New offshore processing law flagrantly violates human rights

The Human Rights Law Centre deplores the passage of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. The Bill, which was passed by the Senate on 16 August 2012 with both Government and Opposition support, enshrines extensive and alarming violations of human rights in Australian law. The law authorises the transfer of asylum seekers who arrive by boat to offshore locations where they will remain indefinitely, even if they are assessed to be genuine refugees. This violates Australia's obligations under the Refugee Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The law also strips away special protections for children in violation of our obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Parliament rejected proposed amendments to the Bill which would have limited offshore detention to one year and protected children's rights.

"This law entrenches the ‘deterrent’ strategies contained in the Expert Panel Report, while failing to enshrine any of the human rights protections recommended by the Panel. As a result, asylum seekers may be exposed to arbitrary detention, physical and mental health risks and the prospect of return to the dangerous territories from which they fled, all in violation of Australia’s international human rights obligations," said Rachel Ball of the Human Rights Law Centre.

The Government has also failed to enshrine their commitment to any of the ‘incentives’ to regular migration recommended by the Panel.

“The Gillard Government is setting up a regime which does not offer the safeguards or investment in regional options for regular migration that were essential to the Expert Panel’s Report," said Ms Ball. “It’s a regime designed to punish a desperate and vulnerable population and does nothing to respond to the crisis that causes people to get on boats in the first place.”

The HRLC has written to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights calling for an urgent inquiry into the Bill. According to Ms Ball, "Even though the Bill has now passed, such an inquiry could play a constructive role in identifying human rights risks associated with the Act, and contribute to ensuring that such risks are monitored and mitigated."

The HRLC has also joined with other leading refugee and human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, in an open letter to the Prime Minister condeming the Bill.