Australia’s current asylum seekers policies and practices are a gross breach of human rights and decency. CCL gives very high priority to helping bring about fundamental reform to these policies. Current priorities are advocacy for an end to indefinite detention of refugees resulting from ASIO adverse security assessments, clear policy separation of ‘border security’ and ‘national security’ and an update of CCL policy in response to the latest Australian Government policies and practices
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is gravely concerned that doctors, teachers and social workers employed in Australia’s immigration detention network could face jail for speaking out about their experiences.
With the Border Force Act 2015 coming into effect, employees working in various capacities face a two year sentence for recording or disclosing “protected information” they come into contact with as a result of their work.
As the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have noted, this restriction on free speech will prevent doctors from following their professional and ethical obligations to advocate on behalf of their patients.
“This legislation is particularly troubling given the history of poor care in immigration detention,” says NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks.
“It is telling that doctors who have worked in these centres at the highest level have previously decided to go public with their concerns. Systemic failures have led to gross human rights violations.
“These public disclosures have put pressure on governments to improve conditions in the centres.”
A steady flow of leaks to the media about sexual assaults in the Nauru detention centre eventually forced the Department of Immigration to order an independent review in October 2014. It found credible evidence of sexual assaults, which the government has now been forced to acknowledge and act upon.
“While forcing government action is one important outcome of such disclosures, it must also be remembered that the public has a right to know what is done in their name,” says Blanks.
Detention centres have always been places lacking in public scrutiny where civil liberties are overlooked. Successive governments have made sure to keep the people detained out of public view, hiding the trauma and lasting damage indefinite detention inflicts.
While the CCL notes the assurances that the new Border Force Act will not cancel out existing safeguards in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, we are unconvinced this legislation is sufficient. It sets too high a bar for whistleblowers, and circumscribes too tightly the situations in which they may share information with the public.
Furthermore, the existence of this legislation is a danger even before any doctor, teacher, or humanitarian worker is dragged before a court. Its mere existence is a threat to would-be whistleblowers, an attempt to intimidate Australian workers who see something wrong into staying quiet about it.
We know that this government has a particularly ugly tendency to target those who try to bring abuses in detention centres to the public’s attention, as seen by the unrelenting attacks on Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs.
“Australia’s immigration detention network has been made a dark place,” says Stephen Blanks.
“With this new act, the government is trying to blot out the small rays of sunlight still getting in.”
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has joined with the Refugee Council of Australia and over 100 Australian organisations and community groups in urging the Australian Government for an immediate moratorium on offshore transfers to Nauru and Manus Island until all recommendations of the Moss Review and Cornall Report have been fully implemented, and the centres comply with minimum international standards.
The call follows the appalling case of a five year old girl who attempted suicide after prolonged detention on Nauru.
Conditions are similarly poor on Manus Island, where a majority of asylum seekers have still not had their applications processed after two years, and as on Nauru, limited health care is available.
Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council said: “No child should be sent there and certainly not sent to a situation while the environment remains so dangerous… [W]e call upon the Australian Government to immediately cease the transfer of vulnerable asylum seekers until all the recommendations of the Moss Review and the Cornall report are implemented.”
These reports highlighted sexual abuse, violence and the systematic failure to provide safety and security to detainees, particularly women and children. The Australian Government, by accepting all the recommendations of the Moss Review, has acknowledged that considerable changes are needed, yet continues to send asylum seekers into a fearful environment where their safety and security cannot be guaranteed.
NSWCCL recently made a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015. The submission condemns the Bill in its current form since the collection and retention of biometric data poses an unnecessary and disproportionate threat to the privacy of all non-citizens and Australian citizens.
While understanding the justification for the collection and use of biometric data, NSWCCL is concerned that the Bill does not contain essential safeguards to limit the collection and retention of additional biometric data such as fingerprints, handprints, measurement of height and weight, an audio or video recording and an iris scan.
Furthermore NSWCCL is concerned that the Bill in its current form may disproportionately affect minors, incapable persons and asylum seekers because it removes the requirement for consent and presence of a parent, guardian or independent person for and during the collection of such biometric data.
Thus, NSWCCL urges Parliament to conduct a privacy impact assessment and relevant safeguards be implemented to ensure that the amendment does not allow for the mass collection and retention of biometric data.
