Myths are being peddled by A-G Philip Ruddock, Hon Peter Costello, intended to influence Mr Malcolm Turnbull and others in the Liberal-National Coalition, in what we see as an attempt to discredit the Petro Georgiou Bills. Here are the facts that debunk those myths.
The truth is, that Vanstone, Costello, Ruddock and Malcolm Turnbull have desperately peddled their lines since Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan came out with the Bills - there's a bloodless fight raging within the Howard government: today the Minister for Immigration turns the first sod for yet another "style of detention", while arrangements suddenly can be found to lock up Australia's longest immigration prisoner Peter Qasim in a psychiatric hospital.
The responses to the new myths need to reach all MP's in the Federal government. Please write to all MP's, starting with Hon Jackie Kelly, Member for Lindsay; Mr Phil Baressi, Member for Deakin; Mr John Forrest, Member for Mallee; Mr Patrick Secker, Member for Barker; Mrs Kay Hull, Member for Riverina; and Mr Greg Hunt, Member for Flinders. The full list of MP's and where they stand on the Georgiou/Moylan initiative is on Margo Kingston's Webdiary at Here we stand - your MPs on the Petro Plan.
14 June 2005: Countering the Kooyong breakout: Howard supporters and their anti-Georgiou camp strategies - Since the February speech in Parliament by Petro Georgiou, several front-benchers in the Howard government have been beavering away in an effort to control the damage.
12 June 2005: A summary of the Georgiou Bills - This is a copy of communication sent by Petro Georgiou MP to all MP's in the Coalition government on 24 May this year. The communication summarises the two Bills tabled in the Coalition party room that same date.
18 February 2005: The Kooyong Break-out: abandoned backbenchers and 'small-l liberals' revolt - how Petro Georgiou, federal member for Kooyong, leads the quiet pack on a new trail of independence. "One Coalition senator crossing the floor after July 1 will be enough to defeat a Government measure opposed by Labor. Added pressures will come from a large back bench and the frustrated ambitions of those denied promotion."
Fact: These Bills will not end mandatory detention. Asylum seekers who arrive without a visa will be detained for 90 days pending health and identification checks. If the Federal Court decides that there is a risk of absconding, or any security issues, then the court can determine longer periods of detention. Mandatory detention would remain for people who have overstayed their visas and are not asylum seekers. The Bills would end the system of providing only three year temporary protection visas (TPV's) to people who have been found to be refugees.
Fact: National and international research shows the levels of absconding to be very low. Melbourne's Hotham Mission worked with more than 200 asylum seekers in the community during 2001-2003 (31% of which had been released from detention). No asylum seeker absconded. Studies in the UK and USA have shown similar results. For more information on this research go to www.hothammission.org.au.
Fact: Asylum seekers have never flooded Australia. In 2001 Australia received 6,341 asylum seekers by boat. This is the highest number that has ever arrived in one year, and about half of Australia's annual quota for humanitarian and refugee visas. Because of Australia's geographic isolation and strict visa controls, it is highly unlikely that we will ever see large numbers of asylum seekers. Mandatory detention hasn't been a significant deterrent to asylum seekers. It was introduced in 1992; and after that time, due to international conflict the number of unauthorised arrivals rose steadily until 2001. The flow of asylum seekers abated due to changed conflict conditions in the region of origin, increased surveillance and boat interception, and collaboration with the Indonesian Government.
Fact: In 1997, one Federal Court judge found that a decision by the Refugee Review Tribunal "totally lacks logic, the Tribunal's decision as reached was so unreasonable that no reasonable Tribunal could reach it. But sadly, that is not a ground of review." Subsequently in 2001, legislation was enacted to further restrict grounds for court appeals. Under the 2001 amendments, asylum seekers could only appeal on a limited number of errors of law, not on the substance of their asylum claim. Asylum seekers will be in increased danger of being deported to persecution if access to court appeals is restricted any further. The real solution is to fix the problems in initial refugee assessment process.
