By Houston Ash
While the legality of the Australian government’s policy of transferring Sri Lankan asylum seekers to that country’s navy is likely to be considered by the High Court shortly, a separate challenge to another pillar of the government’s migration strategy was recently dismissed. In Plaintiff S156/2013 v Minister of Immigration and Border Protection  HCA 22, the High Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the provisions of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) under which asylum seekers are removed from Australia’s ‘migration zone’ to either Papua New Guinea or the Republic of Nauru. The Court also confirmed the validity of the decisions made by the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection to designate PNG as a ‘regional processing country’ and to direct officers of what is now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to take particular classes of ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’ to PNG or Nauru.
The provisions in question, ss 198AB and 198AD of the Migration Act, were introduced by the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Act 2012 (Cth). As discussed further below, these provisions were the Parliament’s response to the High Court’s decision in Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship  HCA 32, which scuppered the former government’s so-called ‘Malaysia Solution’.
The challenged provisions
Section 198AD of the Migration Act requires ‘unlawful non-citizens’ who are also ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’ to be taken to a ‘regional processing country’ as soon as reasonably practicable. If there are two or more such countries, s 198AD(5) requires the Minister to provide a written direction specifying the country to which a person or class of persons is to be taken. Section 198AB allows the Minister, by legislative instrument, to designate that a country is a ‘regional processing country’ if the Minister thinks it is in the national interest to do so. In considering the national interest, the Minister must have regard to whether the country has given any assurances that it:
- (a) Will not expel the person to a country where his or her life or freedom would be threatened; and
- (b) Will permit an assessment of whether the person is a refugee within the meaning of art 1A of the Refugees Convention.
Section 198AB(4) provides that any such assurances do not need to be legally binding. Continue reading