By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS
A PROMINENT asylum-seeker lawyer has accused the Federal Government of deliberately denying legal access to asylum-seekers.
Greg Barns, asylum-seeker spokesman for Australian Lawyers Alliance, said it was nearly as “impossible” for asylum-seekers in Dandenong to get legal access as those on Manus Island and Nauru.
This year, the Federal Government cut funding of free legal advice for asylum seekers, who don’t arrive in Australia with a valid visa.
Mr Barns said the “unconscionable” outcome was probably in breach of international human rights covenants that affirm people’s right to legal access.
“There seems to be a deliberate policy to deny access to lawyers for asylum-seekers.
“It’s extraordinary – you’re talking about life and death for some people. Migration law is very complex.
“Lawyers are to do it pro-bono or don’t do it at all – that seems to be the attitude.”
Many asylum seekers’ rights are restricted on temporary visas, such as a bridging visa or temporary protection visa.
Mr Barns said those on bridging visas from August 2012 were being “warehoused in the community without rights to work”.
If charged, they could be stripped of their visa – “undermining the presumption of innocence”, he said.
“You have people detained when they should be out on bail.”
Mr Barns also attacked the resurfacing of temporary protection visas, which effectively ban holders from leaving the country and don’t support family reunion in Australia.
On these visas, Mr Barns said: “What we have here is a government policy and department that implements policy which is cruel, inhumane and does nothing to deter people coming to Australia.”
The Federal Government had pledged at last year’s election to remove taxpayer-funded immigration advice.
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrision said in March the cuts saved $100 million.
“Australia’s protection obligations do not extend to providing free immigration advice and assistance to those who arrived in Australia illegally,” he said in a statement in March.
“Those who wish to provide immigration advice and application assistance pro bono are free to do so.”