- New emergency laws are being fast-tracked after the High Court found indefinite immigration detention was unlawful.
- A number of criminals were released into the community as a result of the decision.
- Under the new conditions, some criminals released from detention will have to wear ankle bracelets and follow curfews.
A week after the High Court delivered a landmark ruling that outlawed indefinite detention, the federal government has introduced a suite of emergency changes.
The Opposition has been demanding action after the ruling forced the government to , including some convicted of serious offences, onto Australian streets.
On Thursday, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles brought a bill to parliament that would lead to the rights of the detainees being heavily restricted.
And Labor says it reserves the right to take further action.
“The government is working to ensure the individuals are managed appropriately under the relevant legal frameworks,” Giles told parliament.
“The Australian community reasonably expects that all non-citizens in Australia will obey Australia’s laws.”
But the Opposition says it will seek to strengthen the laws even further, warning they do not go far enough.
Here’s what you need to know.
What changes are being suggested?
Tighter controls on released detainees.
Some detainees will have to wear ankle bracelets, follow curfews, and report their location to police.
Breaking those conditions will be a criminal offence, with each breach leading to up to five years in jail.
They’ll also be forced to tell the government of any new links to, or memberships of, clubs and organisations or if they’ve changed addresses.
But because indefinite detention is now ruled illegal, there is no mechanism to return them to detention automatically.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the laws were urgently needed. Source: AAP / Mick Tsikas
Why are the laws necessary?
The High Court ruling has significant implications.
The government had no basis for keeping the 83 detainees behind bars, and were legally required to release them.
In essence, it ruled that indefinite detention was unconstitutional in a broad sense, rather than the issue being a problem with legislation put in place by past governments.
That means there’s no easy way to fix the issue in parliament.
As well, the High Court hasn’t released its legal reasoning, complicating the government’s response.
The decision overturned a precedent that had been in place for two decades.
When do the restrictions apply?
Requiring a detainee to wear an ankle bracelet or follow a curfew will be at the minister’s discretion. That will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and won’t apply to all.
Because it’s a discretionary power, it’s not clear exactly what threshold will need to be reached for those conditions to be imposed.
The High Court’s landmark ruling has significant implications. Source: AAP
And certain conditions may depend on the released detainee’s personal situation – it might not be practical to require someone living in remote areas to report daily to a police station.
But some new restrictions will apply to every detainee.
They’ll all be prevented from working with certain cohorts – think children and vulnerable people – and they’ll need government approval to start work.
Is there a threat?
The government says protecting the public is its priority, while the Coalition is sounding the alarm.
We know three convicted murderers are among the released detainees, along with a number of sex offenders. But not much more detail has been given.
In WA, 32 detainees have been released and Premier Roger Cook said at least seven had been convicted of sexual offences.
But there’s no suggestion that all, or even the majority, of the cohort have criminal records.
And many of those released after the court decision had already served their sentences. They ordinarily would have been quietly released into the community.
What is the Opposition saying?
That the bill does not go far enough.
But it has pledged to cooperate with the government to make sure legislation can be passed, and is prepared to sit into the weekend (even though politicians are supposed to return home this evening).
Opposition leader Peter Dutton demanded Prime Minister Anthony Albanese skip this weekend’s APEC summit in San Francisco to deal with the issue.
James Paterson says the bill doesn’t go far enough. Source: AAP / Mick Tsikas
Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson described Labor’s package as the “bare minimum” and said it should have been released last week.
“What we are looking at is whether any amendments can be moved in the short time that we have this morning to strengthen this bill, to actually offer some meaningful protections to the community,” he said.
Paterson suggested control orders used for high-risk terror offenders could be applied to some of the group, and a similar scheme could be established for the remaining cohort.
There is no suggestion any of the 83 detainees released are a terror risk, and SBS News has approached the Home Affairs Department for comment.
What are control orders?
They are highly restrictive and highly controversial.
They’re usually reserved for convicted terror offenders set to be released, and those who have trained with listed terror groups overseas.
Someone placed under a control order can be barred from communicating with certain people, prevented from accessing the internet, and face restrictions on where they can live.
They can also be required to regularly report their whereabouts to police, and wear an ankle bracelet.
Police have broader powers to access their communications, through things like phone taps, and to conduct searches.
Because they’re such a significant restriction of liberties, getting them approved is difficult – it requires an Australian Federal Police member to apply, before it is ticked off by both the Home Affairs minister and the Federal Court.
The prospect of expanding their use, or setting up a similar system, has been questioned by civil liberties groups.
– With additional reporting from the Australian Associated Press.