Tuesday, July 23, 2013

PM ready for legal fight on 'eminently defensible' PNG plan

Bianca Hall

Bianca Hall is immigration correspondent

 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd confirmed on Monday that he expects legal challenges to his ''hardline'' new refugee policies, but said he and his Labor colleagues ''make no apologies'' for the new rules. It comes as a legal expert described the policy as ''much more extreme'' than the Malaysia plan, which was thrown out by the High Court in 2011. 

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said on Monday that he would not release the legal advice on which the government has based its PNG plan, although he claimed that the advice was ''strong''. Castan Centre for Human Rights Law associate and Monash University law lecturer Azadeh Dastyari said she believed the changes were in ''clear'' breach of international law. Advertisement ''Both plans violated international law [but] this is, I think, probably the most extreme policy we've had on asylum seeker issues in Australia,'' she said. ''I don't think in our recent history we've had anything like this where we're committing to never resettling everyone, so we're sending everyone - don't forget the Malaysia deal was a limited number of asylum seekers were going to be sent to Malaysia - this is everybody.

 ''As far as international law is concerned it doesn't matter - the violation is a violation - but this will affect a much, much larger group of people. It is a much more extreme policy.'' She believed a legal challenge was ''very likely''. Mr Rudd said the policies were ''eminently defensible'', although he conceded the government expected to have to fight its policy through the courts. ''We believe we have a thorough approach which is eminently defensible in the international community and with the prospect of being effective,'' Mr Rudd said. ''This is going to take quite a while to roll out. 

It is a big operational undertaking and I have said from the outset there will be bumps in the road, there'll be challenges on the way, we understand that. ''People will engage in the politics of this big-time, as well as the prospect of legal challenges here and Papua New Guinea. This is what happens when you seek to act decisively on something as fundamental as this.'' Ms Dastyari said she had ''no doubt'' that international bodies, including the UN, would be highly critical of the plan. On Tuesday, Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison repeated the Coalition's call for the government to release the text of its deal with PNG, while questioning its legality. 

 ''There is no agreement; it's only an arrangement. It doesn't even have the legal standing of the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that was struck down by the High Court for the Malaysia deal,'' Mr Morrison told ABC Radio. Mr Morrison said that the Coalition would try and ''salvage'' something out of the move, if it won government, but raised concerns that PNG would have more control over Australia's aid funding to the country. ''We would seek to salvage out of this arrangement what can be done, but I tell you what Peter O'Neill . . . has now understood that he gets to control Australia's half billion dollar aid budget going to Papua New Guinea every year, reversing decades of policy that was designed to put proper controls and procedures in place to ensure that Australia directed where that money went,'' Mr Morrison said.