Setback for Julia Gillard as refugee swap is blocked

Australia's refugee policy is in disarray after Julia Gillard's government's plan to send asylum-seekers to Malaysia for processing was struck down by the High Court yesterday.

The court upheld a challenge by two Afghan men facing deportation, ruling that they could not be sent to a country without adequate legal safeguards. Malaysia has not signed the United Nations' convention on refugees, and is not obliged under its domestic laws to protect their rights.

Human rights groups welcomed the ruling, which came almost exactly 10 years after the notorious Tampa affair signalled a much tougher policy on "boat people". The former conservative prime minister John Howard refused to allow the Tampa, a Norwegian tanker, to dock at Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, with a cargo of shipwrecked asylum-seekers.

Chris Bowen, Immigration Minister in Gillard's Labor government, called the court ruling "profoundly disappointing", and said ministers were studying its implications. Asked about the possibility of processing boat people on the remote island of Nauru instead – a policy embraced by Mr Howard following the Tampa stand-off – Mr Bowen declined to rule it out.

In a deal aimed at deterring people from making the dangerous voyage from Indonesia to Christmas Island, Australia planned to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia. In exchange, it would accept 4,000 refugees from Malaysia who had been awaiting resettlement.

The "swap" had been widely condemned, with critics noting Malaysia's record of mistreating refugees. Amnesty International hailed yesterday's judgment as a "landmark victory for human rights". David Manne, the lawyer who mounted the challenge, said his clients were "extremely relieved", as they had been "petrified about being sent to Malaysia".

The 6-1 majority decision makes permanent an injunction that had prevented the first batch of people from being deported from Christmas Island. It also requires Mr Bowen to give written consent for any unaccompanied minor to be removed from Australia. The government had been bitterly attacked for including unescorted children in its Malaysia plan.

Government lawyers had argued that the deal with Kuala Lumpur did guarantee that those sent there would be protected. Mr Bowen said the High Court judgment had ramifications for the general concept of processing asylum-seekers offshore.

Although extremely expensive, offshore processing has been a central plank of Australian policy since the Tampa affair. In banishing asylum-seekers from the mainland, governments have aimed to dissuade more boats from coming, and to demonstrate a tough line to voters.

The High Court said that any third country to which asylum-seekers were sent must be bound by domestic or international law to protect them. It also ruled that Mr Bowen had no legal power to deport people whose asylum claims had not yet been assessed.

Mr Bowen predicted that the flow of boats, which has slowed considerably this year, would accelerate because of the court decision. "Let's make no bones about it... It is a significant blow to our efforts to break the people smugglers' business model," he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines