Minister forced to defend new refugee laws

Alex Hawke insists refugee laws were not created to redesign the country's detention framework.
Alex Hawke insists refugee laws were not created to redesign the country's detention framework.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has been forced to defend new laws that allow for refugees convicted of serious crimes to be locked up for life.

Refugee lawyers are furious after the indefinite detention powers were quickly and quietly ushered through parliament with bipartisan support this week.

Individuals affected by the laws are now faced with a stark choice between going back to their country of origin - where they could face persecution - or spending decades in immigration detention.

Mr Hawke insisted the laws were not created to redesign the country's immigration detention framework.

"The government takes its international obligations very seriously, and has a long-standing policy to not forcibly remove an unlawful non-citizen in breach of Australia's non-refoulement obligations," he told AAP.

"The amendments are designed to ensure that detainees are not required to be removed in breach of Australia's international protection obligations."

Jana Favero from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said the bill had been rushed through parliament without proper scrutiny of its alarming consequences.

She said the legislation did nothing to protect against the forcible return of refugees to their country of origin.

"Even worse, its real consequence and purpose is to obscure worsening human rights abuses through the minister's discriminative, arbitrary and unchecked power to indefinitely detain refugees whose visas have been cancelled, for the rest of their lives without any independent oversight or fair legal process," Ms Favero said.

The legislation primarily targets 21 refugees already in immigration detention who have either been convicted of serious offences or flagged by ASIO as security risks.

The individuals cannot be sent back to their country of origin due to the risk of persecution or harm.

The major parties argue they cannot be released from detention either, because it would not meet community expectations.

But while the laws primarily target people already in detention, they could be used against others in the future

Labor successfully moved amendments to introduce a merits review into the process and ensure the laws are reviewed by parliament's intelligence and security committee after two years.

The Greens opposed the legislation.

Australian Associated Press