The Government's proposed migration legislation is a "spoilt brat" reaction which fails to show true leadership, according to the president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
Tasmanian barrister and ALA president Greg Barns said that Prime Minter Julia Gillard's reaction to the High Court decision and subsequent attempts to amend the Migration Act show dictatorial contempt for the courts and that she is pandering to minority public opinion.
"The legislation is an undermining of the rule of law and the right of the High Court," Barns told Lawyers Weekly. It's a spoilt brat reaction; a reaction that says 'we want to be able to lock the courts out, we don't want lawyers and judges protecting the rights of the individual against an overbearing executive, we want complete control of migration policy in relation to asylum seekers'," added Barns, who said Gillard's accusation of inconsistency in Chief Justice French's rulings was unprecedented and appalling.
Last night (19 September) Gillard presented the Tony Abbott led opposition with proposed amendments to the Migration Act in attempt to overturn the High Court ruling.
Her proposed legislation amended the public interest test to a broader ''national interest'' test in a bid to save the Malaysia plan, empower the government to return unaccompanied minors, and include some human rights guarantees which were not legally binding.
"This is a really good example of our so called leaders pandering to a bunch of marginal seats in Australia where they think it's popular to play god with the lives of refugees and asylum seekers," said Barns.
The latest Herald/Nielsen poll of 1400 people taken last week revealed that more than half the population (54 per cent) wants refugees arriving by boat to have their asylum claims processed onshore.
Barns paid the price for speaking out on asylum seekers in 2002 when he was disendorsed by the Liberal Party for criticising Howard's asylum seeker policy.
"I paid the price but I don't think I'd do it differently again. I think that real leadership in a way means that you will pay a price," he said.
"Today, we see political leadership so driven by short term polling and by the media. I think it's fundamentally important that we remember that leaders are elected to lead...and take public opinion with them rather than pandering to it."
Abbott last night declared the Coalition would only support changes that allowed asylum seekers to be sent to countries that had signed the United Nations Convention on Refugees - this ruled out Malaysia but kept in play the Coalition's Pacific solution policy of Nauru.
Gillard said this morning that she would not accept Abbott's amendments and that she would present to Parliament her proposed amendments instead.
Stephen Keim SC, President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR), called for that course of action to be abandoned.
"These proposed amendments put Australia on an unprecedented collision course with its Convention obligations," he said. "They represent the first time Australia has been explicit in seeking to flout its obligations to protect refugees through the passing of new legislation."
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