Refugee Action Collective (Vic)

Free the refugees! Let them land, let them stay!

New law making indefinite detention legal is a disgrace that has to be fought

In mid-May, the Morrison government rushed through amendments to the Migration Act that guarantee the government’s power to indefinitely detain refugees, potentially for life. 

The Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Act 2021 also opens up the possibility of deporting refugees to their home countries by giving the Minister power to revoke refugee status, if a refugee’s visa has already been cancelled. 

This is yet another extension of the Coalition’s anti-refugee cruelty. The power to revoke refugee status undermines the concept and practice of refugee protection enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

Shamefully Labor voted for these changes, maintaining a 20-year history of bipartisan support for anti-refugee laws. 

Both Labor Senator Murray Watt in his Parliamentary speech on the Bill, and Labor MP Ged Kearney in an email to a constituent, have attempted to provide three justifications for Labor’s support. 

Disingenuous 

Watt said: “We need to be clear here: if this Bill doesn’t pass then people who are owed protection may be returned to countries where they face persecution.” 

Kearney said: “The main point from the legislation is that the Migration Act no longer says that a refugee can be sent to a country where they face persecution.” 

These justifications are either misinformed or disingenuous. The fact that a Minister now has the power to strip people of their refugee status and then deport them to where they fled from disproves the Watt and Kearney claim.  

Further, the Migration Act section 197C still states: “For the purposes of section 198 [the removal of unlawful non-citizens provision] it is irrelevant whether Australia has non-refoulement obligations …”. It also says in effect that, even if Immigration assesses a person’s proposed deportation as being extremely dangerous, it can still go ahead. Labor should have demanded the repeal of s 197C. 

The latest amendments were in response to the ALJ20 court case. In that case a Syrian refugee was released by the Federal Court  precisely because the government couldn’t deport him back to Syria. The Syrian refugee (ALJ20) had been detained after his visa was cancelled in 2014, under section 501 of the Migration Act, following a criminal conviction. 

The judge found that because the Migration Act says people can be held in immigration detention only for certain purposes; because the purpose in ALJ20’s case was to arrange his deportation; and because the government had admitted it would not be deporting him to Syria, his continued detention was unlawful. The amendments, by “clarifying” that indefinite detention with no prospect of deportation is lawful, aim to prevent any judge in future from making an ALJ20-type release order. 

The wedge? 

Senator Watt claims that the amendments are only about 21 individuals, but several amending clauses make clear that their effects extend beyond the 21. 

The Act as amended won’t affect refugees currently in the community as it only applies to refugees whose visas are cancelled. But the government has broad powers to cancel visas. 

In support of the amendments, Watt repeats the Coalition government’s smear campaign against the 21 people, saying they have spent time in jail, and “we don’t want this cohort of potentially dangerous individuals released into the Australian community”. On that “logic”, would Senator Watt say, in relation to any and all Australian citizens who’ve served time, “we don’t want this cohort of potentially dangerous individuals released into the Australian community”? 

It is an accepted element of the criminal justice system that, if “you do the crime, you do the time”, and then you’re free. Yet the Migration Act allows the government to punish asylum-seekers or refugees by holding people in immigration detention after they have served the time sentenced by a court. It is extra-judicial punishment. 

Ged Kearney says: “… the only option presently available to the Government to avoid refoulement would be to grant these persons a visa and allow them to stay in Australia, even though they fail the character test or have adverse security assessments. So, the Morrison Government presented us with a classic wedge Bill.” 

But there is only a “wedge” because Labor won’t stand up to Coalition smears. In fact it accepts and repeats them. 

The character test is a farce. Any person who is convicted of any offence – no matter how trivial – while they are in immigration detention automatically fails the character test. The refugees who dug an escape tunnel at Yongah Hill detention centre in WA now face indefinite detention if they are found guilty of “property damage”.   

ASIO assessments are also a farce, conducted in secret without appeal rights. Around 60 Tamils who, years ago, were given adverse ASIO assessments, have had them slowly overturned as a result of a campaign to free them and have now been released into the community. 

Didn’t have the numbers? 

Kearney makes an additional claim that it was better for Labor to amend the Bill than just vote No because the government had the numbers and it was going to pass anyway. 

But Labor’s changes are minor; one to review the legislation in two years’ time and another that provides that any ministerial decision to overturn a refugee determination can be appealed. These small changes cannot hide Labor’s latest failure to defend refugee rights.  

