The Law Council of Australia has called for the federal government to work closely with the rest of the Asia-Pacific region in addressing the flow of asylum seekers, as the closure of the Manus Regional Processing nears.
The legal body has said with the closure of the centre imminent, it is calling on the Australian government to work with countries in the Asia-Pacific region to “establish a co-operative, transparent approach to address the flow of asylum seekers”.
To further highlight the need, the Law Council released its Regional Processing Policy report. In the report, it notes that while the High Court of Australia upholds the constitutional validity of the detention of asylum seekers on Nauru, it has not been asked to and does not consider whether the offshore detention regime is consistent with Australia’s international legal obligations.
LCA president Fiona McLeod SC explains Australia needs a stronger commitment toward a co-operative, regional approach that meets its international obligations.
“Australia can and should play a constructive role in creating a regional approach that removes any need for long-term detention, which we know has a catastrophic effect on the mental health and wellbeing of asylum seekers,” Ms McLeod says.
“Australia has the ability to create enormous positive change by working collaboratively with other countries as equal partners and encouraging them to work closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to develop a co-operative regional approach.
“A regional solution is practical and possible, but it requires comparatively advantaged nations, like Australia, to step up and take the initiative.”
Ms McLeod reinforces that “our goal must be to end long-term detention of those seeking asylum”.
“Under international law, there is a general principle that asylum seekers should not be detained outside of exceptional circumstances, and a presumption against detention,” she says.
“Any regional processing arrangement should align with the 1951 Refugee Convention in order to ensure transparency, consistency, and compliance with human rights obligations.”
The LCA’s call for transparency comes after Slater and Gordon has announced that a total of 1,644 detainees are now registered to participate in the class action settlement scheme.
“That figure represents 88 per cent of the current total of 1,871 group members (after accounting for recent applications by individuals to opt out of the proceeding, or be reinstated as a group member after previously opting out),” a statement from the firm notes.
“A small number of additional group members (fewer than 10) have sought to register after the 13 October 2017 deadline. Their status will be considered by the court at the next hearing on 3 November 2017.
“Slater and Gordon will also seek the court’s approval to begin distribution of payments at this hearing, as the settlement distribution scheme requires that a further order be made before payments can begin to be made.”
Commenting further on the significance, Slater and Gordon principal lawyer Andrew Baker says: “For a class action of this kind and size, this level of participation in a settlement is extremely high”.
“This occurred despite the remote location of the centre, substantial communication difficulties and the wide geographic distribution of group members around the world,” Mr Baker adds.
“Over the last few months, we have been working hard to facilitate the Manus settlement scheme and ensure that group members are supported by our distribution systems and processes, which have been honed in the course of many previous settlements over many years.
“Payments will be made as quickly and efficiently as possible after receiving court authorisation and at this stage, we believe we are on track to be able to have the overwhelming majority of the distribution process completed by the end of the year.
“That would make this one of the fastest and most effective ever class action settlement distributions for a case of this kind, as far as we are aware.”