The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, was attacked again in the Senate for her report in June 2014 concerning John Baskibasik. For more on the political attack on Gillian Triggs, see this article in the Guardian Australia.
Basikbasik had been convicted of the manslaughter of his wife, and was sentenced to 7 years prison. He served his term of imprisonment. But he is refugee and was in Australia on a protection visa. The Minister of Immigration cancelled his visa because of his conviction. Once his prison term was up, he was put in immigration detention, because he is a non-citizen who does not have a visa. He has been in immigration detention for 8 years on top of the prison sentence of 7 years.
He can’t be returned to his country of origin, because he is a refugee and would face persecution there.
The Commission’s report included the following observations:
44. Anyone with Mr Basikbasik’s personal history and custodial background would be likely to require support to re-integrate into the community. There is no information before me to indicate that the Commonwealth considered whether any risk which Mr Basikbasik posed to the community could be mitigated by a management plan to assist with his rehabilitation or by a requirement to reside at a specified location, with curfews, travel restrictions or regular reporting. It does not appear that it was necessary to detain Mr Basikbasik in an immigration detention centre.
45. Given the material before me, I find that Mr Basikbasik’s ongoing detention in an immigration detention centre is arbitrary within the meaning of article 9(1) of the ICCPR.
The Commission reported that holding him in detention for 8 years after he had served his term of imprisonment involved a breach of his human rights. The report noted that the Minister had not considered a less restrictive mode of detention and recommended that he receive $350,000 in damages. Under section 35 of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, the Commission has power to make such recommendations, although it cannot order compensation.
Abbott said the commission’s ruling that Basikbasik “be released” was “pretty bizarre” and demonstrated “extremely questionable judgment”. The social security minister, Scott Morrison, said the decision was “absolute nonsense”. The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said suggestions that “wife killers should be released back into the community with a cheque from the taxpayer are so far removed from the public view, it is just offensive”.
It is a pattern we have become accustomed to: Ministers of the Crown making foolish, misinformed comments about their political targets.
Mr Abbott’s comment was simply wrong: the Commission did not recommend that Baskibasik be released. Mr Dutton’s comment was misinformed and either foolish or dangerous. It depends on the unstated assumption that a person convicted of a serious offence should be held in detention for life, regardless of the sentence imposed by the Court. It depends on the assumption that a person’s right to be released when their prison term has been served should be capable of being trumped by the unsupervised decision of the Immigration Minister.
Most people would agree that Basikbasik’s offence was a very serious one. Most people would also agree that, once a person has served the term of imprisonment imposed by a Court, they should be released. Most people would find it uncomfortable to think that a person’s effective sentence could be converted to life imprisonment by the simple act of a Minister cancelling that person’s visa.