Deportation bill breaches Labor’s national platform, ALP pro-refugee group says

<span>Immigration minister Andrew Giles introduced the deportation bill to parliament last month.</span><span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Immigration minister Andrew Giles introduced the deportation bill to parliament last month.Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

A Labor pro-refugee group has accused the Albanese government’s controversial deportation bill of breaching the ALP national platform and amounting to “huge overreach”.

Labor for Refugees New South Wales and ACT has revealed it opposes passage of the bill in a submission to the Senate inquiry forced by the Coalition and Greens, upping pressure on the government to moderate its harshest provisions.

It cited the bill’s mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison for an unlawful non-citizen refusing to cooperate with their deportation and the risk of Australia breaching its international obligation not to take people owed protection back to danger.

The immigration minister, Andrew Giles, introduced the bill to parliament in March, arguing that it was necessary to deal with cases of people not found to be owed protection who nevertheless refuse to cooperate with deportation.

The bill has received widespread backlash from independents, the Greens, asylum seeker advocates, legal groups and diaspora communities, who are concerned about powers to blacklist new visa applications from whole countries because their governments refuse to accept involuntary deportations.

Labor for Refugees submitted that it shared the concerns of the Law Council about the proposed sweeping powers backed by the new offence, and that the bill “is rushed” and appeared to “pre-empt a high court ruling” on those in immigration detention refusing to cooperate with deportation.

The Law Council noted that “while a reasonable excuse exception applies” it did not include “the person has a genuine fear of suffering persecution or significant harm if removed to a particular country” or that they were owed obligations not to be taken back to danger.

Labor for Refugees said the bill appeared to breach Labor’s national platform, citing sections that “Australia must not harm people seeking refuge” and that “Labor opposes mandatory sentencing” because it “does not reduce crime but does undermine the independence of the judiciary, lead to unjust outcomes and is often discriminatory in practice”.

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The submission noted government claims that the new powers would be used sparingly but countered that “not all ministers for immigration are kind and wise; some are the opposite”.

“Social panics with strong racist goals can create political imperatives to issue directions to non-citizens to cooperate for all the wrong reasons.

“Blanket bans applied to countries would unfairly discriminate against those seeking to reunite with their families and those trying to flee persecution and seek asylum.”

Labor for Refugees called on the government to reconsider whether the bill should apply to people whose asylum claims had been assessed by the flawed fast-track process, and argued that many people had been in Australia for years and had “established connections”.

The submission argued that the bill appeared to be “a case of huge over-reach in addressing a ‘problem’ which was unclear in its scope and apparently not urgent but merely a ‘tool’” that “cannot be assumed to be valid and will be tested in the courts”.

It called on Giles to explain “what social or other problem the bill is intended to address and how bad that problem actually is”, and to prove the bill was “legally sound”.

“In the meantime, Labor for Refugees opposes the passage of the bill,” it said, urging legislators to avoid “law-making on the run [that] will do more harm than good”.

A government spokesperson said it “welcomes submissions from all interested parties as part of this process”. “It would be inappropriate to pre-empt any outcome of a committee inquiry by commenting further.”

On Thursday the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, told reporters on the NSW Central Coast the bill “is splitting the Labor party”.

“They’re saying to some countries but not others that you can’t bring people to Australia, they won’t issue visas, they might issue visas in certain circumstances,” he said. “It’s a dog’s breakfast.”

In March the Senate standing committee for the scrutiny of bills, which includes the Labor senators Raff Ciccone, Tony Sheldon and Jess Walsh, criticised the bill including mandatory minimums and expanded powers for the immigration minister to reverse a protection finding.

The Labor MP Jerome Laxale has reportedly written to constituents expressing concern about the bill’s potential “to impact people visiting Australia from abroad”.

“In a majority migrant nation, I believe that Australian citizens should always retain the ability to welcome family and friends for a holiday or special occasion,” Laxale reportedly wrote.

On Thursday the Greens migration spokesman, David Shoebridge, is holding an event with community groups opposed to the bill including: Sudanese Australian Advocacy Network, Iran 4 Democracy, AusPak, Hindus for Human Rights, the Tamil Refugee Council, the Australian Democratic Kurdish Community Centre and the Bangladesh Community Council.