Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has vowed to come down hard on criminals freed by a controversial High Court decision which has deemed the indefinite detention of certain non-citizens illegal.
But because the High Court is yet to publish its written reasons for the decision, the federal Government is unable to introduce a law to lock the offenders up again.
This means 80 detainees – including a paedophile, elderly sex attacker and a hitman – will continue to remain in the community.
The mass release of asylum seekers followed the success of an appeal made by NZYQ – who raped a 10-year-old boy – on November 8th.
During Question Time on Tuesday, Ms O’Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles vowed to take ‘immediate action’ to keep the community safe.
Ms O’Neil said she wanted it to be clear the Commonwealth had argued against the release of certain non-citizens.
‘Some of these people have committed disgusting crimes,’ she said.
‘Some of them have hurt people who are still here in our country. And it is those victims that we care about.
‘I can tell the parliament there is one single focus and one single priority that we are using to manage the implications of the High Court’s decision and that is the community safety of the Australian citizens who elect us to this parliament.’
Shadow Immigration Minister Dan Tehan asked how the Albanese government would financially support the 80 ‘hard-core criminals’ released into the community.
‘This includes a paedophile who raped a 10-year-old boy,’ he said.
‘What accommodation and other financial support is the government now providing to this convicted paedophile and the other hard-core criminals to live in the community?’
Mr Giles responded by saying he had personally opposed the application for reasons that he believed united everyone in parliament.
‘That we believe non-citizens, that non-citizens who have committed very serious criminal offences, including sexual offences like the offences that the shadow Minister just referred to, should not continue to remain in Australia,’ he said.
‘Of course the circumstances here are that we have not been able to remove them.
‘When I say we, I say again that these are people none of whom who arrived in Australia since the election of the Albanese government.
‘Members opposite should perhaps bear that in mind.’
In a joint statement, Ms O’Neil and Mr Giles said law enforcement agencies have been working around the clock to impose tough restrictions on these criminals.
‘We release them only because the law requires us to do so,’ the statement said.
Local and state police were briefed by senior Australian Border Force officials, and the Australian Federal Police Commissioner has since had high-level meetings with each state and territory counterpart.
Offenders released as a result of the decision will be moved into state and territory-based ‘post-offending programs’ and each offender ‘is being case managed’.
The strict, mandatory visa conditions imposed on these offenders include: ‘restricting types of employment, requiring regular reporting to authorities, and requiring released detainees to report their personal details including their social media profiles.
‘Additionally, the Government has imposed daily reporting requirements for those with the most serious criminal history.’
These requirements are in addition to any state-imposed sanctions.
The government is also exploring further measures it can take, including potentially legislating to close any loopholes.
‘This was a decision of the Full Bench of the High Court declaring the detention unconstitutional. It cannot be overturned by the Parliament,’ the ministers said in their joint statement.
The decision reversed a 20-year precedent which had allowed the Commonwealth to detain non-citizens who had committed crimes.
The court found in favour of a Rohingya paedophile – known in proceedings as NZYQ – who has been in detention since serving a prison sentence for child sexual abuse.
The Rohingya are a stateless Islamic people who reside in western Myanmar near the border with Bangladesh, where they are persecuted.
Because the Rohingya are not citizens of Myanmar – who consider them Bengalis and not a distinct ethnic group – NZYQ cannot be deported there.
NZYQ arrived in Australia by boat in 2012 and had his bridging visa cancelled in 2015 when he pleaded guilty to having sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old child.
He was transferred to an immigration detention centre in May 2018 after serving a minimum sentence of three years and four months and being denied a ‘safe haven enterprise’ visa.
Until the High Court ruling, NZYQ faced the prospect of remaining in immigration detention for the rest of his life. He has now been released into the community and the Commonwealth will pay his legal costs.
In the wake of the decision, the government admitted a further 92 people were being held in similar circumstances, and up to 300 in total could be affected.
Among those now freed is Sirul Azahr Umar, 51, who was sentenced to death for the 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, the pregnant girlfriend of a political operative, whom he killed and then blew up the body.
Umar, who had been a bodyguard for the Malaysian prime minister, was freed from Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney on Saturday and is now understood to be staying with a relative in Canberra.
The woman he murdered was the partner of Razak Baginda, a close associate of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.
On Monday, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said 80 of those being detained, including a Malaysian hitman, had already now been freed and given a visa.
All those released by the High Court ruling have now been given a bridging visa and are obliged to report in to police or appropriate authorities on a regular basis.
Mr Giles insisted Australian Federal Police and Border Force were involved in the release of those detained and their future supervision to protect public safety.
The Australian government had opposed the court’s decision, but the minister said they had prepared to deal with the consequences.