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High Court not the answer to Nauru depravity

  • 04 February 2016

The moral depravity of Australian funded and orchestrated holding of asylum seekers, including children, on Nauru and Manus Island is to continue.

On Wednesday the High Court made clear that it is in no position to question the retrospective law passed by the Commonwealth Parliament on 30 June 2015 authorising the Australian Government to do whatever it takes to assist countries like Nauru with the detention of asylum seekers sent there by Australia as of 18 August 2012.

The court ruled by six to one that offshore detention and processing of asylum seekers was valid according to this law authorising the Australian government to enter into agreements with other governments and contracts with corporations to provide 'garrison and welfare services' in offshore regional processing centres such as Nauru and Manus Island.

The sole dissentient was the newest judge, Justice Gordon.

The case arose out of a claim by a Bangladeshi woman (categorised as an 'unauthorised maritime arrival' or 'UMA') who had been intercepted on 19 October 2013 on a boat headed for Australia seeking asylum. She was transferred to Christmas Island the next day. Three months later she was transferred to Nauru where she was held in detention at a refugee-processing centre for over six months.

Because of medical complications with her pregnancy which could not be treated adequately on Nauru, she was transferred temporarily back to Australia where she gave birth to her child on 16 December 2014. Not relishing the thought of taking her baby to the hellish conditions of Nauruan detention, she applied to the High Court questioning the legal validity of the offshore detention and processing regime.

The Commonwealth's lawyers obviously thought she had an arguable case. On 30 June 2015, the Commonwealth Parliament enacted the Migration Amendment (Regional Processing Arrangements) Act 2015 (Cth), which inserted s 198AHA into the Migration Act, with retrospective effect to 18 August 2012. This law authorised the government to take any action or 'make payments, or cause payments to be made, in relation to the arrangement or the regional processing functions' in other countries.

Presumably the Nauruan government lawyers and political advisers also thought there might be some problems. On 2 October 2015, just days before the High Court hearing, the Government of Nauru announced its intention 'to allow for freedom of movement of asylum seekers 24 hours per day, seven days per week' from 5 October 2015 and to introduce legislation to that effect at the