A prominent human rights lawyer has shone the spotlight on Australia's refugee laws in the wake of new people smuggling laws in Indonesia.
The president of the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR), Stephen Keim SC, spoke to Lawyers Weekly in the wake of the Indonesian authorities passing legislation last week which cracks down on people smugglers. Convicted people smugglers in Indonesia will now face a minimum of five years gaol and a maximum sentence of 15 years behind bars.
Keim said that while Australian politicians have congratulated Indonesian authorities on their tougher laws, they should look at the fairness of current Australian anti-people smuggling legislation passed in May last year. Keim said this legislation takes away the requirement to prove people smugglers are seeking to make a profit.
"The classic examples of the humanitarian people smugglers, such as the captain of the Tampa (Arne Rinnen) or Oskar Schindler would be guilty of people smuggling under the Australian legislation," he said. "It is a little bit unfashionable to demonise asylum seekers now, so you look for somebody else ... with the demons out there now called people smugglers."
The Federal Government was quick to praise the Indonesian Government for its new laws. Yesterday (11 April), Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Bowen said: "Indonesia's ongoing efforts are a critical part of what is now a concerted regional push to break the people smugglers' business model. Australia looks forward to continued cooperation with our near neighbour."
While criticising the Federal Government over its stance on people smugglers, Keim was heartened by the recent introduction into Parliament of the Migration Act Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011. He said that while the ALHR supports the proposed laws, which provide a complementary visa scheme whereby individuals who might not qualify as a refugee could be allowed to stay in Australia if there is a risk of inhumane treatment or death in their home country, it would like to see further amendments.
"The proposed legislation needs to be changed so that it does not impose a series of very technical findings on the part of those officials who are assessing the matter, but they look at the real danger to the person proposed to be returned," Keim said.
In particular, the ALHR would like the requirement in the proposed legislation that officials need to assess the real risk of individuals being subject to significant harm as a necessary and foreseeable consequence of being returned to their homeland removed from the proposed legislation.
"That just seems to be saying the same things multiple times and making it more difficult," he said.
Keim said that such amendments would bring Australia closer into line with other countries and meet its obligations under international law.