By voting No, Labor would have built political opposition to the Bill, and perhaps created enough political fuss to shift some crossbench votes, holding out the prospect of a Liberal defeat. 

By voting No, they would have created a clear line of demarcation between Labor and the Coalition and sided with the refugee movement that was unanimous in its opposition to the amendments. 

Even by their own electoral logic, Labor’s betrayals simply dismay their own supporters and give the impression that Labor doesn’t stand clearly for anything.  

Rescind the Migration Act Amendments and free the refugees 

ALJ20 was the first decision since the Al-Kateb case (when the High Court backed indefinite detention for “administrative” purposes in 2004) that had provided some hope that the courts had finally found there were limits to detention. 

The new Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Act 2021 crushes that hope. Indefinite detention is now etched into the Migration Act. Fighting to rescind these amendments will be important for the refugee movement. 

The amendments won’t impact directly on the legal cases of the Medevac refugees who are still in detention. But they show that we can’t rely on parliament or the courts to provide justice for refugees. That places even more importance on continuing to build protests and the wider refugee movement in order to free the refugees. 

Rally for refugees

Join these rallies, demanding freedom for refugees and permanent protection.

Vigil: Eight years too long, free the refugees

Monday 19 July, 5.30pm at the Park hotel-prison, 701 Swanston Street, Carlton

We’ll be gathering outside the Park hotel-prison to mark the eighth anniversary of cruel, mandatory detention for refugees arriving by boat.

Facebook event.

Permanent visas not discrimination

Sunday 25 July, 2pm at the State Library, Swanston Street, city

Organised by Justice for Refugees Victoria, Refugee Voices, Hazara Shamama Association and RAC. This rally was originally scheduled to take place on World Refugee Day but was postponed due to COVID restrictions.

Facebook event.

Free the Medevac refugees – union solidarity rally

Saturday 14 August, 2pm at the Park hotel-prison, 701 Swanston Street, Carlton

Organised by Unionists for Refugees and supported by RAC and the Victorian Trades Hall Council.

Facebook event.

Charge against Chris Breen dismissed

29 March 2021

Refugee Action Collective Victoria member Chris Breen has been found not guilty on the charge of incitement.

The charge was brought in relation to a Facebook event for a COVID-safe car convoy protesting the detention of Medevac refugees at the Mantra Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Preston on 10 April 2020.

The charge was dismissed on the grounds that the police could not prove that the Facebook posts they relied upon had been made by Breen and not another member of the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), or had been made during the relevant time period.

Read our media release.

See the background to the case here.

Support grows for refugee COVID convoy protesters

The Refugee Action Collective has issued a sign-on statement, calling for solidarity with those harassed in connection with a solidarity car convoy to the Mantra hotel in Preston.

RAC activist Chris Breen was arrested for “incitement” and 30 refugee activists are receiving $1652 fines.

Organisations and individuals have been quick to add their names to the statement. Some of those are listed below, with many more having signed.

To add your support, email your name and organisation and position (if applicable) to refugeeactioncollective@gmail.com.

SUPPORTING ORGANISATIONS TO DATE

Maritime Union of Australia
United Workers Union
Australian Education Union Victoria Branch (by a separate resolution)
Health and Community Services Union (HACSU)
CFMEU Construction & General Division VIC/TAS Branch
NTEU Victorian Division
ETU Queensland and NT Branch
Ballarat Regional Trades and Labour Council
Hume Central Secondary College AEU Sub Branch
RMIT University NTEU branch committee
Federation University NTEU branch committee
Australian Unemployed Workers Union
The Victorian Greens
Tamil Refugee Council
Labor for Refugees NSW
Unionists for Refugees (Vic)
Aireys Inlet Rural Australians for Refugees
Fremantle Refugee Rights Action Network
Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy
Black Sash Australia
Kommonground Inc
Pax Christi Victoria
Pax Christi NSW
Pax Christi Australia
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre
Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project
Refugee Action Coalition NSW
Refugee Action Collective Queensland
3CR Community Radio
University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council
Apollo Bay Rural Australians for Refugees
Jews for Refugees
Campaign Against Racism and Fascism
Earthworker Cooperative
Mums for Refugees
Grandmothers for Refugees NSW
Young Labor Left NSW
The Greens NSW
Solidarity
Socialist Alliance
Benalla Rural Australians for Refugees
Justice for Refugees
Therapy4Refugees
Stand Together Against Racism
Socialist Alternative
Victorian Socialists
Combined Refugee Action Group, Geelong
Refugee Rights Action Network WA
Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support
Australian Student Christian Movement
We Are Union: Benalla
Northside Youth with Refugees
Students for Refugees Society
The Architecture Lobby (Vic)
Communist Party of Australia
Australia-Cuba Friendship Society (WA)
Democracy in Colour
Adelaide Vigil for Manus and Nauru
Australian Association of Social Workers (Vic)
Teachers for Refugees (NSW)
University of Melbourne Greens Club
Freedom Socialist Party
Radical Women
Darebin Greens
Indigenous Social Justice Association
Freedom Socialist Party (US)
Love Makes A Way, Melbourne
CLACCA Universal Life Church
Cooper Grandmothers for Refugees


