Illegal immigrants

On 24 July 1985 Cabinet considered a recommendation by the Human Rights Commission that illegal immigrants and deportees should be held in immigration detention centres rather than gaols. It was estimated that there were at least 50,000 long-term illegal immigrants in Australia and that at least 30,000 people probably became illegal immigrants each year, although about half of them either left the country or regularised their position within a year. The present immigration detention centres in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney could hold only about 170 detainees, and it would be several years before all detainees could be held in detention centres rather than gaols. Ministers Chris Hurford (Immigration) and Tom Uren (Administrative Services) told Cabinet that:

…without a balanced level of enforcement activity, illegal immigration could quickly accelerate. The provision of adequate custodial facilities is an essential part of the enforcement program.

Cabinet agreed that there should be immigration detention centres to United Nations standards and the funding of them would be discussed in conjunction with consideration of the Australia Card, one of the functions of which would be to facilitate the identification of illegal immigrants.

On 25 November 1985 Cabinet considered recommendations by Hurford for amendments to the Migration Act. Hurford said that the current immigration system was outmoded and increasingly unworkable. Amendments made in 1981 to limit the number of illegal immigrants who retrospectively sought permanent residence had been largely ineffective. Applications were running at the rate of 10,000 each year and there was more than a year's backlog in dealing with appeals. Administrative law on the arbitrary use of discretion on appeals had become a nightmare, with delays working to the benefit of applicants. In some cases it had taken years of court cases to deport an illegal immigrant. Hurford recommended that applicants who had acted improperly (for example, by overstaying a visa) should not have a right of review and that the Minister should have a general power to determine classes of people who might be granted entry permits. The primary review of migration cases should be done by appeal adjudicators independent of the Immigration Department and appointed by the Governor-General in Council. The Minister would continue to determine refugee status, with no external review or recourse to the Freedom of Information Act. Cabinet reserved the matter for further consideration.

Selected documents

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014