Labor wants Trump-like powers to deport refugees

A Saturday Paper puff-piece with Immigration Minister Andrew Giles recounts how, in 2015, both he and now Prime Minister Anthony Albanese opposed turning back asylum boats. Not any more, both of them now openly support it.

It’s not the only principle that Giles and Albanese have thrown overboard. Nauru is now holding 64 asylum seekers in offshore detention.

Giles told The Saturday Paper he likes to think of himself “as deliberate in how I do my work.” There is no doubt that Giles has deliberately thrown his principles overboard. And that Labor is just as deliberately attempting to outflank Dutton from the right over refugee policy.

Labor has maintained every aspect of Operation Sovereign Borders and has now introduced its “Migration Amendment (Removal and Other Measures) Bill” to overcome the High Court’s NZYQ decision that finally struck down indefinite detention.

Instead of welcoming the decision, Labor is now moving to establish a legal framework that would allow them to hold non-citizens who refuse to cooperate in their own deportation in prison.

The Bill would apply not only to refugees affected by the NZYQ decision, but also to certain bridging visa holders. In particular it will apply to the 10,000 asylum seekers who were failed by the fast track assessment system.

“We are looking at anyone who has no right to remain in Australia being removed… That wasn’t something that was done for the last decade. It’s something that we will be really focussed on,” Andrew Giles told reporters prior to the legislation being introduced.

If passed, Labor’s Bill will impose a mandatory jail sentence of one to five years and a fine of up to $93,900 on asylum seekers or refugees if they refuse to cooperate with their own removal.

It is currently stalled, after the Liberals refused to pass the legislation and joined The Greens to send it to a committee. It will come back to the Senate in May, when the Liberals may well support the draconian powers.

Visa bans

The Bill also gives the Home Affairs Minister Trump-like powers to impose visa bans on any country designated as a “removal concern country” targeting countries such as Iran that do not cooperate with Australia to accept deportees.

Such a ban could prevent travel of any kind all between the designated country and Australia. The Bill also gives the Minister power to review the actual protection decision of someone they want to remove.

The new Bill is Labor’s latest shocking, and desperate, measure to trash refugee rights.

In mid-April, the High Court will consider the case of ASF17, an Iranian man detained for ten years, who has understandably declined to co-operate with the government’s attempt to remove him. The High Court will have to rule if there is any “prospect of his removal in the reasonably foreseeable future”. If not, he will have to be released along with an estimated 170 others in detention.

The person is bi-sexual and fears persecution if he is returned to Iran. Forcing him to meet Iranian officials would be enough to raise concerns about his safety if he was subsequently removed to Iran. The government wants to be able to jail anyone who refuses to cooperate.

Why is the government determined to remove people to Iran? The human rights abuses there are well established. Hundreds were killed during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests in 2022. Similar considerations apply to Sudan, Somalia, Iraq or Sri Lanka, to name just a few.

Home Affairs has employed 46 lawyers explicitly to deal with the government’s “renewed focus on removals” in the aftermath of the High Court ending indefinite detention.

But Labor has done nothing to re-assess the cases of the 10,000 who were rejected under the fast track system.

When Albanese was elected he said Labor could be “strong on borders without being weak on humanity”. It was always a glib phrase and Labor, just like the Liberals, has shown itself to be just as committed to racist legislation and just as lacking in humanity.

Labor’s new Bill is another nail in its humanitarian coffin.

By Ian Rintoul


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