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Entrenching the Regional Processing Regime

Last week, Associate Professor Alexander Reilly gave evidence at a hearing of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on the latest amendments to the Migration Act. In this blog, he explains his impression of the Committee’s focus and concerns based on that hearing.

Last year, Gabrielle Appleby and Matthew Stubbs and I wrote a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in relation to the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012. (An earlier blog explaining our submission with a link can be accessed here).

The Bill prevents persons arriving by boat without a visa from applying for asylum on the Australian mainland and facilitates the removal of asylum seekers to other countries for processing of their refugee claims.

The Committee invited the Adelaide team to give evidence to the Committee in Canberra, and I made the trip on Thursday 31 January. I was fortunate to give evidence in the same session as two of the leading Refugee scholars in the country, Professors Jane McAdam and Penelope Mathew.

There was a clear sense of de ja vu in the session. Both Jane and Penelope had made submissions on an almost identical Howard government Bill in 2006. That Bill was eventually withdrawn when it became clear that it would be defeated in the Senate.

Ironically, the current Chair of the Committee, Senator Trish Crossin, wrote a very strong dissenting report highly critical of the 2006 Bill. It seemed unlikely that the Senator need to be reminded of the human rights concerns surrounding the latest approach to excluding asylum seekers arriving by boat from making a claim for protection on the Australian mainland.  

The tenor of discussion at the Committee hearing gave me the impression that the Bill was simply an additional part of the architecture to support off-shore processing in Nauru and Manus Island, and would pass regardless of its breach of Australia’s international human rights obligations, regardless of what evidence was put to the Committee and, indeed, regardless of what recommendations the Committee might make in relation to the Bill. Just how committed the government is to off-shore processing is evident from a report in the Weekend Australian on February 2-3, 2013, ‘Asylum solution built to last’ which details the construction on Nauru of a permanent detention facility with concrete foundations for a cost of more than $70 million. Construction is well underway.

The Committee will report on 25 February 2013.

Alexander Reilly is an Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide Law School.

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