Advocates Secure Senate Support for Phone Life-Line in Detention

We congratulate Senator Jacqui Lambie for her decision not to vote to allow the Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton’s bill to take away mobile phones from people seeking asylum.

Senator Lambie’s announcement that she will vote against the government’s amendments to the Migration Act comes on the back of a mass-petition, co-hosted by the National justice Project, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), and GetUp! which secured more than 150,000 supporters who all called on the Senate to block the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020.

In a powerful rebuff against Peter Dutton’s attempt to take away mobile phones from people seeking asylum, the Senate has expressed a commitment to maintaining individual access to their “life-line” that connects them to family, partners, friends, lawyers, and advocates.

Above: In August 2019, Tamil refugees Priya and Nadesalingam, and their daughters and their daughters Kopika and Tharunicaa used their phones to bring their deportation to the attention of the Australian community. A judge issued a last-minute injunction by phone to prevent their deportation. Image via @HometoBilo Twitter account.

The Senator’s decision reaffirms the critical casework undertaken by the National Justice Project. In 2017, lawyers at the National Justice Project took urgent legal action in the Federal Court to prevent the Minster for Home Affairs  from removing mobile phones from innocent men, women, and children in detention. That action has ensured that thousands of detainees had access to the outside world.

Despite the court ruling that the Minster did not have the right to cut off this life-line, Peter Dutton returned to the Parliament with this proposed legislation to take away the only source of accountability that asylum seekers have against the mistreatment and cruelty of guards behind closed doors.

Since the introduction of mandatory detention, many legal and health crises have been resolved by the use of mobile phones. The importance of mobile phones is obvious in the case of Tamil parents Priya and Nadesalingam, whose deportation was brought to the attention of the Australian community through the use of their phones. In their case a Federal Court judge was able to issue a last-minute injunction by phone to prevent their deportation as a result of their action.

The Director and Principal Solicitor of the National Justice Project, George Newhouse, has welcomed the announcement, saying:

“The Senator’s decision reflects the enormous and growing community support for the basic rights of people seeking asylum. More than 150,000 voices from across Australia called on the Senate to take action – and today we congratulate the senators for listening.”

“Mobile phones save lives every day. They are a legal, emotional, social, and cultural life-line without which the government could silence and punish people seeking asylum with impunity.”

“Imagine not being able to say goodbye to your dying loved-ones, not being able to tell your family in your home-country that you are alive and okay, not being able to tell your partner and your children that you love them: this is what Peter Dutton is trying to take away from the innocent men, women, and children who he has detained”

“I believe that Priya, Nadesalingam and their two children would be in Sri Lanka today if they had not had their mobile phones with them on the night that the guards stormed their room in Villawood Immigration Centre”

To arrange an interview with George Newhouse, please contact:

Timothy Ginty
Digital Communications and Fundraising Specialist, National Justice Project
0434 640 009
timothyg@justice.org.au