Detention changes welcomed, but smoke and mirrors stay in the picture

Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Western Australia 6312
Phone: 0417 090 130

Detention changes welcomed, but smoke and mirrors stay in the picture

Media Release
Tuesday July 29, 2008 8:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

"WA based human rights group Project SafeCom has welcomed the Immigration policy changes as outlined by Minister Chris Evans this morning at Australian National University, but too much smoke and mirrors remain: it is not until we will see policy changes announced in "El-Ahh-Double-U", in LAW, that we can affirm that Australia's draconian John Howard legacy has come to an end," spokesman Jack H Smit said.

"By still singling out unannounced boat arrivals, the policy changes still serve two masters: on the one hand Chris Evans panders to the right-wingers in his own party and those who keep hanging on to the false constructs that asylum seekers arriving by boat are "illegal", while on the other hand the Immigration Minister has responded to sustained community pressure from those in the "refugee lobby", with groups such as Project SafeCom and GetUp having applied due pressure around the Detention Inquiry of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Immigration currently underway."

"It also should be greeted with a considerable amount of distrust that selection of those who are deemed a risk to the community are to be detained is solely left to the bureaucrats in the Immigration Department," Mr Smit said.

"John Howard has left the Department in a state of serious politicisation, and the Rudd government's failure to apply the blowtorch to the Immigration Department has already resulted in several questionable practices around Ministerial Intervention decisions since the Rudd government came to power."

"It is not until we see thorough changes in law that we can retire from being Detention Watchers," Mr Smit said.

"We welcome Chris Evans' announcement that those who are refused protection will have government-funded legal assistance, but questions remain about the measure of independence of this legal advice: the government needs to ensure that community-based legal representatives, independently chosen or selected by the visa applicant with independent advisors will be in the picture at all times."

"Once again, we need to raise the issue that we see an essential role for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) in this process, an organisation that has all the capacity for impartiality and independence, if properly funded and strengthened."

"True accountability, impartiality and independence from politicians is the hallmark of excellence in management standards in the treatment of the most vulnerable in society. While clearly, Chris Evans has once again shown much goodwill and a will to implement changes away from the ghastly practices during the Howard years, many holes remain in his outline of the changes."

"One of the many signs of these holes is that stateless asylum seekers such as Peter Qasim, once our longest-detained asylum seeker, still lives in limbo in the Australian community."

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]

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