Jared Owens, in The Australian, 16 March 2013
THREE-quarters of boatpeople who appeal their failed asylum claims to the Refugee Review Tribunal are rewarded with permanent residency in Australia. As the Opposition affirmed a pledge to prevent maritime arrivals detained in Australia from seeking independent review of their cases, figures obtained exclusively by The Australian indicate the tribunal has overturned 503 departmental decisions to refuse refugee visas to boatpeople from a total of 676 cases heard since July last year. Those refugees will join more than 3200 other boat arrivals whose negative refugee assessments have been overturned on appeal since Labor introduced an independent review system in 2008.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the figures made “a mockery of the initial assessment of asylum claims” by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. “These latest figures have confirmed that under Labor’s appeals process a ‘no’ almost always turns into a ‘yes’ and the prize of permanent residence for people who arrive illegally by boat,” he said. “Even if they get a no they can just keep appealing.” Deportees disembarking in Sri Lanka
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor declined to comment on the figures. Mr Morrison’s spokesman confirmed an Abbott government would shut boatpeople out of the review tribunal, and aggrieved asylum-seekers would only be entitled to seek review by another assessor within the department. The Coalition also intends to stop providing free legal advice to applicants, and assessors will be directed to “withdraw the benefit of the doubt” for asylum-seekers they “reasonably believe might have discarded their identity documentation”.
University of Adelaide migration law expert Alex Reilly predicted the Coalition’s policy to remove external review rights would face a tough High Court challenge if it were implemented. “This is a similar problem to what the government encountered when it tried to set up a different review process on Christmas Island,” he said. “The High Court knocked that on the head because the Migration Act actually guarantees certain procedural rights that weren’t being satisfied. Another problem is that there are certain procedural rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution, such as being able to have a fair hearing and put your side of the story. If the first DIAC officer doesn’t recognise those rights, and the second officer doesn’t either, then the asylum-seeker . . . would have to go straight to the High Court, which is ridiculously costly and a waste of time to satisfy these basic procedural rights.”
A DIAC spokeswoman confirmed the department was preparing advice on potential reforms to the appeals system as recommended last year by the expert panel chaired by former Defence Force chief Angus Houston. The Refugee Review Tribunal figures reflect a decrease in successful appeals, compared with the now-defunct Independent Merits Review system implemented under Kevin Rudd in 2008. More than 82 per cent of the 2698 cases that went to an IMR last financial year were overturned, following 83 per cent of 1119 cases the previous year.
The 676 irregular maritime arrivals who appealed to the RRT last year included 334 Afghans, 128 Sri Lankans, 94 Pakistanis, 74 Iranians and 37 Iraqis. Afghans enjoyed an 87 per cent success rate on appeal, followed by Pakistanis on 82 per cent. Among the least successful were Sri Lankans, on 46 per cent, and Iranians, 62 per cent.
The RRT was established in 1993, and many of its members are experienced in law or public administration, or have experience on other quasi-judicial bodies. Principal member Kay Ransome is a former public servant who chaired the NSW Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal. Her deputy, Amanda Macdonald, sat on the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and Veteran’s Review Board. Former Victorian police chief Simon Overland was slated for appointment last year, but turned the post down to head Tasmania’s Department of Justice.
Mr Morrison’s spokesman said detainees transferred to Nauru or Papua New Guinea, who are currently unable to access the RRT, would continue to be processed subject to local laws. The situation of about 300 asylum-seekers on Manus, 800km north of Port Moresby, was thrust into the spotlight last week when six pregnant asylum-seekers and a young girl requiring medical care were suddenly removed to South Australia.
Mr Morrison said the event proved Labor’s offshore processing policy was “rushed and bungled”, and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young branded the centre as a “horror show” and insisted it be shut down. The director of Manus public hospital, Otto Numan, said his staff safely delivered an average of two babies a day and accused Canberra of “mocking” his facilities.