A leading refugee advocate and legal academic says the government's new anti-people smuggling bill is inconsistent with international law.
31 May 2010 - 12:10 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2013 - 2:09 PM

A leading refugee advocate and legal academic says the government's new anti-people smuggling bill is inconsistent with international law.

Director of the Migrant and Refugee Rights Project and Senior Lecturer at the University of NSW Law School, Bassina Farbenblum, says the law is 'ill-conceived and dangerous'.

"The Bill completely ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of people smuggled into Australia are refugees – people to whom Australia has protection obligations under international law, and who have a right to seek asylum and not be penalized if they enter Australia without a visa," Ms Farbenblum says.

One of the key components of the Anti-people Smuggling and Other Measures Bill is the possiblity of people in Australia being prosecuted for sending money to relatives overseas, if that money is then used for illegal entry into Australia.

"This is a dangerous and ill-conceived piece of legislation that will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable people in this country," Ms Farbenblum says.

"It allows ASIO to spy on refugee communities in Australia who are often already traumatised by experiences of government abuses in the countries they fled.

"A refugee can be prosecuted if the government claims she was "reckless" as to whether some portion of any financial support that she sent to her family overseas would be used to pay smugglers. The potential for abuse of these provisions is obvious," she says.

The Bill, which was passed earlier this month after gaining the support of both major parties, has been heavily criticised by refugee advocates.

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) wrote to the Attorney-General's office expressing concern over the Bill shortly before it was passed.

"This law could target people sending money to support a family member in a refugee camp," RCOA head Paul Power says.

Speaking against the bill, Greens MP Sarah Hanson-Young told the Senate she was concerned over the expedient passage of the legislation.

"While it is clear that the Greens are in no way supportive of people-smuggling, that does not mean that this Senate should give up its responsibilities as a house of review; its responsibilities to scrutinise legislation - and this legislation is so, so poorly drafted," Ms Hanson-Young says.

Critics of the legislation have drawn comparisons to the case of Indian-born doctor Mohamed Haneef, who was detained in Australia after his sim card was implicated in the failed Glasgow Airport attack.

Dr Haneef was charged with providing material support to a terrorist or terror organisation following the discovery of the sim card in the Jeep used in the attack.

Greg Barnes, director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, wrote in Crikey last month that the bill draws on post September 11 anti-terror laws.

"The flaw in what are termed 'extended liability' offences is that they drag into the net people who are completely innocent, such as Dr Haneef," Mr Barnes says.