June 20, 2014
The High Court has struck down a law which allowed the Government to cap the number of protection visas it issues for refugees in Australia.
The ruling comes after two separate applications to the court from asylum seekers who were found to be refugees but were denied protection visas because of the cap.
One of the refugees, a 15-year-old boy from Ethiopia, came to Australia last year as a stowaway on a ship, and the second, a Pakistani man, arrived at Christmas Island in 2012.
Under the law, once refugee status has been determined, the Immigration Minister has 90 days to issue a protection visa.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison capped the number of protection visas granted in the financial year at 2,773 after the Senate blocked the Government’s re-introduction of temporary protection visas.
The High Court found the Minister did not have the power to limit the number of visas because of the time limit.
The court has ordered Mr Morrison reconsider the asylum seekers’ applications for protection.
The lawyer who brought the case, David Manne, believes the ruling will force the Government to change its policy.
“The current laws do not permit the Government to set a limit on the amount of protection visas to be granted each year,” he said.
“The Government has been on a campaign to come up with devices to block people getting a permanent visa … and those devices have been found to be unlawful.
“If they’re found to be a refugee and have met other technical [and] public interest requirements … they must be granted a protection visa and that entitles people to permanent residence.”
Mr Manne says the number of people who have been granted refugee status but have not been granted protection visas could “potentially be in the thousands”.
“What we do know, from this case, is that over 1,400 people had been in situation of having been found to be a refugee, it appears,” he said.
“But there may well be many others too. It’s difficult to know and that’s really a matter that the Government will have to explain further.”
Government’s protection visa policy ‘in disarray’
Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, says the ruling leaves the Government scrambling.
“This is a government whose policy on this matter is in disarray,” he said.
“This is the same government who presided over the largest data breach we have seen, whose policy is eroding our relationship with Indonesia, who has seen a meltdown on Manus Island.
“This is a minister who has presided over crisis over crisis.”
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young says the ruling will help several thousand asylum seekers.
“This is a great win for fairness and decency and it means that refugees who have been in Australia, owed protection, waiting in limbo, will now be able to get on with the rest of their lives, start rebuilding the rest of their lives, without the fear of being sent home,” she said.
A spokesman for the Immigration Minister says it remains the Government’s policy to not allow boat arrivals to settle in Australia.