Serious offenders face return to detention in laws push

Dominic Giannini, Andrew Brown and Kat Wong |

Immigration detainees will soon be subject to similar detention regimes as high-risk terror offenders.

The federal government will introduce amendments this week to laws brought in to deal with the fallout from a High Court decision that ruled indefinite detention was illegal, resulting in the release of more than 140 detainees.

This comes after the Australian Border Force confirmed two immigrants from that cohort had reoffended in NSW and SA.

One of them remains in custody after committing a serious sexual assault, opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan said as he called for Immigration Minister Andrew Giles and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil to resign.

“The government was asleep at the wheel when the High Court handed down its decision that resulted in the release of criminals from immigration detention,” he said in a statement on Monday night. 

“(Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s) government has failed to keep the Australian people safe – now he must not fail to hold the ministers responsible to account.”

Under the government’s amendments, preventative detention orders would apply to those released, which include murderers and sex offenders, and are based on similar measures for high-risk terror offenders, Ms O’Neil said.

High Court of Australia
The High Court ruled indefinite detention was illegal, meaning more than 140 detainees were freed. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

For preventative detention to take effect, the immigration minister would need to apply to a court to have the person re-detained.

Ms O’Neil said the detainee would have had to be charged for a crime that came with at least a seven-year sentence.

The court would need to be convinced the person posed an unacceptable risk to the community and other visa conditions would not be adequate.

Should the court impose a preventative detention order, it would apply for three years but would need to be reviewed annually.

The exact number of released detainees the preventative detention orders would apply to is not known.

Breaching an order would carry a mandatory minimum sentence of one year behind bars and a maximum of five.

A supervision order could also be imposed on detainees if higher thresholds are not able to be reached in court for a detention order.

Asked by shadow attorney-general Michaelia Cash why the government had released the high-risk detainees, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said it was imperative to work within the court’s decision.

Shadow Minister for Immigration Dan Tehan.
Opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan says the coalition will help get the laws right. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

“A shadow attorney-general should understand that a government under the Westminster system does not act like an autocratic dictatorship and actually does what the court says,” Senator Wong told parliament on Monday.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the coalition would likely back the laws.

“If the government has adequate measures to keep Australians safe, then we will support those measures and we’ll see what they have to say,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“If we see a bad bill, we’re not going to support it. 

“If there are amendments that we can make to try and improve the piece of legislation, then we’ll do that constructively as well.”

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie said the laws needed to be passed as soon as possible.

“If that means that Labor has to go a little bit more hardcore on this thing, go do it,” she told Sky News.

Greens Senator Nick McKim
The proposed laws create two different classes of people, Greens senator Nick McKim says. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

But a former national security watchdog has branded the measure a disgrace.

Former Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Grant Donaldson had previously called for an end to preventative detention orders. 

He doubts the laws will make the community safer. 

Greens senator Nick McKim called the laws a “race to the bottom” on refugee policy.

“It creates two different classes of people in this country under the law, depending on whether you are the holder of a particular class of visa or not,” he told reporters.

“You will find yourself at least potentially imprisoned just because of something that you might do in the future.”