Editor’s Note: In this op-ed, Jane McAdam and Ben Saul examine the Australian Opposition’s announcement of a new asylum policy.
The Coalition’s new policy on asylum will degrade administrative decision-making, undermine accountability of public power, and leave refugees in a permanent state of psychological and legal limbo. Like the Howard government policies it mimics, it will create enormous and expensive bureaucratic inefficiencies by flooding the courts with claims for judicial review, and forcing immigration officials to remake decisions about refugee status every few years.
First, the Coalition wants to abolish the Refugee Review Tribunal, the independent body that transparently reviews decisions made by immigration officials about whether people are refugees. In contrast to the Immigration Department, the Refugee Review Tribunal has found that the vast majority of asylum seekers coming by boat to Australia are genuine refugees entitled to Australia’s protection.
But rather than questioning the quality of departmental decision-making happening behind closed doors by unseen bureaucrats, the Coalition has decided that it will simply abolish independent merits review so that bad decisions by the Immigration Department cannot be corrected.
In doing this, the strong message being sent to immigration officials is to keep their recognition rates low. When a prospective Immigration Minister’s focus is on border control and “stopping the boats”, and yet the department he would control is the only entity capable of making decisions about whether or not people are refugees, a potentially serious conflict of interest arises.
A hallmark of a functioning administrative law system is that decisions by government bodies can be reviewed. We take this for granted in Australia. And yet the Coalition is proposing that life or death decisions about refugee status will be made with no opportunity for review. There will be no chance to correct a bad decision – even if the decision maker didn’t consider relevant information, or made erroneous assumptions, or relied on out-of-date country information, or perhaps even misunderstood the law.