25 November 2003

Senate overturns island excise

The Senate has overturned the federal government's move to cut thousands of islands in northern Australia from the migration zone.

Labor, the Australian Democrats, the Australian Greens, Australian Progressive Alliance Senator Meg Lees and independent Brian Harradine joined forces to disallow the regulations.

The federal government called an urgent executive council meeting on November 4 to pass the regulations to remove the islands from Australia for migration purposes.

It followed the arrival of an Indonesian fishing boat carrying 14 Turkish Kurds and four crew on Melville Island, north of Darwin, on November 4.

They were later towed back out to sea by the Australian navy and sent into Indonesian waters.

The disallowance motion passed in the Senate only comes into effect from Monday, which means the 14 Turkish asylum seekers cannot (not) access Australia's court system because Melville Island was excised at the time of their arrival.

Article 30 of the Geneva Convention reads:

1. No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

The drafters of the convention probably did not envision the ingenuity of a government choosing, instead of moving the refugee across the border, to move the border across the refugee.

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