30 July 2008
The announcement effectively ends the policy of mandatory detention (except for exceptional cases) that has been a long-running source of considerable controversy and which was seen to be a violation Australia’s international human rights obligations.
Announcing the policy changes, Senator Evans (Minister for Immigration) rejected the notion that "dehumanising and punishing of unauthorised arrivals with long-term detention is an effective or civilised response" and went on to say that "desperate people are not deterred by the threat of harsh detention - they are often fleeing much worse circumstances."
Policy changes also include regular reviews of the cases of those held in detention (every three months), the provision of legal assistance to asylum seekers and an end to children being held in detention.
The policy changes were widely welcomed by refugee support groups and advocacy groups such as the Refugee Council of Australia and Polmin.
Spokesman for the Australian Catholic Bishops Bishop Joe Grech who said "The new risk based detention policy will do much to restore balance to the treatment of asylum seekers in this country so that people who pose a low risk can live in the community while their claims are being tested, rather than being locked up indefinitely."
Whilst also welcoming the move the Director of the Edmund Rice Centre Phil Glendenning, pointed out that "This is unfinished business. Australia still has a responsibility to those people it has damaged through this policy, whether they are still on these shores or still running for their lives in other countries"
The decision provides hope and encouragement to all those engaged in advocacy for a better and more just world and demonstrates that with patience and persistence it is possible to bring about change.