Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil says she would not have released a “single one” of the 93 immigration detainees ordered free by the High Court if she had “any legal power” to stop it.
The federal government has been scrambling to legislate restrictions on the cohort, including convicted sex criminals, who are set to be freed after their detention was ruled unconstitutional.
The opposition threw its support behind the emergency laws passed by parliament last week that included curfews on released detainees as well as personal ankle monitors.
Ms O’Neil on Tuesday backed the government’s response during a heated exchange with Today show host Karl Stefanovic, who labelled the “detention saga” as a “dog’s breakfast”.
“I vehemently disagree with your tone … I have never seen a government respond to a constitutional decision at this pace. We have a lot of work still to do, but phase one is done,” Ms O’Neil said.
“That is, setting up a legal way for us to manage these people in the community. What comes next is how we make this more durable … that is something the government is working on”.
Ms O’Neil could not confirm if the detainees had received the ankle monitors and said Immigration Minister Andrew Giles had to evaluate each detainee on a case-by-case basis.
Ms O’Neil added the High Court’s decision had overturned “20 years of precedent”, and despite applauding the response by the government and police was critical of the landmark ruling.
“Can I just say, so that your viewers are really clear on this, if it was up to me (then) none of these people would have been released from detention, none of them at all,” she said.
“Some of these people have committed disgusting crimes against Australians and if I had any legal power to keep them in detention I would. We have a High Court decision telling us that is not available to me.
“So, my job as home affairs minister is design a way so that I can protect the community while following the protection of the High Court. That is what I am doing.”
Questioned over the more than 300 detainees still in detention, Ms O’Neil said the High Court may make further decisions on their status and the government “will not know … until the High Court tells us”.