Despite it being 10 years today (26 August) since the Australian Government refused to allow the Tampaand its asylum seekers to land in Australia, there has been little progress in terms of achieving access to justice for asylum seekers.
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tampa at last night's annual Law and Social Change Dialogue, hosted by the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) in Victoria, the manager of the Victorian Bar Pro Bono Scheme, Melanie Dye, noted the lack of change that has occurred since the Tampa incident in 2001.
"Quite unfortunately, we seem to be in a very similar situation that we were in 10 years ago," Dye told Lawyers Weekly. "We're continuing to focus on the actual asylum seekers rather than the actual policies and also our international obligations under various conventions and protocols."
PILCH has this week called upon the Government to ensure asylum seekers are able to assert their legal right to protection.
Specifically, PILCH has called for the allocation of funding to legal aid commissions for direct legal services to enable offshore asylum seekers to effectively exercise their judicial review right.
"When the High Court ruled last year that offshore asylum seekers have the right to exercise judicial review, it provided hope for many people in remote immigration detention centres across the country. However, as the months have rolled on, it has become clear that this hope was misguided," said Dye.
"[With] such a substantive decision such as M61, around that time or prior to that time, there was no engagement with the Government about what this actually means for people. If you open up this avenue for people, yet you don't address the barriers that are in place, then having that right, in a way, is somewhat lessened."
In its submission to the Immigration Detention Network Inquiry, PILCH recently sought to have the 35-day period, in which judicial review applications can be lodged following notice that an application was unsuccessful, doubled to 70 days.
"[70 days] will enable people more time to be able to get the merits assessment of their matter, rather than actually putting in unmeritorious applications just to get over the 35-day filing rule," said Dye.
At last night's Dialogue, which featured the Honourable Justice Chris Maxwell as well as human rights lawyers Julian Burnside AO QC and Debbie Mortimer SC, attendees debated refugee and asylum seeker issues from the past and present and whether change is possible.
"Is change possible? How can we actually move on from this and what can we actually do as a collective of passionate advocates in making that change and being effective in that change," said Dye.
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