Fact: Over the last two years, over 100 long-term failed asylum seekers were re-assessed and found to be genuine refugees after all. Some had spent 4 or 5 years in detention. Problems with Australia's refugee assessment process include: lack of country information, inadequate training of decision makers and lack of power given to the courts to remedy wrong decisions. These problems can lead to genuine refugee claims being overlooked. In addition, Australia has no system to consider the legitimate protection needs of people who fall outside the narrow definition of a refugee. Included in this group are stateless people, and those who are from countries gripped by civil war. Detention centers are and psychologically damaging places to live. The fact that asylum seekers stay there is indicative of their strongly held belief that they'd be in danger if deported to their home country. The Edmund Rice Centre has researched what happens to failed asylum seekers deported from Australia. Their report found that 35 of 40 deported asylum seekers interviewed were living in dangerous circumstances immediately on arrival. Like the long-term detainees in detention, all had tried to convince Australian authorities that they would not be safe if deported.
Fact: Those who arrive by plane on a valid visa, and then claim asylum, are rarely detained. These asylum seekers are given a bridging visa and allowed to live in the community while their refugee claim is determined. There are currently around 8000 asylum seekers like this living in the Australian community. Only asylum seekers without valid passports and/or visas are detained. Most of these people are boat arrivals, but some come by plane.
Fact: Recent research suggests that it is the detention centre environment itself that causes or exacerbates mental illness. Researchers from the NSW University School of Psychiatry studied a group of Iraqi refugees and calculated that mandatory detention, followed by temporary protection, was twice as destructive to the refugee's mental health as the persecution they suffered in their homeland. Speaking to the ABC, psychiatrist Jon Jureidini said, "I think the detention environment drives people mad and you know we've got fairly substantial evidence of that now...I think we could move the whole college of psychiatrists into Baxter detention centre and people would not recover."
8 June 2005
Emma Corcoran & Jenny Bourne
2nd Floor, Wesley Centre, 93 William Street
Perth Western Australia
Postal Address: GPO Box M952 Perth WA 6843
Telephone: (08) 9486 1577 Fax: (08) 9486 1599
Rosemary Hudson Miller
"Senior members of the Howard government have recently made allegations that long-term detainees prolonged their own incarceration by endless appeals. This is not accurate. We have research demonstrating actual examples of some of the many cases in which it was the Minister for Immigration and or the Department that caused much of the delay.
Some of these cases are listed below - - -
(a) Asylum seeker arrived XXXXXX 2001. His application for protection was rejected by DIMIA and then the RRT. He appealed to the Federal Court. The Federal Court overturned the decision of the RRT. In other words, the Court found that the RRT had wrongly applied the law. Instead of allowing the RRT to hear the asylum claim again, the Minister appealed to the Full Federal Court. The Full Federal Court rejected the Minister's appeal. The asylum seeker's case was sent back to the RRT in XXXXXX 2003. The RRT found that the asylum seeker was in fact a refugee and he was released in XXXXXX 2004.
(b) Asylum seeker arrived XXXXXX 2000; His application was refused XXXXXX 2000; Refused by RRT in XXXXXX 2001; RRT decision overturned by Federal Court October 2001; The Minister successfully appealed to the Full Federal Court on XXXXXX 2002; the asylum seeker then appealed to the High Court on XXXXXX 2004 who overturned the Full Federal court decision. The asylum seeker was then sent back to the RRT who found that he actually was a refugee after all on XXXXXX 2005.
(c) Asylum seeker arrived 2000. He was kept in isolation for nine months before being allowed to lodge an application for protection. His application was rejected by DIMIA and, in 2001, by the RRT. He represented himself at the Federal Court and received a negative decision in 2002. With the help of a pro bono barrister the Federal Court's decision was overturned in 2003.
The Minister appealed the decision in the High Court. The High Court by unanimous decision upheld the decision of the Full Federal Court in 2004. The asylum seeker's case went back to the RRT. The RRT decided that he was a refugee and he was released from Detention in 2005.
There are many other reasons why people are incarcerated for long periods:
(a) Asylum seeker arrived in September, 1998 and made an application for protection which was rejected in 1999. In August, 2003 he wrote to the minister asking to be returned to his country of origin. That country won't accept him. He has not been returned and remains in detention.
(b) A group of stateless asylum seekers applied for protection in 1999. On advice from the authorities in the country where they used to live, the Department did not believe they were from this country and rejected their applications. Most of the detainees gave up and were deported to a third country where they were accepted as refugees by UNHCR and re-settled in other countries (mainly U.S. and Canada). One remained. He did not appeal to the Federal court. In 2003 when the Minister realised that he couldn't be deported, he was allowed to make a new application. This time, with help from the UNHCR he was able to show that he really was from the claimed country and that the authorities had lied. He was eventually found to be a refugee in late 2004.
