Government announces faster, fairer refugee assessment process
Friday, 07 January 2011
Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Bowen MP today announced changes to the refugee determination process for irregular maritime arrivals in response to the High Court decision that was handed down on 11 November 2010.
The government will streamline the primary assessment process, now to be known as a Protection Obligations Determination, with effect from 1 March. The new process will allow for a faster initial assessment by a departmental officer.
'Assessment procedures for refugee claims from irregular maritime arrivals will be changed to allow an earlier decision on whether someone needs Australia’s protection,' Mr Bowen said.
'The current approach of a full initial assessment of claims, a separate independent review of negative assessments, followed now due to the High Court decision by the possibility of judicial review, goes further than assessment procedures in many other countries.'
Under the new streamlined system, irregular maritime arrivals whom a departmental officer concludes clearly meets the criteria for protection under the Refugees Convention will be considered for the grant of a protection visa.
Where the departmental officer is not able to promptly reach that conclusion, the case will be fast-tracked directly to an independent assessor for final determination, to be known as an Independent Protection Assessment.
The new Protection Obligations Determination process will apply to asylum seekers who arrive by boat at an excised offshore place from 1 March, as well as those who arrived previously and who have not had a Refugee Status Assessment interview by that date.
Mr Bowen said that procedural adjustments were also being made to the refugee assessment process to ensure that decisions were made more fairly.
'Following the recent High Court ruling, my department has amended its processes in order to correct and, in future, avoid any possible procedural unfairness,' Mr Bowen said.
'In particular, my department has strengthened processes so that asylum seekers are given an opportunity to respond to any information that may have a negative effect on the assessment of their claims.'
Mr Bowen said the government was concerned about the potential for people who were found not to be refugees to remain in detention longer while pursuing judicial review of their case.
'I am very keen to ensure that decision-making on protection claims is both swift and robust, in view of the reality that many will seek to go to the courts,' Mr Bowen said.
The government has asked Professor John McMillan AO to advise the government on possible options for improving the efficiency and minimising the duration of the judicial review process for irregular maritime arrivals.
'It is important that the government balances the need for a rigorous assessment process with the need for timely and efficient processing of asylum claims,' Mr Bowen said.
'It is also important for the integrity of the system that people whose claims are rejected do not unduly delay their return to their country of origin through repeated and unmeritorious appeals.'
Professor McMillan, who was the Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman from 2003 to 2010, will continue in his role as Australian Information Commissioner while advising the government. He will present his recommendations to the government by the end of February.
To assist with the higher court workload the government intends to appoint two additional Federal Magistrates.
Last update: Friday, 07 January 2011 at 10:35 AEST