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Pro bono: Fast track risks fairness

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Cite as: July 2015 89 (7) LIJ, p.73

New assessment laws could restrict asylum seekers' access to a fair hearing.

The federal government has introduced a series of legislative changes to Australia’s refugee determination process over the past six months; one of the most significant has been the introduction of a new fast track refugee status determination process to be applied to 27,000 asylum seekers who arrived by boat on or after 13 August 2012.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) is concerned that these changes will see many asylum seekers returned to persecution or harm in their home country.

Rather than having their claim heard under Australia’s current robust refugee status determination process, fast track applicants will face a severely truncated process, with shortened procedural time frames and requirements for early disclosure, which fail to take into account the mental and emotional distress many applicants live with every day.

People will also be denied a full and fair merits review by the Refugee Review Tribunal, with the government establishing a new limited review body for people subjected to fast track – the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA).

The IAA review will restrict people’s access to a fair hearing in a number of ways:

  • The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection can deny people a merits review, including those considered to have a “manifestly unfounded claim for protection” or those who gave a “bogus document” in support of his or her application without a “reasonable explanation”;
  • Applicants who have not been excluded must rely on the Minister to refer them to the IAA for review – they won’t be able to apply themselves;
  • IAA reviews will generally be on the papers only and will not include a hearing;
  • The IAA will generally not allow applicants to respond to adverse information; and
  • The IAA won’t be able to accept new information or claims except in exceptional circumstances.

In the ASRC’s experience, the majority of initial refusals are overturned by the RRT – a clear indication of the importance of a robust and independent merits review process.

At the same time as this new fast track process is set to begin, the government has significantly cut the amount of legal funding available to assist asylum seekers. This means the majority of applicants will be navigating this process with little or no legal support, except from the pro bono community.

HOW to help
  • Lawyers can improve access to pro bono legal support for asylum seekers by volunteering with the ASRC or other organisations listed on
  • Support Liberty Victoria’s campaign ( to have legal funding for asylum seekers reinstated or contact your federal MP.
  • Support the ASRC’s winter appeal ( so it can continue to provide free legal support to asylum seekers.
  • Looking to help?
    International Association of Infant Massage, Australia

    IAIM Australia works to establish and restore the foundations needed in the first year of a baby’s life, to enable them to experience lifelong mental health. It provides practical programs, training and support to families and health workers which give them additional skills and knowledge in providing babies with the foundations for lifelong mental health. IAIM Australia and our parent educators provide services to about 10,000 families each year. Anyone can access our programs.

    Current needs of group

    IAIM Australia is seeking a short-term volunteer to review its draft constitution, to ensure its compliance with current legislation (eg Corporations Act, ACNC Act) and ensure the constitution reflects the current and growth needs of the organisation, which is currently undertaking transition from an incorporated association to charitable company limited by guarantee.

    To volunteer for this role email Joanna Cantwell at or apply online at

    Jessica Williamson is principal solicitor, Human Rights Law Program, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre


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