(a) One man was kept in isolation and not allowed to apply for protection for 13 months. Because the man had blond hair and blue eyes DIMIA did not believe that he was from the country he claimed to be from. When he was eventually allowed to make an application his claim was successful and he was accepted as a refugee.
(b) In 2001 a boatload of Sri Lankans landed on the Cocos Islands. They were left on the island for 12 months before being brought to the mainland and allowed to make a protection visa application.
(a) DIMIA case-officer refused to believe one applicant was from Afghanistan because he couldn't find the man's village on Encarta, a computer map program.
(b) DIMIA case-officer refused to believe that one illiterate teenage applicant from a small African village was from his claimed country because he didn't know the name of the main national newspapers.
The Federal court can only overturn the Tribunal's decision if the member has made a specific type of error in applying the law. It cannot consider the merits of the asylum case. As illustrated by this quotation from a Federal Court decision, it is in fact very difficult to succeed in the Federal Court:
"The Tribunal's conclusion totally lacks logic. The Tribunal's decision as reached was so unreasonable that no reasonable Tribunal could reach it. But sadly, that is not a ground of review."
Moges Eshetu v Minister for Immigration & Ethnic Affairs  19 FCA (31January 1997)
It is significant that since this decision was made the grounds for appeal to the Federal Court have been tightened even further.
Nevertheless there are a number of asylum seekers whose RRT decisions were overturned by the Federal Court 2, 3 or in one instance 4 times. This means that the RRT made a legally incorrect decision about their cases each time. It also means that the asylum seeker has had to tell his/her story to a decision maker sometimes five or six times, over a period of four or five years.
The Uniting Church calls for accurate representation of the circumstances surrounding long term detainees and then a compassionate response to people who have been detained for these inordinate amounts of time"
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
67 Jeffcott Street
West Melbourne, Victoria 3003
Phone (03) 9326 6066 | Fax (03) 9326 5199
FRIDAY 10 JUNE 2005
The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC) urges all Liberal Party MPs to support the Mandatory Detention and Act of Compassion private members Bills proposed by Petrou Georgiou (MP-Lib).
The Bills strike a reasonable balance between Australia's right to protect its borders and the need to ensure that no person is kept unnecessarily or unreasonably in immigration detention.
Whilst we are mindful of the support of many in the Australian community for Australia's policy of mandatory detention of 'unauthorised' asylum seekers, the Bills introduce a number of safeguards to ensure that concerns regarding health, security and the risk of detainees absconding are addressed whilst individual circumstances are dealt with on a case by case basis.
The benefits of the proposed amendments are that:
Had these changes been in place earlier, Cornelia Rau would arguably not have been detained for 8 months, Peter Qasim would not continue to be detained after 6 years at great cost to the Australian community and many thousands of asylum seekers who have now received Temporary or Permanent Protection Visas would have been released into the community in a timely and humane manner and at minimal risk of undermining the integrity of Australia's immigration determination process.
The ASRC urges all members of the Federal Liberal Party to recognise the damage caused by prolonged long term detention and the impact of detention on children by supporting this significant improvement to Australia's system of immigration detention.
Should you require any further information please contact Martin Clutterbuck, ASRC Legal Casework Coordinator on 0409 025 799.
Legal Casework Coordinator
Asylum Seekers Resource Centre
PRESS RELEASE - FRIDAY 10 JUNE 2005
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
67 Jeffcott Street
West Melbourne, Victoria 3003
Phone (03) 9326 6066 | Fax (03) 9326 5199
The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC) urges Parliamentarians of all sides of politics to support the Mandatory Detention and Act of Compassion private members Bills proposed by Liberal MP Petrou Georgiou.
"The introduction of a mechanism to independently review the detention of persons who have arrived in Australia without prior authorisation provides a critical safeguard on the government's unfettered power to detain", said ASRC Legal Casework Coordinator, Martin Clutterbuck. "Not only is the current system inconsistent with Australia's international obligations and UNHCR guidelines on the detention of asylum seekers but it is harsh, costly and unnecessary."
The Bills propose a 3 monthly review of the detention of asylum seekers in detention, release of detainees unless justified on security grounds, detention of children only as a matter of last resort and release of long-term detainees.
The benefits of the proposed amendments are that they:
For further legal comment, please contact Martin Clutterbuck, Legal Casework Coordinator, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre on 0409 025 799.