Labor, coalition close offshore detention loophole

The Australian Greens and human rights lawyers claim the government rushed the bill to try to circumvent a future decision of the High Court regarding a challenge over the spending of taxpayers’ money on the Nauru detention centre.


The bill, which took just over an hour to be introduced and pass the lower house, authorises Commonwealth actions and spending on regional processing dating back to August 18, 2012.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told parliament the bill doesn’t change or expand regional processing, but merely gives “clear express statutory authority” for the government to provide assistance to other countries.

“Regional processing helps combat people smuggling,” Mr Dutton said.

“It is an important solution for maintaining Australia’s strong border protection policies.”

Shameful move by Abbott & Labor to smash through new Bill today to circumvent high court over illegal funding for the Nauru detention centre

— Sarah Hanson-Young (@sarahinthesen8) June 24, 2015

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told parliament Labor objected to having so little time for caucus to consider the bill.

But it supported the laws because regional processing was Labor policy.

“We come to this decision … guided by our compassion,” Mr Shorten said.

“Our compassion demands we prevent drowning at sea, just as our compassion demands the humane treatment of all those in our care.”

Mr Shorten said Labor did not believe the government was running offshore detention in a way the Australian public wanted it to.

“They (detainees) are not illegals and fleeing persecution is never a crime,” Mr Shorten said.

“There is no place for violent, inhumane or degrading treatment.” 

The Human Rights Law Centre, which is bringing the High Court action, said the laws contradicted the government’s claim that its actions running and funding offshore detention centres are legal.

“A government confident its actions are lawful doesn’t suddenly change the law when its actions are challenged in court,” said HRLC director of legal advocacy, Daniel Webb.

The case began on May 14 on behalf of a group of asylum seekers and their families, but a hearing date has not been set.

Mr Webb said newborn babies, people with serious medical issues and women who have reported being sexually assaulted on Nauru deserved to have the lawfulness of their treatment considered by the courts.

While Mr Dutton did not mention the High Court case in his speech, Liberal backbencher Andrew Laming told parliament the bill would “close a loophole opened up by the High Court”.

Outspoken Labor MP Melissa Parke, while acknowledging her party’s role in re-establishing offshore processing, said she was uncomfortable with the bill.

She criticised the “awful, ugly, illegal” treatment of asylum seekers under the Abbott government.

“This is a matter of national shame for which one day there will be a reckoning.”