ALHR commends the Victorian Government’s moral leadership in launching the Legacy Caseload Initiative and would like to see similar programs in all States and Territories

May 10, 2016

On Sunday 17 April 2016, ALHR President Benedict Coyne attended the launch of the Victorian Legal Aid Legacy Caseload Initiative. This initiative will help up to 11,000 asylum seekers living in Victoria get the legal assistance they need to have their claims for protection assessed fairly.

Launched by the Attorney-General Martin Pakula, the two-year initiative funded by Victoria Legal Aid enables Refugee Legal and Justice Connect to coordinate services that help ‘legacy caseload’ asylum seekers prepare visa applications and express their claims in writing. They will also provide education about legal processes and requirements.

Early assistance will help the government to more quickly identify and settle valid claims, allowing more asylum seekers who are owed protection to stay in Australia.

ALHR commends the Victorian Government’s moral leadership in launching the Legacy Caseload Initiative and thereby securing provision of the legal support that people seeking asylum are entitled to under international law. It represents a practical legal measure that will genuinely assist in the protection of fundamental human rights for some of the most vulnerable people in Australia. ALHR has written to the Attorneys-General of each State and Territory inviting them to engage in a conversation to see whether their Ministry, department and government will implement a similar initiative.

The Initiative will provide a fair-go to asylum seekers with difficulties understanding the legal process, due to language barriers or mental health issues caused by torture or trauma, and ensure they receive the legal assistance they need. During the next two years, the Legacy Caseload Initiative will provide two specialist immigration lawyers, a coordinator to finalise pro bono or low cost legal assistance and three lawyers at Refugee Legal.

In 2014, the Commonwealth Government withdrew most legal assistance funding for asylum seekers who had arrived in Australia by boat between August 2012 and January 2014. These asylum seekers, known as the ‘Legacy Caseload’, were further disadvantaged by changes to Commonwealth legislation, which denies them the right to review an adverse primary decision affecting their refugee claim.

The Victorian Government has committed to providing funding for legal assistance and advice for the 11,000 Legacy Caseload arrivals currently living in the community on bridging visas or held in immigration detention. Through the Victorian Community Legal Centres Assistance Fund, the Government has provided $50,000 to Refugee Legal to expand its migration advice services in Melbourne and across rural and regional Victoria. The grant to Refugee Legal is part of $2 million provided over two years to community legal centres for a range of key frontline resources and programs.

Australia stands alone amongst democratic nations as being bereft of a bill of rights or human rights charter by means of which to legally protect basic human rights. Whilst Australia is a party to all the core international human rights treaties, the Commonwealth Government has fallen significantly short of domestically implementing our outstanding international human rights obligations. This record of failure has recently been the subject of significant scrutiny and criticism by the international community at Australia’s second Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council, where 110 UN member states made 290 recommendations as to how Australia can improve its human rights record. An unprecedented incident in international law also occurred in March 2015 when Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, declared that Australia’s offshore processing camps on Manus Island and Nauru were in breach of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Freedom from torture is a non-derogable fundamental human right at international law.