Dramatic rise in the personal, “God-like” legal powers of Immigration Minister, new report finds

Liberty Victoria’s Rights Advocacy Project (‘RAP’) today released a new report revealing the dramatic rise in the personal discretions and legal powers of the Immigration Minister.

One of the report’s authors, Lauren Bull, said that RAP’s investigations had found that despite previous Immigration Ministers warning that the Minister already held too much unchecked personal discretion, there was an alarming trend towards further expanding the Minister’s personal powers and removing checks and balances.

‘Important decisions affecting people’s basic rights and liberties must be made through processes that are fair, transparent and accountable. That’s why we can appeal everything from parking fines to Centrelink debts in this country. Yet when it comes to men, women and children seeking safety, we are seeing a massive explosion of personal ministerial power’, said Bull.

‘One politician has the personal power to decide whether a child is locked in indefinite detention or is set free. One politician has the personal power to decide whether a family fleeing shocking violence in the hope of a better life is able to apply for our protection. Giving one politician so much unchecked personal power over the lives of vulnerable people is an absolute recipe for injustice’, Bull said.

The report compares the personal powers and discretions of the Immigration Minister to other Cabinet Ministers and documents their rapid expansion over time.

‘Under Australian law, no other Minister — not even the Prime Minister — is given anywhere near as much unchecked power. It is fundamentally at odds with basic principles of democracy and the rule of law for one politician to have some much personal power to make such important decisions affecting people’s most basic of rights’, said Bull.

The report recommends wide-ranging changes to migration law to ensure adequate checks and balances are in place and to remove the extraordinary, unreviewable powers conferred on the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

Ian Macphee, who was Immigration Minister under Malcolm Fraser, wrote the foreword for the report and said:

‘I am disgusted by the power accorded to current ministers regarding the lives of people fleeing persecution. The sheer breadth of the Minister’s discretionary power ensures that unfair decisions will be made in haste and rarely subject to objective review. It is un-Australian’.

Macphee is one of the panel launching the report at a panel discussion on 4 May 2017 at the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. The panel will be moderated by Jane Lee, court reporter for Fairfax, and will also include Roj Amedi, an editor, write and strategist, Chris Berg, a fellow of the IPA and RMIT, and Charlie Powles, senior supervising solicitor at Refugee Legal and a former member of the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal.