Changes to Refugee Law in Australia:
What it means for asylum seekers and refugees
How the laws came about
While in Opposition, the now Abbott Government committed to restoring Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) in order to ‘clear the backlog’ of 30,000 asylum seekers living in the community or in detention, waiting for their refugee claims to be assessed.
In its first year in power, the Government tried and failed twice to push TPVs through the Senate.
During this time, many of the asylum seekers living in the community had their bridging visas lapse, with the Government failing to renew them. This meant they lost work rights and access to Medicare, resulting in many people losing their jobs and means of financial independence.
The Immigration Minister also didn’t process many refugee applications, because he was not prepared to offer any of the 30,000 people permanent protection, which was their legal right at the time. A small number of people were approved as refugees during this period, but were given a rarely used form of temporary visa, again because the Minister was not prepared to offer permanent protection.
Thousands of people were left in limbo – some going on 2 years – as the Minister waited for a third opportunity to introduce TPVs.
That opportunity presented itself on 1 July 2014, when the composition of the Senate changed and the balance of power passed from the Greens to a number of independent and minor party Senators.
The Government then introduced its new Bill, which included TPVs along with many other draconian, never before seen measures aimed at punishing and deterring asylum seekers and refugees.
More than 5000 individuals and organisations expressed their opposition, sending submissions to the Senate Committee charged with scrutinising the Bill, while tens of thousands of other Australians voiced their grave concerns directly to Senators.
The Bill was passed on December 5, 2014, after a lengthy and impassioned debate in the Senate, with 34 Senators eventually voting in favour of the Bill, with 32 against.
What’s so wrong with the new laws?
There are two key areas of concern:
1. Abuse of Power – The Immigration Minister now has an unprecedented level of power to make life or death decisions about individual asylum seeker cases, without court oversight.
2. Harm to People – The legislation re-introduces temporary protection visas which have been proven to cause significant mental suffering and deny people the permanent protection they deserve. The new ‘fast-track’ refugee determination process will see people returned to danger, persecution, torture and death in their home countries.