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Churches warn Scott Morrison against 'playing God' with asylum seekers' lives

Churches have warned Immigration Minister Scott Morrison against changing a law that would allow him to decide the fate of asylum seekers not deemed refugees.

Churches have warned Immigration Minister Scott Morrison against changing a law that would allow him to decide the fate of asylum seekers not deemed refugees. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The biggest church denominations in Australia have warned Immigration Minister Scott Morrison against amending a core migration act that could give him unparalleled power to ''play God'' and deport asylum seekers.

At the Senate Committee hearing on Friday representatives from 16 denominations, which form the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, say if the changes go ahead it could become the "next Royal Commission".

Under the current Complementary Protection visas asylum seekers who are not deemed refugees are able to claim protection if they face death or serious human rights violations, including torture.

Now, under proposed changes, Mr Morrison will have discretionary power to determine the fate of these asylum seekers.

Only five years ago then Labor immigration minister Chris Evans likened the responsibility to "playing God", saying he had too much power and the workload was too immense. As a result, the act was changed 18 months ago.

In a speech to the House of Representatives in December, Mr Morrison said the bill was not backing away from providing protection for people with ''genuine'' need. He argued the current bill had been ''adding another product to the people smugglers' trade and allowing advantage to be taken of our nation's generosity''.

But this week's Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded that the government's proposed changes not only risked violating Australia's non-refoulement obligations, but also contravened other rights under international law, such as the right to an effective remedy, the right to a fair hearing, and the right not to be arbitrarily detained, said Professor Jane McAdam, director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the UNSW.

The Taskforce is one of nearly 30 groups that have written submissions to the Senate committee voicing their opposition.

The chair of the Taskforce, Dean Peter Catt, said he did not want to wake up in disbelief and shock in 20 years for the decisions made now.

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"This proposed situation, in which the minister may be required to 'play God', is relatively unique or rare amongst ministerial portfolios and decisions," he said.

"If the minister gets it wrong the consequences could be dire for the individual."

The Salvation Army's Major Brad Halse agreed, saying he did not want to see the grounds being laid for another Royal Commission.

"Australian people don't want to be in the position to ask why did we make these decisions," Major Halse said.

Human rights lawyers agree the changes would be a "retrograde step" to human rights in Australia, by removing the checks and balances that the current legislation provides.

"It would bring back enormous inefficiencies to a system that is already choked," Professor McAdam said.

"There is also a risk that some cases would never be examined at all, since the minister's power is completely discretionary."

In one of 30 submissions to the hearing, the UNHCR said it was concerned about the proposed changes as they weaken procedural fairness to those in need of protection.

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