An ASIO indefinite detention collection

This is a collection of pieces I’ve written about Australia indefinitely detaining refugees who receive adverse security assessments.

There are currently 60-odd people who have had their asylum claims assessed by Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and been certified as genuine refugees, but have then been deemed security risks by ASIO. They are detained for potentially the rest of their lives (based on decisions made in closed processes) because of poorly-founded claims that national security requirements leave no other option.

I’ve put these five articles and posts together, with summaries, to act as a backgrounder on this topic. Each piece contains plenty of links for anyone doing further research, and they are presented in chronological order.


Give refugees the right to appeal security assessments – just like the rest of us
The Conversation
03 May 2012

This article was prompted by a report released in March 2012 by the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network. That report called for adversely assessed refugees to be given the right to appeal through the Security Appeals Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Immigration Minister and his Opposition counterpart were rejecting the calls for appeal rights by simply asserting “national security”. This article pointed out that the proposed appeal method did not involve making intelligence public, and argued that there were no compelling national security arguments against it.

On December 2012 there was some progress, as the government established a review mechanism headed by former judge Margaret Stone. But this falls short of the independent scrutiny that could be applied by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and even this semi-appeal mechanism faces the prospect of being shut down by a Coalition Government after the next election.


ASIO and indefinite detention: choosing the wrong target
The Murphy Raid
21 May 2012

This article addressed some activists who placed the blame for this situation chiefly on ASIO, and who saw these detentions as evidence of an intelligence agency out of control.

The article argued the responsibility does not lie with ASIO but with the legislation, and therefore our elected leaders. It outlined how the detention process worked and the relevant laws and policies that result in people being indefinitely detained with no right of appeal. It argued that ASIO was simply following the law, and that making a bogeyman of ASIO was misguided for three reasons.

First, because it directs the focus away from the people actually responsible. Second, an intelligence agency in a liberal democracy has no business challenging the legislation that governs it. Third, it plays into the false portrayal of this refugee dilemma as one of security versus softness.


Resources: new information about ASIO security assessments
The Murphy Raid
03 July 2012

This post presented two new sources that shed some light on how the security assessment process actually worked.

One was an Australian National Audit Office report that gave a large-scale overview of ASIO assessments, (for visa applicants, people applying for sensitive jobs etc) with plenty of statistics and a particular focus on boat arrivals.

The other was the transcripts of the proceedings of a High Court challenge to detention by one of the adversely assessed refugees. Some parts of the transcripts provided new information on the actual process of the security assessment, and whether they met the standards of procedural fairness.


What do ASIO’s adverse security assessments of refugees actually mean?
Right Now (originally published in The Murphy Raid)
7 May 2013

This article put aside the questions of appeal rights and procedural fairness to look at the bigger question of whether an adverse assessment should result in indefinite detention at all.

It made the point that an ASIO adverse assessment is an intelligence-based predictive judgement that someone might pose a risk. The assessments are not comparable to criminal convictions and do not prove these people to be dangerous. It argued that adverse assessments do not justify indefinite detention, that it is difficult to find a single security expert who supports the government’s current approach and that there are alternative ways of addressing security risks.


As a High Court challenge looms, are there alternatives to Australia’s indefinite detention policy?
The Conversation
22 May 2013

This article explored what some of the alternatives to indefinite detention actually are.

It argued that the adversely assessed refugees could be released on conditional visas and then subjected to various security measures depending on the threat posed. These measures include surveillance, criminal charges if the continued active support for LTTE while in Australia, proscribing the LTTE, control orders, and control order-like measures imposed through DIAC.

Some of the alternatives have their own dilemmas that would need to be debated (the old Temporary Protection Visas had unnecessary restrictions on employment, control orders and group proscription raise various civil liberties issues, etc). In my view the options chosen should be tailored to the specific security risk each individual is assessed to pose and there should be independent oversight and periodic review to ensure that any restrictions on liberty are only maintained as long as necessary.

However, the article was not intended prescribe a specific ideal solution, but to demonstrate how weak the case for indefinite detention is by showing that there are plenty of alternatives. It would be a sign of progress if public discussion moved on from simply accepting indefinite detention to debating the best alternatives to it.


I hope you find those five pieces useful. For those who want to help change this tragic situation, I recommend you visit Letters For Ranjini.

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