The Australian federal government has said it acted lawfully when detaining 157 asylum seekers on board a Customs boat for a month, telling the Canberra High Court that India was an ‘obvious place’ to send them back.
In the High Court in Canberra, the General-Solicitor Justin Gleeson said the decision to intercept the boat carrying the 157 asylum seekers had come from the National Security Committee of Cabinet, of which Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is a member.Mr Gleeson said India was an "obvious place" to return the Sri Lankan Tamils, given the asylum seekers could not be returned to Sri Lanka for fear of being persecution and that they had departed from Pondicherry in India, despite the boat being only 16 nautical miles from Christmas Island.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the asylum seeker CPCF, who was on board the boat carrying 157 asylum seekers, said the government was deliberately ignoring international human rights.
"The Australian government is repeatedly increasingly saying that we comply with human rights law in our actions at sea, but in this case they are saying we don't have any legal obligation under Australian law to comply with international law," said Hugh De Krester from the Human Rights Law Centre.
"Separately they have introduced a bill before the Parliament to say we can exercise those powers without regard to international law and in a decision-making process.
"If the government meant what they said, they wouldn't be doing this."
But Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said it was the government's policy to turn boats back when it was safe to do so, and there were a "range of options" available to the government when dealing with this Indian vessel.
"It is never our first response in these situations to take people to Nauru, whether that's via Christmas Island or by the mainland," Mr Morrison told Sky News.
"The Australian government always seeks to ensure that its international obligations are met and we do that on each occasion and we don't refoul people and we never have and we certainly haven't done that as a government."
The findings of the High Court case will be handed down in the coming months. (Sydney Morning Herald)