Would Peter Dutton pass his own citizenship test?

This article was originally published on Right Now.

According to the Immigration Department’s “Australian values statement” proposed for new citizens, “respect for the rule of law” is a fundamental Australian value. But such respect is missing from our Minister for Immigration’s latest political volley.

Peter Dutton already holds god-like status in the pantheon of Australia’s political class. Not content with blanketing Australia’s offshore gulags in secrecy, threatening two years jail should a worker in these human warehouses report the sexual abuse of a child, or playing gatekeeper on the lives of those who come to Australia seeking safety, Dutton is now seeking further draconian powers.

Dutton is seeking a broad set of discretionary powers that would give him the ability to decide whether someone is eligible to become a member of the Australian citizenry. The latest Bill introduced into Parliament would give the Minister draconian powers to refuse someone’s application for citizenship or cancel a person’s citizenship, if he determines it is in the “public interest”. The Minister has the discretion to decide what is in the “public interest” and even the Administrative Appeals Tribunal could not overturn his decision.

The Bill also provides Dutton with sole powers to decide whether a person has “displayed behaviour consistent with Australian values”, even when they don’t have a criminal conviction. Dutton will have the power to determine which permanent visa holders are eligible to appeal to the Tribunal, and which aren’t.

The question the Australian community must ask itself is whether we feel confident in Dutton playing judge, jury and executioner on such matters. Such decisions could literally mean life or death for a person sent back to harm.

It is a fundamental principle of the rule of law that government powers are held in check by an independent body of review. Our only safeguard against authoritative rule is independent oversight of government decisions. Each person must have the right of an appeal and a fair process to challenge decisions made over their lives. Such safeguards also ensure that mistakes are not made – mistakes that have happened all too often in the past.

The question the Australian community must ask itself is whether we feel confident in Dutton playing judge, jury and executioner on such matters.

These new powers are accompanied by sweeping changes to the Australian citizenship test. One such change – requiring new citizens to have a university level of English – will have a significant impact on vulnerable migrants, especially those from refugee backgrounds.

For refugee and humanitarian entrants, Australian citizenship has a special significance. Gaining citizenship marks both their integration into their new country and the end of their displacement. For many, it will mark the first time they have experienced the protection of a State. Australian Citizenship provides eligible people with the safety they need to settle and to heal, and gives them the security to build their new lives. For this reason, most refugees and humanitarian entrants are eager to apply for citizenship as soon as they can, and prize it highly.

As the 2008 Government review of Citizenship found, gaining “citizenship should be an enabling, positive and welcoming process for applicants and one which is seen to contribute to building a cohesive and dynamic nation.” Yet the proposed changes will make it much harder for refugees to become citizens, thereby excluding the people who value Australian citizenship the most.

Refugee communities are concerned the proposed English language test sets a bar that is too high – a university equivalent level of “competent” English. This could mean people who have never had the opportunity to study, due to war and displacement, will never become an Australian citizen. This proposal will impact women the most, many of whom have been denied education by authoritative regimes such as the Taliban.

A further principle of the rule of law is a transparent and open law making process. While the Department called for submissions on its proposed changes to citizenship, it refuses to make the submissions public. This is yet another example of the Department refusing to release vital information about its controversial policies. Unless submissions are stated as confidential, they should be made public to allow the Australian community to judge for itself the harms that these proposed changes will cause. The Refugee Council has responded by creating an online portal for people to provide their submissions, increasing transparency and accountability. Likewise, Freedom of Information requests for the submissions have already been filled.

The proposed changes are also set to be retrospective, applying from the moment the announcement was made, rather than when the law is (if ever) passed. Retrospective laws again breach the principle of the rule of law.

Combined, these proposals show a troubling view of the rule of law. Judging by the current proposals, the Minister would not meet his own Australian values test.

To stop boat deaths, abolish carrier sanctions and let asylum seekers travel by plane

Originally published on Right Now.

On a recent episode of Q&A, Professor Jane McAdam argued for the abolishment of “carrier sanctions”. Unfortunately, the director of the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International and Refugee Law at the University of NSW didn’t get time to elaborate. So what are carrier sanctions, and how to do they stop asylum seekers coming by air?

