Deportation bill held up as major High Court case looms

Farid Farid |

New deportation laws are linked to a High Court case dealing with the release of detainees.
New deportation laws are linked to a High Court case dealing with the release of detainees.

A controversial proposal to throw non-citizens in prison if they refuse to leave the country appears doomed as a crucial High Court case looms.

A parliamentary committee chaired by Labor’s Nita Green recommended passing the deportation laws but the coalition, Greens and crossbench members were not on board.

The laws would allow the government to ban people from nations whose governments refuse to accept the return of deported citizens.

Foreigners who refused to comply with their removal from Australia would face a minimum 12-month jail term.

High Court
The controversial laws are linked to a crucial High Court case brought by an Iranian man. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

The opposition offered “policy intent” support to Labor’s proposal, pending a slew of recommendations in the 128-page report.

It was vehemently blocked with the Greens, who said the bill should be rejected in full, while independent senator David Pocock also opposed the legislation.

The coalition put forward 17 recommendations to ensure there were additional safeguards, including reviewing declared countries of concern after three years.

Coalition senators James Paterson and Paul Scarr criticised the Albanese government’s “chaotic and disingenuous” inquiry into the bill.

Greens senator David Shoebridge noted the committee’s report demonstrates just how isolated Labor is in this attack on Australia’s diaspora communities.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge
Greens Senator David Shoebridge says the bill should be rejected in full. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Diaspora communities and refugee advocates criticised the legislation, with an inquiry told people could be rounded up and removed.

But that did not dissuade the Labor-majority committee from recommending it to be passed.

“It is incumbent upon the government to ensure that the migration framework is strong and robust,” they said.

“The bill seeks to achieve this objective and in the committee’s view should be supported.

“The committee suggests that the minister should be mindful of the impacts that the bill could have on communities.”

The laws are linked to a crucial High Court case brought by an Iranian man with a judgement set for Friday. 

The case hinges on whether the government must release detainees who don’t co-operate with deportation. 

The legal challenge could result in more than 170 people being released from detention.

The full bench of the High Court of Australia
The High Court case will decide if detainees who don’t co-operate with deportation must be released. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

During public hearings into the bill, the committee was told Labor’s bill breached long-held human rights norms.

Australia is a signatory to various international human rights treaties, which include a principle of not sending refugees back to countries where they face persecution.

Iranian refugee and lawyer Betia Shakiba, who gave evidence to the inquiry, said it was disheartening the committee had not listened.

“It is incredibly frustrating to contemplate that this bill, if passed, could potentially result in the incarceration or forced removal of refugees to countries where they face serious harm,” she said.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre principal solicitor Hannah Dickinson warned the bill criminalised refugees, separated families, and introduced “alarming” powers for the minister to ban entire nationalities from travel to Australia. 

“It will cause intolerable and unjustified harm to individuals and communities,” she said.

About 5000 people in various visa classes would be affected by the legislation, home affairs officials told the inquiry.

The Albanese government has faced months of intense scrutiny over the release of immigration detainees.

In November, the High Court ruled immigration detention unlawful where it was impossible to deport non-citizens, a decision that triggered 151 releases.

The decision ignited a political firestorm over the government’s management of the decision.