ELIZABETH JACKSON: Mary Crock is a Professor of Public Law at the University of Sydney.
She’s written extensively about the problems associated with detaining asylum seekers and she’s been lobbying the government to change its policy
She says this is a turning point for asylum seekers in Australia and a change that’s long overdue.
MARY CROCK: Detention is very harmful to the mental health and other aspects of the health of the asylum seekers. It’s also a very inefficient way to deal with the problem. People are being detained in very remote locations; it costs a literal fortune to get the decision makers out to the asylum seekers.
What needs to happen is that we need to: a) stop harming people who may yet be future citizens of this country and; b) we need to get them in to the centres, into the cities, where we can deal with their cases in a fair and efficient manner.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Have other countries gone down this path of taking asylum seekers out of detention and have they been successful?
MARY CROCK: What strikes me is how unaware we are of what other countries are doing.
We are really by ourselves when it comes to keeping asylum seekers in detention for the length of their processing time. Every other country around the world has mechanisms for allowing people out if they don’t pose any threat to the community.
The central question should be: do these people pose a flight risk? Do they pose a risk of any other sort to the community? If not, why are we spending a literal fortune locking them up in remote locations? It doesn’t help anybody.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Is it difficult though to know whether or not they pose a threat before their claim has been processed?
MARY CROCK: Of course not, of course not. Most asylum seekers, most people who come here and claim refugee status in Australia come here by plane and they live quite happily in the community. They don’t abscond, on the whole. So there’s no reason why boat people should be in any different category.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Does this policy shift, in your view, go far enough?
We’ve heard Senator Sarah Hanson-Young this morning outline some of the details and it looks as though families with children will be the ones given priority, but is that enough? Or do you see this as the beginning of a major policy change away from detention altogether for asylum seekers?
MARY CROCK: I would like to see that happen. At the moment we are spending, as I said before, a literal fortune on detaining people in remote locations. There’s no practical reason why we should be doing this. It seems to have been really done more as a sop to the domestic population than to any question of efficiency and effectiveness.
What we need to see happen is we need to see people being processed in a fair and efficient way so as to see what their status is under international law, see whether they really do have claims upon our good nature. We can’t do that effectively if people are in remote locations.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Mary Crock, Professor of Public Law at the University of Sydney.