29 February, 2024
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Ankle monitors, curfews: government moves on detainees


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Ankle tracking devices and strict curfews will be imposed on serious criminals released from indefinite immigration detention, under new emergency laws being fast-tracked by the federal government.

But a human rights lawyer says the changes are a rushed reaction to a whipped-up panic and don’t meet proper scrutiny.

The opposition had been pushing the government on the potential threat posed by criminals, including three murderers and a number of sex offenders, who were released into the community after the High Court found indefinite detention was unlawful.

In response, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil announced a raft of strict, new visa conditions as part of the government’s emergency response to the decision.

This will allow the Commonwealth to enforce ankle monitoring bracelets and curfews on the 83 detainees released in the last week.

For the first time, criminal sanctions could also be used against those who break the visa conditions, meaning they could face jail time.

“If I had any legal power to do it, I would keep every one of those people in detention,” Ms O’Neil told reporters on Thursday.

“Some of these people have committed deplorable, disgusting crimes.

“That is why our government is managing the mandatory impact of this law and doing everything that we can to keep the community safe.”

The changes are expected to be introduced to parliament on Thursday, but Refugee Legal executive director David Manne says the planned measures are disproportionate.

“Any new conditions must meet some basic tests: they must be necessary, they must be reasonably proportionate, they must not be punitive or deprive people unnecessarily of their liberty,” he told ABC Radio on Thursday.

“From what we’ve just heard, it sounds like it doesn’t pass the tests at all.”

The government seems to be reacting to a whipped-up panic, Mr Manne added.

Many of those released after the court decision had already served their sentences and ordinarily would have been quietly released into the community. 

Instead, they had been funnelled straight into indefinite immigration detention.

Mr Manne said the government already had wide-ranging powers to impose extensive conditions on immigrants and that those restrictions needed to be exercised with “extreme caution”.

“We shouldn’t readily be handing to the government extraordinary powers to impose severe restrictions on our lives without proper scrutiny,” he said.

Prior to Ms O’Neil’s announcement, the coalition had indicated it would support the government’s legislative response to the issue but had not yet received a draft form of the bill.

“Absolutely we are hoping to support it, that is for sure,” Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price told Nine’s Today show on Thursday.

Last week’s decision by the High Court forced the government to release 83 immigrants after ruling indefinite detention – with no other country willing to take them – was illegal.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton told parliament on Wednesday he would be willing to keep coalition MPs in Canberra for as long as necessary to pass the laws.

The Australian Federal Police commissioner this week briefed his state and territory counterparts about the court’s decision and a joint operation with the Australian Border Force has been established to co-ordinate the release of the detainees.

Those released were already under strict visa conditions, which included notifying authorities about their location, in-person daily reporting and restrictions on working in certain types of industries. 

The High Court is yet to release the reasoning for its decision.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is out of the country for the next few days while he attends the APEC economic leaders’ summit in San Francisco.

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