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Federal Court rules asylum seekers can keep mobile phones in detention

Media release

The Federal Court in Sydney today (17 March 2017) has ruled that asylum seekers have the right to continue their legal fight to keep their mobile phones while in onshore immigration detention, following a class action brought by human rights lawyers the National Justice Project to prevent Serco and Border Force from seizing detainee phones.

Border Force had planned to confiscate all detainee phones and SIM cards on 19 February 2017, but were prevented by an temporary injunction obtained by the National Justice Project on behalf of all detainees with phones in detention. The government challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal Court to hear the application but that challenge has been dismissed and the case can now proceed.

National Justice Project Principal Solicitor George Newhouse, while welcoming today’s decision, emphasised that this is an ongoing matter and that the Government is likely to appeal, saying:

“This is a small but important victory, but it’s a long journey ahead and we’re up against a Government that will oppose human rights at every turn.”

Newhouse continued:

“Seeking asylum does not make you a criminal. Mobile phones provide asylum seekers with vital access to the outside world, to loved ones and to advocates – their mental health and their families depend on this. The blanket ban on phones punishes innocent men, women and children and demonstrates the increasing criminalisation by this Government of asylum seekers who have committed no crime.”

Prior to this recent policy change, asylum seekers who arrived by air had a right to mobile phones as long as they have no camera or recording facility. The new policy would see all phones confiscated and anyone found in onshore detention with a phone punished.



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  1. Tina Clausen

    Australia is sounding more and more like some kind of third-world country that persecutes people and deprives them of their basic human rights. I don’t understand how it is even legal under our laws to treat asylum seekers the way we have been, the last few years in particular.

    Shouldn’t people be kept safe, comfortable and well-looked after while their claims for asylum are investigated? Shouldn’t they have all their basic needs for safety, shelter, medical attention etc met at a level commensurate with Australian standards for such? Shouldn’t assessments of claims happen in a very timely manner ie a maximum of months?

    Maybe I’m naive, but I just can not understand how we as a country can condone what is happening at the off-shore detention centres, we can no longer claim ignorance, almost daily stories of abuse and horror are heard about. Is that perhaps the reason for the ban on phones that our Government is seeking? To silence the voices of those suffering.

  2. helvityni

    Tina, maybe the Oz population as the whole approves of this punishing treatment of people who are not criminals…? I don’t know what to think and believe anymore.

  3. Kyran

    “This is a small but important victory, but it’s a long journey ahead and we’re up against a Government that will oppose human rights at every turn.”
    You can only read that and weep. Our government will oppose human rights, at every turn.
    The latest victim, an Iranian lass in Brisbane, has been granted a new three month visa, due to the benevolence of that thing, Dutton.
    For what it’s worth, polling by ASRC, RAC, and other interested NGO’s suggest that the majority of Australian’s are sick of this crap and just want to bring them here. It’s a bit like all of the polling on marriage equality.
    It’s an exercise in mind over matter. They don’t mind, we don’t matter.
    Until election day.
    Thank you AIMN, NJP and Mr Newhouse. Take care

  4. nurses1968

    “For what it’s worth, polling by ASRC, RAC, and other interested NGO’s …”
    Do you have any links for these polls?
    The only reference to polling I could find was a dated ASRC Facebook page
    Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)
    8 January 2014 ·

    Latest poll shows 60% of Australians want Abbott gov to “increase the severity of the treatment of #asylum seekers.”

  5. Kyran

    nurses1968, if you google ‘ASRC polling on refugees’ the info is not that hard to find. I would normally post links, but me and my computer aren’t communicating too well. The most recent poll I can find was Galaxy (reported in The Guardian). Over a survey base of more than 1,000 people, nationally, 66% said bring them here. Really small sampling. Yet I have yet to meet a supporter of this barbaric policy.
    Take care

  6. nurses1968

    found it

  7. Max Gross (@Max_Gross)

    More and more, Australia goosesteps in the wrong direction…

  8. Terry2

    We need to remember that these people are not in jail as a criminal sanction, they have committed no crime and they have not been sentenced by a court of law – had they been, most if not all in detention both onshore and offshore would by now have served their sentences and been released : these folk are merely awaiting resettlement, a task that minister Peter Dutton has failed in miserably.

    Sadly those offshore cannot go to the federal court for morsels of justice like the right to a mobile phone, they are beyond the jurisdiction of the Australian courts : that was the plan !

  9. Elizabeth Pritchard

    Seems we are on our way back to Nazi Germany if we have not already arrived. The actions of this so called government are certainly putting them in this light. From terrorising welfare recipients with non owed debts to inhumane and probably unlawful treatment of asylum seekers they exhibit just the qualities of the gestapo. This only happens when unprincipled people take in control.

    This government has contributed to causing these people to leave their country and seek asylum in Australia. Millions of other have been accepted in other countries including that same Germany who bred the Nazi regime. That proves that it is the government of a country, not the people that decides it’s path and how it behaves towards other occupants of this planet and it is the cause of how it is looked upon by the rest of the world.

  10. paulwalter

    They don’t want mobile phones because A) its part of the oppressiveness and B) it represents a break on overt brutality through a scrutiny mechanismand is thus a reversal of the authoritarian concept of surveillance.

  11. David Bruce

    Asylum seekers today, Australian citizens and Australian nationals are next. What is happening to Australia? Is it the churches, the farmers, the ultra-wealthy, the miners, the politicians and political parties? A good hard look in the mirror might explain it! We who do nothing to prevent it are part of the problem?

  12. Sir ScotchMistery

    @Elizabeth P – PLEASE it isn’t just THIS government.

    It was Howard designed it, when Tampa made a mockery of our navy.

    Rudd tweaked it and the Greens threw that out because Malaysia was not a signatory to the refugee convention. At least in Malaysia, refugees don’t have their children screwed by government appointees acting on behalf of Peter Dutton.

    Gillard failed to do anything as she was fighting a determined effort to white-ant her, then Rudd came back and f*cked them some more.

    NOW we have little Peter Dutton making an art form of government and big business sponsored child sexual abuse. He SPONSORS it FFS. And the proletariat says nothing.

    We are to blame. WE keep electing these fluckers. We deserve the flogging as well as Dutton et al.

    Find a liarberal and piss on it. Find an ALP person and spit on it for its inaction. Find a green and kick it, then get 30 proper human beings into the parliament.

    Now where did I put my heart tablets..

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