Australia has at last caught up with its western counterparts by introducing into parliament complementary protections legislation to prevent the removal from Australia of those at risk of torture, inhumane treatment or death in their home countries.
The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, today introduced the Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011 which will assist those who are at risk, but are not classed as refugees under the Refugee Convention, to receive a protection visa in accordance with Australia's existing international obligations.
The issue of complementary protection or Australia's lack of it came to the fore last month when Australia entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Afghan Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the return of unsuccessful Afghan asylum seekers to Afghanistan.
"In Australia at the moment, the only basis on which you can be granted protection is as a refugee," Dr Jane McAdam, the director of the international refugee and migration law project at the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law, said at the time.
"What all other western countries have in place is a system of complementary protection which also assesses people's needs against a risk to life, a risk of torture, or a risk of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment if [asylum seekers] get sent back [to their country of origin].
"Throughout the European Union, which includes the UK, there is a provision to grant this form of complementary protection to people who face individual risk in a situation of generalised violence, internal or international armed conflict."
Bowen said the Bill would allow for claims which fell under Australia's non refoulement (non-return) obligations under international human rights treaties to be considered under the same visa process as claims raising obligations under the Refugee Convention.
"This is about helping vulnerable people - people at risk of the most serious forms of harm if returned to their home country," said Bowen in a statement released today.
"Our international treaty obligations mean we cannot and do not send these people home. But, under existing processes, they are only able to get a visa through the personal intervention of the minister."
Bowen admitted that this process is "extremely inefficient, time-consuming and stressful" because applicants must apply, be rejected, seek review, be rejected again, and then seek the personal and entirely discretionary intervention of the minister.
"While ministers have historically agreed to grant these visas, this is no way for the system to operate," he said.
Bowen said the Australian Government was committed to promoting efficient, transparent and accountable immigration decision making.
"Introducing this complementary protection legislation will allow for all claims by visa applicants to be considered in one efficient, transparent and reviewable process," he said.
"This will bring Australia into line with many like-minded countries, including New Zealand and European and North American countries, which have already incorporated complementary protection into their own processes."