Australia commits another $168 million to monitoring migrants freed from indefinite detention

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian government on Monday committed an additional 255 million Australian dollars ($168 million) in funding for police and other law enforcement officials to monitor 141 migrants freed when a court ruled their indefinite detention was unconstitutional.

The new funding over two years reflects an increase in the workload of law enforcement officials due to government concerns about a heightened community risk posed by those released following a landmark High Court decision on Nov. 8. That ruling said the government could no longer indefinitely detain foreigners who had been refused Australian visas, but could not be deported to their homelands and no third country would accept them.

The migrants released due to the High Court ruling were mostly people with criminal records. The group also included people who failed visa character tests on other grounds and some who were challenging visa refusals through the courts, with some being refugees and stateless people.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the government’s priority was protecting the safety of the Australian community within the limits of the law.

“This funding will ensure that our agencies are able to dedicate the time and resources that will be required to manage this cohort into the future,” O’Neil said.

The Parliament passed a raft of emergency laws on Nov. 16 that imposed restrictions on the newly released migrants including curfews, police reporting conditions and a requirement to wear an electronic ankle bracelet to track their movements at all times.

Lawyers for a Chinese refugee last week lodged a High Court challenge to the new measures, arguing their client was being punished through his curfew and being forced to wear an electronic bracelet.

The seven High Court judges will on Tuesday release the reasons for their test case decision made three weeks ago to free a stateless Rohingya man convicted of raping a 10-year-old boy.

The reasons will shed light on the legality of the government's legislative responses and whether more migrants need to be released. Some recently freed migrants could potentially be detained again.

Hannah Dickinson, the principal lawyer at the Melbourne-based Asylum Seeker Resource Center, said the additional spending on law enforcement would result in increased policing that was “entirely unnecessary, unjustified and ... damaging to the community.”

O’Neil also announced she would soon introduce draft legislation in response to a recent High Court decision that found a government minister could not strip citizenship from a man convicted of terrorism.

Under the proposed new laws, a judge rather than a minister would decide whether the Australian citizenship of a dual national would be stripped during a sentencing hearing.

The crimes for which citizenship could be removed would be extended beyond terrorism to include espionage and covert foreign interference in Australian politics on behalf of a foreign government.