Professor McAdam advocated reframing the discussion around refugees away from security and detention, and in favour of facilitating “safe, lawful pathways for people … who are desperately in need of assistance.”

Carrier sanctions are financial penalties imposed upon airlines and ships that transport passengers who do not have a visa to enter. Australia is the only country in the world to impose a universal visa requirement on non-citizens. This means that all people who wish to enter Australia must obtain a visa prior to entering.

Continue reading “To stop boat deaths, abolish carrier sanctions and let asylum seekers travel by plane”

Private resettlement models offer a way for Australia to lift its refugee intake

Susan Kneebone, University of Melbourne; Asher Hirsch, Monash University, and Audrey Macklin, University of Toronto

No-one disputes the urgent need for co-operative solutions to the global crisis of displaced people, estimated at 65 million people. But the chances of co-operation in the resettlement of recognised refugees seem slim.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that more than 1.1 million people are in need of resettlement. But offers from countries for resettlement have reached only 111,000 people. That leaves 1 million in limbo.

This week’s UN summits on migrants and refugees offer an opportunity to think creatively about solutions to the resettlement shortfall.

Australia prides itself on its participation in the UNHCR’s Resettlement Program, which is administered through Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Our resettlement quota under that program stands at 13,750 places annually, with 11,000 of those reserved for people applying from outside Australia.

But can and should Australia be doing more to resettle refugees? Australian has resettled only one-sixth of its promised one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees. So do we need to stick with our current model of state-controlled resettlement schemes? Or are there other models we can learn from?

What is Australia doing?

Refugees comprise just 7% of Australia’s annual migration intake. By contrast, they made up 48% in the years following the second world war.

Since July 2013, Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection has been trialling an alternative model of resettlement, the Community Proposal Pilot.

Under this pilot, community organisations are able to sponsor potential applicants. The pilot is capped at 500 visa places within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

The department has appointed five organisations to work with families and supporting community groups to facilitate this resettlement pathway. The response to the pilot has exceeded available places and initial assessments of the program are enthusiastic.

However, the pilot is not without flaws. In particular, the available places are not additional to but are included within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program quota.

The initial evidence shows there is a higher and faster visa grant rate under the pilot than for other resettlement applications. This means certain “private” individuals and organisations can pay for priority “public” service.

Under this model, the families and community organisations bear not only the substantial costs of the visa applications (more than A$30,000 plus additional costs for family members), but also provide practical resettlement assistance to new arrivals. The resettled arrivals have immediate access to the public purse through Centrelink. The pilot model is thus very much nested in the public domain.

Should we follow Canada’s lead?

Canada does a similar scheme differently. There, private sponsorship is additional to and supplements the public resettlement program – that is, private sponsorship occurs over and above the government’s commitment to public sponsorship, not instead of it.

Australia and Canada share many similar characteristics as countries of immigration. In particular, their experiences with Indo-Chinese refugees from 1975 shaped their responses to refugees today.

Private sponsorship was legislated into Canadian law in 1978. In its present form, a group of private individuals (usually not newcomers themselves) come together to nominate one or more refugees for resettlement. The government vets the nominated refugees for health, security and alignment with the refugee definition.

The sponsors must raise the equivalent of one year’s social assistance (equivalent to Centrelink) and undertake to financially support the refugee/s. They do not pay visa or processing costs.

Privately sponsored refugees have access to health care, education, English as second language programs and the like, and the sponsorship group undertakes all other settlement tasks. The formal sponsorship undertaking usually lasts a year.

Australia’s pilot program differs from the Canadian model in the following respects:

  • In Australia the sponsors are almost entirely extended family members of the resettled refugees, not groups or other individuals from the community. In Canada the nominated refugees are often related to previously arrived refugees, but need not be.
  • In Australia the money raised by sponsors is paid to the department for the costs of visas and other services, and to the organisation for administrative and resettlement support. Refugees resettled in Australia have immediate access to Centrelink. In Canada, neither sponsors nor refugees pay for visas or settlement services. Rather, the money raised by sponsors goes to the resettled refugees as income support for the first year, after which they are eligible for public income support (if needed).
  • Finally, the 500 spaces reserved in the Australian program form part of the overall quota for its Refugee and Humanitarian Program. This means there are 500 fewer visas available for publicly resettled refugees. In Canada, the principle of additionality has been invoked to defend private resettlement as a supplement rather than substitute for the government program.

