THE professional body representing Australian lawyers says recommendations by the expert panel on asylum seekers to the government have cleared the way for laws that could have unforeseen, negative consequences.
The Law Council of Australia expressed disappointment this week at several of the recommendations contained in the recent Expert Panel on Asylum Seeker’s report to the Government, particularly those allowing offshore processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Law Council of Australia president, Catherine Gale, said some recommendations reflect a punitive approach to asylum seeker policy, including possibly turning boats back in the future.
“For many years the Law Council has opposed offshore processing, mandatory detention and other policies aimed at punishing those seeking protection in Australia and the Law Council is disappointed the Expert Panel has made a number of recommendations to establish a system of offshore processing, initially in Nauru and PNG.
“These recommendations may result in asylum seekers spending considerable periods of time in other countries awaiting the outcome of their protection claims.
“Through these recommendations the Expert Panel has cleared the way for legislation to be enacted which could have unforeseen, negative consequences for the rights of asylum seekers,” Gale said.
Gale said the Law Council is pleased with recommendations relating to a significant increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake and enhancing protections for refugees around the region,
The Law Council said that despite being proposed as a short-term solution by the Expert Panel, there is a risk that the laws giving effect to these recommendations result in a new form of Pacific Solution.
The previous ‘Pacific Solution’ resulted in many individuals suffering harsh conditions and significant mental harm in offshore detention centres, while later being found to be genuine refugees.
“To mitigate against this outcome, the Law Council urges the Parliament to ensure that any legislative instruments authorising a location for offshore processing are subject to regular Parliamentary review,” Gale said.
“There is also a need to give legislative effect to the types of safeguards outlined in the Expert Panel report, such as the provision of assistance during the preparation of protection applications and the establishment of an appeal mechanism against negative decisions on such applications,” she said.
The Law Council argues that legal assistance should provided to asylum seekers at all stages of the application process, including merits and judicial review.
Gale said safeguards need to be included in the legislative and policy responses to protect the rights of vulnerable people seeking protection in Australia.
“Failure to include such safeguards will result in the serious erosion of legal rights and will result in a critical opportunity being missed to develop a sustainable regional response to this complex issue,” Gale said.