Asylum seekers are subjected to mandatory detention in a number of countries. A notable example is Australia. Asylum seekers who arrive (or who are intercepted while attempting to arrive) in Australia by boat are held in detention centres in Australian territory and in other countries under arrangements made and funded by Australia. These days, most such arrivals are detained in Nauru and in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Such detention occurs automatically, and normally lasts for the entire period in which an asylum claim is being determined, which can be a very long time. Both adults and children are detained.
There's more resources on their website.
NSWCCL has endorsed the Law Council of Australia’s Asylum Seeker Policy released in November 2014. The Law Council highlights the importance of respecting international human rights principles in the development and implementation of asylum seeker policy in Australia.
The Law Council calls on the Australian government to treat asylum seekers in a dignified and humane manner. The Council stresses the fact that all asylum seekers (regardless of mode of arrival) have a legal right to seek asylum from persecution according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Furthermore, the Council emphasizes the importance of adherence to the principle of non-refoulement. Non-refoulement prohibits States who are signatory to the Refugee Convention from expelling or returning refugees to States where their life or freedom would be threatened. Accordingly, Australia must respect the internationally recognised right to asylum by enacting legal safeguards to protect refugees from refoulement.
The Law Council advocates for the clear legal processes for determining whether an asylum seeker invokes Australia's protection obligations. The Policy also calls for publicly funded legal and migration advice for asylum seekers.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the Attorney-General’s announcement tonight, on International Human Rights Day, that all children in immigration detention, including those held on Christmas Island, will be released into the community within the next 2 or 3 months.
This announcement shows the government is listening to the Australian community. The community rejects punitive treatment of asylum seeker children.
The number of children in immigration detention should be zero.
The 2014 winner of the Human Rights Medal, Dorothy Hoddinott AO, shows what can be achieved when we treat children with dignity.
Let’s hope that there will be more positive announcements from the government in relation to asylum seekers that shows that Australia is truly are a country of compassion, fairness and human rights.
Update: Sadly it has become clear that the Attorney-General was referring to the release of ONLY the children on Christmas Island. All others will remain in detention. Also doubts have also been raised as to whether the Christmas Island children will be released into the community when they arrive in Australia. The Attorney should clarify this immediately. Seems we still have a way to go before the number of children in immigration detention is zero.
NSWCCL's submission into the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, condemns the proposed amendments to the Legislation, as it is clear the changes intend to punish those who seek asylum from persecution, and who arrive in Australia by boat. In doing so, this Bill perpetuates the myth that asylum seekers who arrive by boat are ‘illegal’ and have no legal right to seek asylum.
Moreover the CCL condemns the amendments which suspend the rules of natural justice as they apply in the Maritime Powers Act. Such suspension removes the possibility of oversight by the judiciary, limiting the challenges to keep the actions of government in check, particularly with respect to the implementation of punitive policies on asylum seekers and refugees.
Submission to the Senate inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Character and Visa Cancellation) Bill 2014
NSWCCL has made a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Australian Senate concerning the Migration Amendment (Character and Visa Cancellation) Bill 2014. The main points of the submission are that:
- The procedure for applying the character test should be taken out of the hands of the minster and his or her delegates and given instead to a new, genuinely independent body. There should be an appeal on the merits on leave to the Federal Magistrate’s Court.
- The various proposals to allow the minister to override the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) should be rejected.
- The proposals to prevent an appeal to the AAT and other tribunals concerning decisions of the minister should be rejected, and replaced by entitlements to appeal.
- Where convictions by foreign courts bear on the character test, provisions should ensure that only convictions for actions that would be criminal and subject to similar penalties in Australia may count. Furthermore, only convictions where the court procedures and standards of proof adopted are up to Australian standards should be accepted.
- The whole bill is so full of faults and poor proposals it should be rejected.
Amnesty invited a panel of experts to the Wesley Theatre on 7 May 14 to address two important questions:
What is the impact of Australia’s current approach on asylum seekers? and
What are the legal implications on an international scale? And what could we be doing instead?
Jo Murphy from the NSWCCL addressed the effect of the punitive government policies on the rights and lives of the 40,000 odd asylum seekers currently living in the Australian community.Read more
The NSWCCL firmly opposes the Labor government’s PNG regional re-settlement agreement.Read more