Advantages to be considered

Private sponsorship of refugees offers several potential advantages.

  • It enables the resettlement of more refugees, if the principle of additionality is adopted and applied in good faith.
  • It can reduce the cost to government of resettlement.
  • It generates positive integration outcomes for refugees through the transfer of social capital from established members of the community to new members.
  • It can provide a platform for active citizenship and enhance social cohesion by directly engaging ordinary citizens in the nation-building activity of welcoming newcomers.

In Canada, it is recognised that private sponsorship not only confers benefits on refugees, but also benefits the sponsors and the nation in tangible and intangible ways.

In Australia, an impending government review of the pilot provides the opportunity to revise the program to better harness community support for private refugee sponsorship and help with the global crisis.

Susan Kneebone, Professorial Fellow, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne; Asher Hirsch, PhD Student, Monash University, and Audrey Macklin, Professor and Chair in Human Rights Law, University of Toronto

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Closing the country

This article was originally published on APPS Policy Forum.

Asher Hirsch unpicks the precarious future of Australia’s hard-line asylum seeker policy.

What does the future hold for refugee policy in Australia? Following a brutal policy approach to people seeking asylum in recent years and a blanket policy of harsh deterrence from both major parties, a key question now is whether these policies are sustainable, let alone desirable, over the longer term. Already, tensions and challenges have emerged that threaten Australia’s absolute refusal to face up to its refugee responsibilities.

Continue reading “Closing the country”

Does What Happens Offshore, Stay Offshore?

This article was originally published on Asylum Insight.

Australia leads the world in outsourcing and offshoring its human rights obligations. It is the only nation to subcontract the management of its entire detention centre network to private for-profit corporations. It is also the only nation that mandatorily detains those who arrive without a visa, and sends those who come by boat to third countries for processing. Between 2001 and 2007, and again from 2012, the Australian government has attempted to avoid both moral and legal responsibility for asylum seekers by sending them to offshore detention centres in the Pacific.

Australia maintains that responsibility for the management of these centres, and for the numerous abuses that have taken place there, rests solely with the host countries of Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Mr Michael Pezzullo, asserted during the 2015 Senate inquiry into conditions at the detention centre on Nauru that:

‘The Australian government does not run the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, or RPC. It is managed by the government of Nauru, under Nauruan law, with support from the Australian government. The government of Nauru operates the RPC, assesses asylum claims and, where persons are found to be in need of protection, arranges settlement. The government of Nauru is specifically responsible for security and good order and the care and welfare of persons residing in the centre.’ (emphasis added)

Continue reading “Does What Happens Offshore, Stay Offshore?”

High Court Ruling: Our Government Can Still Decide to Protect Refugee Rights

This article was originally published on Right Now.

Wednesday’s High Court decision upholding the legality of detention in Nauru is tragic in its result. But the decision was far from a vindication for the Government. In important ways the judgment signals an increasing willingness by at least some members of the High Court to rein in the excesses of Australia’s detention policies.

The case was litigated by the Human Rights Law Centre on behalf of a Bangladeshi woman brought to Australia while she was pregnant, and centred on two main claims: that no Australian law authorised the government to fund offshore detention arrangements, and that the detention by the Commonwealth Government on Nauru was unconstitutional.

Continue reading “High Court Ruling: Our Government Can Still Decide to Protect Refugee Rights”

Funding barriers shut out asylum seekers and refugees from further education

Asher Hirsch, Monash University and Joyce Chia, Monash University

“When I arrived in Australia I was 17. Now I’m almost 20. The best years of my life are gone. When can I go to school? When can I go to college? When can I have my education? I don’t know what will happen to me.

“I escaped from my country because I couldn’t go to school. The only thing I wished to have was a better life, a safe life, and to be educated – and I couldn’t have that.”

As secondary school students eagerly await their university offers, this young man faces a much bleaker future.

Abdul is one of around 30,000 people seeking asylum who are waiting for the government to finalise their refugee claims. Once they prove their claim for protection they are found to be refugees, yet because they arrived by boat they will only have access to temporary visas.

Continue reading “Funding barriers shut out asylum seekers and refugees from further education”