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Lawyers the last line of defence for dumped refugees

  • 31 August 2017


Immigration Minister Peter Dutton last week announced that a group of somewhere between 100 to 400 refugees, currently living in Australia, would be cut off from government support.

Members of the group had come to Australia from Manus Island or Nauru for medical treatment or other emergency situations, and more than 50 of the group are children who have been born in Australia. The Minister claims that these people no longer have any cause to be in Australia, and has changed their visa status to a 'final departure bridging e-visa'.

The effect of the pronouncement is that these people will have no weekly payments, and will lose their accommodation. While children under 18 will still be able to attend school, those over 18 will not. As these people have so far been forbidden to work in Australia, they cannot rely on jobs to support themselves. They literally have no option but to rely on charity.

Dutton alleges that these refugees have been 'scamming' the taxpayer, 'taking us for a ride', and implies that they are living lives of luxury. He has alleged that the asylum seekers are getting 'a better deal than pensioners' and constitute a significant economic burden on Australia.

In fact, the cost of supporting these people in the Australian community is significantly less than the $5 billion cost of housing asylum seekers offshore since 2012. According to government reports, it costs $40,000 per year to support an asylum seeker in the community, but over $500,000 per year to incarcerate them on Manus Island or Nauru.

Further, demonstrating an astonishing lack of understanding of our legal system, the Minister has called lawyers who act for asylum seekers 'un-Australian'. His charge is that lawyers have been using 'tricky tactics' to keep asylum seekers in Australia. He claims that in doing so, lawyers have led these people astray, causing them to have hope that they might remain here. In fact, says Dutton, these people have never been entitled to stay in Australia.

Dutton has indicated that there are constitutional limitations to removing the refugees through legislation and that consequently, the government has had to fight these matters through the courts. He finds it 'incredibly frustrating' that law firms are prosecuting their 'social justice pro bono agenda' — as though there is something wrong with the notion of fighting for justice for the vulnerable.

Dutton's comments have been condemned by lawyers' organisations, who point out that it is