The Coalition faces an uphill battle securing support for legislation allowing potentially deadly force to be used against asylum seekers, with Senators Ricky Muir and David Leyonhjelm indicating to New Matilda they will not back the Bill unamended.
The legislation is designed to clarify the circumstances in which guards are authorised to use force against people in detention centres but has been heavily criticised by legal experts and human rights groups who are concerned it would bestow powers beyond those afforded to police.
Labor has proposed a series of amendments to the law, placing stricter tests on when force may be used.
A spokesperson said Senator Muir shared similar concerns to those expressed by the ALP and would not support the Bill in its current form.
“He is currently assessing the amendments outlined by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Law Council of Australia and his staff have been in discussions with the Minister’s office in relation to this Bill,” they said.
While Leyonhjelm was unavailable for comment, his media adviser Gavin Atkins told New Matilda the NSW Senator was also unlikely to back the legislation if changes were not made.
“It would be safe to say he broadly opposes the intent of the bill on libertarian grounds and would support amendments that would make it less authoritarian in nature,” Atkins said.
If Leyonhjelm and Muir vote against the Bill they will only need the assistance of one more crossbencher to vote it down, with Labor and the Greens also opposed.
The offices of Senator John Madigan and Family First Senator Bob Day said they were still formulating their responses to the Bill, though a spokesperson for Day said there were some merits to the proposed amendments. He said Day was taking further advice on whether they were necessary or not and was in talks with the government.
Other crossbenchers had not responded to questions at the time of publication.
A senate committee examining the Bill issued three separate reports, with Coalition senators proposing only minor amendments and the Greens proposing the Bill be withdrawn altogether.
The legislation currently proposes that an “authorised officer” be able to use “reasonable force” in order to protect life, property, or the health of an individual in an immigration detention centre. It also allows such force to be used to “maintain the good order, peace or security of an immigration detention facility”.
The senate committee was told this could extend to deadly force.
The Bill has also been criticised for allowing security to quash legitimate protests in detention centres.
While broadening the scope of officer powers, it also significantly limits the grounds for appeal, explicitly prohibiting victims of excessive force from being able to make complaints to the courts, unless it can be proven an action was not undertaken in “good faith”.
President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs told the committee the Bill would create an “almost open opportunity for an officer to use force in a context that’s not accountable [to the courts]”.
She said it went beyond the powers requested by immigration security provider Serco.
“Serco, as a company, was not asking for what they got. They were asking simply for clarity. They weren’t asking for a greater right to use force,” Triggs said.
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