Asylum seeker policies announced yesterday (6 July) by the federal government and opposition do not provide access to justice or fair process for asylum seekers, the Law Council of Australia has said.
Law Council president Glenn Ferguson said Australia is obliged to treat people fairly and to be a part of the global response to refugees, and that both policies fall short in this regard.
Ferguson did, however, welcome the government's decision to recommence the processing of Sri Lankan asylum seeker claims and its promise to review the suspension of Afghan claims.
"Treating people fairly means considering the situation of each person on a case-by-case basis, and the lifting of the suspension is a step in the right direction," Ferguson said.
The Law Council has previously raised concerns about offshore claims processing and will be seeking further details regarding the offshore processing initiative, tagged the Timor Solution, announced by Julia Gillard.
"Playing our part in the international refugee response requires the government to be fair and reasonable in its approach to asylum seekers - offshore processing leaves vulnerable people with no guarantees that their basic legal rights will be protected," Ferguson said.
The Law Council also has concerns about the opposition's plans - including turning boats away if circumstances permit, and considerably increasing ministerial discretion - which the Law Council believes would raise significant issues about the fair treatment of asylum seekers.
"The Law Council considers that processing of claims should be conducted under the principles in the Migration Act, with only a limited role for ministerial discretion," Ferguson said.
Ferguson added that the opposition's suggestion that asylum seekers who have "deliberately" discarded their identity documentation will automatically not qualify for processing fails to assess people's individual circumstances.
Further, Ferguson said the Law Council is particularly troubled by the opposition's plans to abolish free legal advice to those asylum seekers wishing to initiate a review of an unfavourable decision.
"Vulnerable people should have access to the advice they need to understand our legal processes," said Ferguson.
"Access to justice is denied if this does not occur."
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