In December 2014, the refugee status determination system for people who came by boat after 13 August 2012 changed. The new process, called ‘fast tracking’, replaced the previous independent merits review system with a new body, called the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA).
Under new rules, the IAA would no longer hear directly from people claiming asylum, and would generally be restricted to information before the Department of Immigration. The Refugee Council and its members have consistently expressed strong concerns about the fairness of this process and the significant risks it creates that people will be returned to persecution or other serious harm.
This page summarises the IAA’s statistics about its processes, which have only been published up to the end of March 2018. Other data has been included from answers to question on notice at Senate estimates.
How many cases are being dealt with?
The ‘fast tracking’ system was introduced into legislation in December 2014, but review decisions didn’t start for a long time. This graph shows that the number of decisions by, and referrals to, the IAA have remained relatively steady. However, in 2017 the number of active cases on hand increased significantly.
How long is it taking them to decide?
Consistently with this increase, the median time to make a decision almost doubled in 2017. The median time for a decision has gone from 50 days in January 2017 to 121 days by March 2018.
Which cases are being referred to the IAA?
The graph to the left breaks down the cases referred to the IAA by country of origin. Just over half of the cases being referred to the IAA are for people from Sri Lanka. Many of these would be people of a Tamil background. This is likely to be because of the Australian Government’s view that the situation for people of Tamil background in Sri Lanka has improved. This is despite a recent UN Special Rapporteur’s report concluding that Tamil people should not be returned to Sri Lanka, where they still face a risk of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
What are they deciding?
One of the key concerns about the IAA was that it would significantly decrease scrutiny of the Department’s decision. The usual rule with the IAA, unlike the former RRT, is that it will consider the Department’s decisions ‘on the papers’ without hearing directly from the people involved. The IAA is also only able to consider information that had not been provided to the Department earlier (for example, late disclosures of sexual assault) in exceptional circumstances.
According to an answer on question on notice, the IAA reported that as at 27 February 2018 it had only requested new information in 7% of cases, and obtained its own information in 22%. In 45% of cases, it did not consider any new information. In the same answer, the IAA also reported that in 62% of the cases referred to it, a person had appointed a representative (not necessarily a migration agent or a lawyer).
The IAA’s remittal rates by country of origin currently vary between 7% (for Sri Lankans) and 29% (for Iranians).
Is it a rubber stamp for the Department?
The statistics show that between only between 10-32% of decisions are being returned (‘remitted’) to the Department because it was made incorrectly. In contrast, the last available statistics from the previous review system (for people claiming asylum by boat between 2009-2013) show much higher rates of remittal, ranging from 60-90% for the same nationalities.
A comparison as at 27 February 2018 between remittal rates between the IAA and cases considered by the Migration and Review Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (which considers protection claims other than those under the ‘fast track’ process) also shows that the IAA’s remittal rates are significantly lower than those of the AAT for key countries of origin. For example, while the AAT affirms 77% of cases involving Sri Lankans, the IAA affirms 92% of cases.
Appeals to courts
According to an answer to a question on notice at Senate estimates, at 27 February 2018, there had been 2,279 appeals to the courts from IAA decisions. Of these, 346 decisions had been determined by the Federal Circuit Court. There were 346 appeals to the Federal Court, 10 appeals to the High Court, and three direct applications to the High Court under its original jurisdiction.
There had been 68 successful judicial review applications, 49 of which were remitted by consent and 19 of which were remitted by judgment. Six of the successful applications were appealed against by the Department. 162 appeals had been dismissed or withdrawn.