatory detention in Nauru and Manus Island indefinitely until a place can be found after others in the queue have been accommodated. If this measure is going to work this government has to make it very, very clear that, for all of their statements that they would walk away from mandatory detention, they are now implementing indefinite mandatory detention offshore.

If people understand that, it may have the impact that the government seeks. But you cannot be unambiguous about the language you use. The