People smuggling proposals blasted
By Yuko Narushima
The Age (Melbourne), April 28, 2010
A modern day Oskar Schindler would be jailed for up 10 years under the Rudd government's proposed crackdown on people smuggling, lawyers say.
In largely unscrutinised changes, backed by the opposition, the government is introducing new criminal charges for supporting people smugglers, even unwittingly.
''It's mind-blowing legislation. I've never seen anything like it,'' the University of Sydney Professor of Public Law, Mary Crock, says.
''These laws capture innocent people who may be operating under perfectly good humanitarian reasons.''
Currently, the law defines people smugglers as those who are acting for profit when bringing five or more people to Australia.
Proposed laws make criminals of anyone sending money to asylum seekers overseas, who later use it to pay a people smuggler.
They also capture Australians who organise for asylum seekers to escape danger for no financial gain, jeopardising some of the work of charitable organisations.
The president of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, Ben Saul, said the changes had so far evaded the attention of refugee communities they would affect.
''Unfortunately, most of the focus is on recent changes to asylum policy,'' he said. ''This one's snuck under the radar.''
Non-government organisations have recently increased criticism of the government's freeze on processing asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and the reopening of Curtin detention centre.
The anti-people smuggling and other measures bill also criminalises ship captains who rescue people on the high seas and bring them to Australia and pilots who unknowingly fly foreigners into Australia on false documents.
The Tampa captain, Arne Rinnan, would have been jailed if the laws had existed in 2001, Professor Saul said. The Norwegian captain made international news when he rescued more than 400 asylum seekers from a sinking boat and the Australian government denied him access to an Australian port to offload them.
''You could capture anyone, from a mariner at sea who saves people whose lives are at risk on the high seas – like captain Arne Rinnan – through to people who saved Jews from extermination in the Second World War like Oskar Schindler, who didn't do it for a profit,'' he said.
The changes planned for Australia go beyond comparable laws in the US, Canada, the UK and New Zealand, he said.
The government proposed the changes in February, saying they subjected people smugglers to the ''full force of Australian law''.
At the time, Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the measures were a part of Labor's ''hardline approach to combating the scourge of people smuggling''.
The proposed laws also extend ASIO's powers. The domestic spy agency's remit will soon go beyond intelligence to cracking people-smuggling syndicates.
If the bill is passed, ASIO will be able to tap the phones of anyone suspected of supporting people smugglers.
The opposition has questioned how ASIO would be supported in its new work.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has said the proposed laws are ''too little too late''.
The government has said the changes would be cost-neutral.