Australia must get back to basics and begin processing asylum seekers onshore, according to a refugee law expert.
Dr Angus Francis, a refugee law expert with the Queensland University of Technology, told Lawyers Weekly that the High Court's decision in M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship & Anor, in which the Government's plans to export asylum seekers to Malaysia were found to be unlawful, makes it clear that Australia's international obligations must now be taken seriously.
"I would hope [the decision] makes it clear that our international obligations are the key consideration that has to be taken into account. They are not just another policy consideration," he said. "I know there are very important competing priorities - such as border security and saving lives at sea - but, at the end of the day, we do have international obligations and they will be taken to the High Court in the context of the Migration Act, and we have to abide by them."
Francis said the decision now means the Government will have to rethink offshore processing, but he added that this should not be a particularly difficult exercise.
"This does not require radical new thinking. What is needed is 'back to basics'," he said. "Forget offshore processing. Forget processing on Christmas Island. Assess onshore, on the mainland, according to fair and effective procedures that can determine who is a refugee and who is not."
This, said Francis, will ensure that Australia sets an example for others in the region.
"It is up to the policy makers now to take [the decision] on board and work towards solutions that accommodate those obligations, that they are workable and that address a regional solution," he said. "Australia has to be able to go to the region - to countries like Indonesia and Malaysia - and say; 'Look, we have in place a system for processing refugee claimants and this is something we'd like to export to the region'. Rather than exporting our refugees, let's export the model for processing them onshore and set an example."
Despite the landmark decision which has drawn harsh criticism from Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Francis is not convinced change will come.
"I hope that it will change things, but history would suggest that maybe not," he said. "Politicians have more short-term considerations in mind."