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Monday, 9 August 2004
Page: 25914


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (4:48 PM) —I thank people for their contributions to this debate. The Democrats do not support Labor's amendment because it takes away the core part of what the urgency motion seeks to do. The first part of the urgency motion is to note the court's ruling. We now have a serious situation where people can be locked up indefinitely for so-called immigration purposes when there is no prospect of them being deported in the foreseeable future. That includes stateless people where no country is likely to accept them.

The urgency motion goes on to say that we believe that is unacceptable and that the law should be changed to remove that prospect. The Democrats would like to do far more than that to our immigration law but we think that single, simple thing—that it should not be possible for a minister of this government or any future government to keep someone in detention indefinitely without charge—should be acceptable. We should seek to remove such an offensive provision from any law in the land. The longer it is allowed to stand the more it sends a signal that that sort of extreme amount of executive power to deny somebody their freedom is acceptable.

I cannot support any amendment that would remove that simple part from the motion even though Labor's amendment makes a range of other points, some of which have some validity. The simple thing is that the Democrats' strong view is that it is not appropriate for such an enormous power as the denial of freedom to be in the hands of a government minister without any scope for judicial oversight or intervention. I note that the minister did not come to defend the situation at all in this debate. It is good that she might be going to look at the circumstances of the couple of people who are the subject of these court decisions, but there are others.

A person's freedom should not have to depend on the goodwill of any individual minister to have a look at the case. No other democratic country allows that sort of power. No other democratic country allows mandatory detention regardless of the circumstances, regardless of how long you are likely to be in detention and regardless of the prospects of deportation. Senator Mason said these people had no right to be in this country, but they are here, that they may have no right to be anywhere else and, apparently, we say they have no right to freedom. We lock them up indefinitely, according to Senator Brandis as a preliminary to being deported. It is a very long preliminary. We have someone who, next month, will have been imprisoned for six years. It is not a crime to be stateless; it is not a crime to fail in your claim for asylum. You should not lose your freedom for such extreme lengths of time. As a consequence, I believe the law is unjust and it should be changed. The Democrats will continue in our efforts to ensure that it is changed.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Ludwig's) be agreed to.