Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights calls on Immigration Minister to justify offshore processing

Following a request from the HRLC, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has called on the Immigration Minister to justify how offshore processing laws are compatible with Australia’s international human rights obligations. In a letter to the HRLC on 13 September 2012, the Joint Committee confirmed that it has written to the Immigration Minister asking that he “provide his assessment of the compatibility of the Act against Australia’s human rights obligations” and justify “any limitations on rights”.

The request came after the Government sought to circumvent its own human rights scrutiny process by refusing to provide a Statement of Compatibility for the offshore processing laws as required under the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act.

On 21 August 2012, the HRLC wrote to the Joint Committee calling for an inquiry into the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Act 2012. That Act, which provides for asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia to be taken to a third country for processing, raises serious issues as to Australia’s compliance with international human rights treaties. Despite this, the Act was not accompanied by a Statement of Compatibility under section 8 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act. Such a Statement is required to ensure that human rights are properly considered and safeguarded in the development of new laws.

“The offshore processing laws raise serious issues as to Australia’s compliance with fundamental human rights recognised and protected not only under the Refugee Convention, but also the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the HRLC.

The HRLC has called on the Minister to give a full justification as to how the serious limitations on human rights imposed by the laws are reasonable, necessary and proportionate. The HRLC also considers that, following the Minister’s response, the Joint Committee should conduct a full inquiry into the offshore processing laws.

“A Parliamentary Joint Committee inquiry could play a constructive role in identifying the human rights risks associated with offshore processing and help to ensure that such risks are monitored and mitigated,” said Mr Lynch. “It could also make recommendations as to the human rights safeguards and protections to be included in any amendments to the Act or further legislation designed to give effect to the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers.”

Mr Lynch also reiterated the HRLC’s view that “the Minister’s original failure to produce a Statement of Compatibility was based on an unduly narrow interpretation of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act and undermined the purpose of that Act to promote and protect human rights by ensuring that they are properly considered in the development and enactment of law.”

In addition to requesting an urgent parliamentary inquiry, the HRLC has also prepared a statement on offshore processing which has been tabled at the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, ensuring that the world’s eyes remain focused on Australia’s human rights record in this area.