Dozens to be freed after major court ruling

Immigration Minister Andrew Miles flagged the release of non-citizens being held in detention without a valid visa. Picture: Gary Ramage/NCA NewsWire.

Dozens of asylum seekers held in indefinite detention in Australia will be soon released after the nation’s top court found detaining refugees to be unlawful, the federal government has confirmed.

The High Court handed down a landmark ruling on Wednesday that found a stateless man from Myanmar who had been in detention after serving time in jail for child sex offences had been unlawfully detained.

About 92 people currently locked up in immigration detention who cannot return to their home countries could be released soon, according to a statement released on Friday from Immigration Minister Andrew Giles.

“The government notes the high court ruling ... We are considering the implications of the judgment carefully and will continue to work with authorities to ensure community safety is upheld,” Mr Giles said.

“Other impacted individuals will be released and any visas granted to those individuals will be subject to appropriate conditions.”

Villawood Immigration Detention Centre
Since 1992, Australia has had a system of mandatory detention ruling that any non-citizen in Australia without a valid visa must be detained. Picture: Dylan Robinson/NCA NewsWire.

The announcement came after Agriculture Minister Murray Watt told the Senate on Thursday that the government planned to wait for advice from the High Court and the solicitor-general before it acted on the historic ruling.

He confirmed that the stateless Rohingya man at the centre of the case, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old, had been released back into the community “under strict conditions.”

This drew serious criticisms from the Coalition on Friday with Opposition Home Affairs James Paterson accusing Mr Watt of misleading the Senate. He said people coming to Australia did not have an inherent right to obtain a visa.

“There’s nothing we can do about the High Court's decision but the government should have had a Plan B about how it plans to protect the community from serious offenders,” he told reporters.

Opposition Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham echoed similar concerns and said the government needed to be “clear and transparent” about why it changed its approach.

There are about 340 people in long-term detention across Australia who could also be released under the High Court’s decision, that has been hailed by human rights advocates as “life-changing” for people who have been detained for years.