New Migration Regulations took effect on 18 November that could have a very significant impact on refugees, especially those on temporary protection visas. These Regulations applied to a broad range of temporary visas, including temporary protection and bridging visas. They were, however, disallowed by the Senate on 5 December.
The Refugee Council of Australia has prepared a briefing on the impact of these Regulations which you can read below.
The Refugee Council of Australia expresses serious concerns about these Regulations, which will extend the circumstances in which refugees and people seeking asylum could be indefinitely detained.
These changes would allow the Department to detain, potentially indefinitely, people on:
- the basis of criminal conduct that has not been proven or even tried
- the basis of behaviour that is considered (by the Department) to have endangered or threatened another person, extending to bullying and online vilification
- because of inconsistencies in their names on identity documents issued by any Commonwealth, state or territory government, authority or official, or failures to update any name changes in those documents.
This conduct or behaviour would not be assessed by a court or subject to the safeguards of our criminal justice system. Indeed, such behaviour does not need to be criminal and captures a very broad range of everyday behaviour. Minor traffic offences, harassment or even having different names on their Medicare and drivers’ licences could trigger the cancellation of a visa, leading to detention, and in the case of refugees, indefinite detention.
While these changes would not immediately affect people on temporary protection visas, it will begin to apply when they renew these visas (beginning April 2018). These people are prevented by our current laws from ever becoming ‘permanent’, so the conditions would mean that their visas could be cancelled even if they have lived in Australia for decades. These are people who already suffer enormously because of their insecure status.
While it will not immediately affect people on bridging visas, it will affect them when they need to renew such visas, which often are valid for as short as three months. The consequence is that these already highly vulnerable people now have to live in fear that someday they could be detained because someone has alleged they have harassed or vilified them.
The Refugee Council of Australia has for some time already been gravely concerned by the Department’s use of its existing visa cancellation powers. These concerns were recently echoed by the Commonwealth Ombudsman in its critical report of its administration of existing visa cancellation powers.
Further, we express serious concern that such changes are being introduced through Regulations, given the very significant impact they have on people’s lives and liberties, and the likely violations of our obligations under international human rights treaties.