AMONG THE MANY SUPPORTING INDIVIDUALS

Behrouz Boochani, former Manus detainee, author, film-maker
Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz from Manus)
Abdul Aziz Adam, former Manus detainee
Senator Nick McKim, Tasmania (Greens)
Senator Janet Rice, Victoria (Greens)
Senator Lidia Thorpe, Victoria (Greens)
Senator Mehreen Faruqi, NSW (Greens)
Jenny Leong, NSW Greens MP
David Shoebridge, NSW Greens MP
Dr Tim Read, Victorian Greens MP
Samantha Ratnam, Victorian Greens MP and leader
Ellen Sandell, Victorian Greens MP
Sam Hibbins, Victorian Greens MP
Lee Rhiannon, former NSW Senator (Greens)
Gavin Marshall, former Victorian Senator (ALP)
Paul Petersen, Assistant Branch Secretary MUA, Queensland Branch
Keith McKenzie, President ETU, Qld and NT Branch
Michael Thomson, State Secretary, NTEU NSW Division
Robert Richter QC, barrister
Greg Barns, Former National President Australian Lawyers Alliance
Julian Burnside AO QC, barrister
David Risstrom, barrister
Elizabeth Cox, former UN Women Director, Pacific region
Wendy Bacon, journalist and researcher
Arnold Zable, author
Alex Bhathal, President Victorian Branch Australian Association of Social Workers
Professor Emeritus Stuart Rees OAM, University of Sydney
Dr David Brophy, Senior Lecturer in Modern Chinese History, University of Sydney
Dr Katrina Watson OAM
Dr Kerry Goulston AO
Dr Kerry Breen AM
Dr David Cade
Professor Catherine Greenhill
Cr Sue Bolton, Moreland Council
Cr Jessica Dorney, Moreland Council
Cr Mark Riley, Moreland Council
Emeritus Professor Joseph Camilleri OAM, Chair, Academic Board, La Trobe College Australia
Dr John Slavin
Dr Elyse Methven, Law lecturer UTS
Dr Mirna Cicioni
Alison Battinson, Principal lawyer, Human Rights for All
Dr Anthea Vogl, Senior law lecturer UTS
Dr Sara Dehm, Law lecturer UTS
Dr Kevin Sweeney, Convenor, Amnesty Newcastle
Peter Murphy, Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition
Cr Cath Blakey, Wollongong Council
Associate Professor Georgina Murray, Griffith University
Cr Stephen Nugent, Orange City Council
Louise Redmond, National President, Rural Australians for Refugees
Jonathan Strauss, National Secretary, Rural Australians for Refugees
Marie Sellstrom, Immediate Past National President, Rural Australians for Refugees
Professor Emeritus Frank Stilwell, Political Economy, University of Sydney
Cr Philippa Veitch, Deputy Mayor, Randwick Council
Dr Michael Grewcock, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW
Dr Bridget Honan, Emergency physician
Cr Petros Constantinou, Coordinator, KEERFA (Movement United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat), Athens City Council
Associate Professor Bill Dunn, University of Sydney
Associate Professor Anne McNevin, The New School, New York
Cr Jonathan Sri, Brisbane City Council
Hannah Buchan, President, University of Melbourne Student Union
Cr Gaetano Greco, Deputy Mayor, Darebin Council
Dr June Factor, Convenor, Befriend a Child in Detention