It is not very often that a bill passes Parliament at such a rapid pace as this week.
After being blindsided by the High Court, the government passed emergency legislation to strengthen its powers to control more than 80 people, some of them serious criminals, whom it was forced to release from detention of immigration. The bill was introduced in the lower house on Thursday morning and was expected to be passed on Thursday evening.
Those with an irreverent spirit may remember Scott Morrison’s Great Strawberry Crisis in September 2018, when a bill was also passed in one day.
The strawberry bill and this one were passed in the name of “community safety.”
The exercise on strawberries, following the discovery of needles in certain fruits, was an obvious political coup. This week’s bill addresses a serious matter, although there is dispute over the threat to community safety, given that the risks posed by these individuals are no greater than those presented by local criminals who are released from prison. The difference is that they are not citizens.
The High Court is not usually at the forefront in politics. But when this is the case, it can deal violent blows that unbalance governments.
A robust response is needed
The Albanian government always knew the court could rule, as it did last week, that people could not be held in immigration detention indefinitely. But based on her track record, it seemed unlikely that she would.
The Coalition claims that the government did not take into account an allusion made a few months ago by a judge. It is certain that the government was not as prepared as it should have been when the decision was made.
He initially focused on imposing conditions on people’s visas and ensuring that security and law enforcement authorities were prepared.
But it soon became clear that a forceful response would be necessary. Whatever the logic, the argument that these people pose no more danger than the convicted Australians would not hold up. This was particularly evident when media reports of frightened victims appeared.
The government’s situation was complicated by the court’s delay in providing reasons for its decision (on which we do not know whether the judges were unanimous or divided).
The explanation for the court’s action is that it was a habeas corpus case, so the court’s first duty was to the individual at the center of the case. This meant that when she decided the man should be released, she had an obligation to say so immediately.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles, a young minister, visibly suffered from the coalition’s attacks in Parliament. The optics were not helped by the departure of Anthony Albanese on Wednesday evening for the APEC meeting in the United States. It was reported that this was a trip the Prime Minister would have preferred to miss, but felt obliged to make because Joe Biden expected his presence.
The High Court’s decision immediately affected more than 90 people, a number of whom had been convicted of serious crimes, including murder and rape. More than 80 have been released. The total number of people potentially involved could be in the hundreds.
The government repeatedly insisted that it had no choice but to immediately release the detainees. Home Secretary Clare O’Neil said: “If I had the legal power to do so, I would keep every single one of these people in custody. Some of these people have committed deplorable and disgusting crimes. I am raising three children in this country. country, and I want a safe Australia. »
The emergency legislation, passed at a special caucus meeting, meant the Commonwealth could deploy ankle monitoring bracelets and impose curfews.
There was a impasse in the powers previously available to the government. If a person failed to comply with their visa requirements, they could be sent to immigration detention – but after the court ruling, this sanction was no longer applicable. This necessitated legislation so that people could be imprisoned.
The government rushed the bill through the House of Representatives on Thursday morning, in about an hour. The opposition was not allowed to propose amendments.
The Coalition has prepared several amendments, significantly expanding the restrictions, to submit to the Senate. But, keen to lower the temperature, speed up the passage of the bill and take the issue off the table, Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles contacted Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Marles and other ministers met with Dutton in Marles’ office and the government accepted all of the opposition’s amendments. They included mandatory minimum sentences for visa breaches – which is inconsistent with the Labor agenda. It is understood Albanese was kept informed of developments.
Labor wants to prove it is in control
The bill could be a stopgap because, without the court’s reasons, the government is, to some extent, working in the dark. More legislation may be needed next year.
The Greens denounced the additional controls. » declared Nick McKim of the Greens in the Senate. “Make no mistake, this is Prime Minister Albanese’s Tampa moment and history will condemn him for it, just as it condemned Mr. Howard and Mr. Beazley over 20 years ago.” This was a reference to legislation from the Coalition for a Drastic Response to Tampa Asylum Seekers.
McKim accused Labor of “abject and cowardly capitulation by a party that has forgotten where it came from and what it once stood for”. He predicted a challenge to the legislation in the High Court.
David Manne, executive director of Refugee Legal, says a challenge is “absolutely” possible. He says the new law confers “extraordinary powers” that go beyond necessity and proportionality.
Manne claims that the controls imposed could involve a further deprivation of liberty of a person, while the High Court has just ruled against the deprivation of liberty.
In crude political terms, Labor knows it is still potentially vulnerable on issues involving asylum seekers and refugees. This vulnerability is located on two sides. The Coalition will exploit any situation to portray Labor as weak. The Greens will call Labor heartless.
The government hopes the legislation will provide the belt and suspenders needed to send the message to the community that, despite initial trial and error, it is in control of this unexpected situation.
Michelle Grattan is a professor at the University of Canberra and chief political correspondent for The conversationwhere this article first appeared.