Australia High Court upholds asylum seeker deal with Papua New Guinea

The High Court has again upheld the legality of Australia’s asylum seeker deal with Papua New Guinea, ruling it does not breach the Migration Act or the constitution. Its decision follows an April 2016 ruling by the PNG Supreme Court that the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees at the Manus Island regional processing centre breached that country’s constitution.

The full bench of the high court, sitting in Brisbane, ruled Australia’s offshore arrangement with PNG was valid.

But the High Court on Thursday found the Australian government was not constitutionally limited by the need to conform to the domestic law of another country, and the arrangement between the two nations was valid.

“The high court held that neither the legislative nor the executive power of the commonwealth is constitutionally limited by any need to conform to the domestic law of another country and that the past and future actions challenged by the plaintiff were not invalid or precluded,” the court’s judgment summary said.

The case was brought forward by an Iranian man who arrived in Australia at Christmas Island by boat in July 2013 and was taken to PNG.

Australia’s immigration minister had designated PNG a “regional processing centre” the previous year.

Following the PNG court ruling, the High Court was asked to consider whether a range of actions by the Australian government in relation to the offshore processing deal were invalid or precluded.

“The Court also held that, even if the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] and the Regional Resettlement Arrangement were beyond the power of PNG under its Constitution, each remained an “arrangement” within the scope of s198AHA [of Australia’s Migration Act] because the authority conferred by that section does not depend upon the lawfulness of government action under the law of a foreign country.”

The detainees sought compensation for alleged physical and psychological injuries they suffered as a result of the conditions in which they were held.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said at the time an anticipated six-month legal battle would have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees alone, and settling was considered a prudent outcome.

 

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