Refugee law reforms don't go far enough

Jessie Taylor

There have recently been some wonderful changes to the laws affecting asylum seekers in Australia. Through the passage of the Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill, the abhorrent practice of charging asylum seekers for the daily cost of their own detention was finally brought to an end.

And through modifications to the Migration Regulations, the so-called ‘45 day rule’ affecting Bridging Visa E was also abolished. Liberty Victoria is delighted by these changes to the law affecting asylum seekers in Australia.

The bizarre policy of imposing detention debts has put enormous pressure on many already traumatised and troubled members of the Australian community, some of whom were due to be paying off their debts at a rate of $100 a month for the next 170 years!

One man, removed from Australia in late 2008, incurred a debt of more than $512,000 over nine years of detention. Liberty Victoria congratulates the government on the pragmatic, sensible and compassionate decision to remove such burdens from the shoulders of former immigration detainees.

The ‘45-day rule’ was a punitive measure introduced to block access to work rights for some people on bridging visas if they did not lodge their asylum applications before 45 days had elapsed after they first arrived in Australia. This was often coupled with denial of access to Centrelink and Medicare benefits, which frequently led to serious healthcare crises and a high level of homelessness among asylum seeker families. After the changes to regulations, the 45-day rule no longer exists, which is wonderful news.

It’s great to see those changes. However, there is a long way to go! The Rudd government sticks to its guns around excision of Australian islands from the migration zone, the practice of mandatory and indefinite detention, warehousing asylum seekers in Indonesia, and the use of the offshore detention facility on Christmas Island, among others.

Liberty Victoria is glad to see progress but urges supporters not to get too complacent just yet — there is still a lot of work to be done.

Jessie Taylor is a Liberty Victoria committee member.