Retrospective Deterring People Smuggling Bill violates human rights and the rule of law

The HRLC has made a Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee regarding the Deterring People Smuggling Bill 2011. The Deterring People Smuggling Bill 2011 was introduced into Parliament on 1 November 2011. On 3 November 2011 the Senate referred the Bill for inquiry and report.

The Bill amends the people smuggling offences in the Migration Act 1958.

Existing sections 233A and 233C of the Migration Act establish a primary people smuggling offence and an aggravated people smuggling offence. Both of these offences are established inter alia where another person organises or facilitates the bringing or coming to Australia, or the entry or proposed entry to Australia, of another person that is a non-citizen, and that non-citizen had, or has, no lawful right to come to Australia.

The Bill retrospectively defines “no lawful right to come to Australia” contained in the people smuggling offences to mean no lawful right under domestic law to come to Australia. This is notwistanding that a person may have a clear and lawful right under international law to come to Australia.

The HRLC Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee focuses on the human rights implications of the Bill.

In particular, the HRLC has identified the following concerns:

  • the Bill contravenes the prohibition on retrospective criminal laws contained in article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political and Political Rights, Australian common law and Government guidelines;
  • the mandatory sentence of 5 years with a 3 year non-parole period that flows from the offence of aggravated people smuggling contravenes the prohibition on arbitrary detention (article 9 of the ICCPR) and the right to a fair trial (article 14 of the ICCPR); and
  • the Bill violates Australia’s obligation to act in “good faith” by seeking to indirectly avoid its obligations under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

In essence and effect, the Bill toughens an already draconian regime which threatens to see hundreds of impoverished Indonesian fishermen and boys jailed for a minimum of 3 years. This regime violates human rights, threatens the rule of law, costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and detention costs and is likely to have no impact on people smuggling. The HRLC recommends that the Committee call for the Bill to be rejected.