Author(s): Matthew Zagor
In a series of judgments in late 2004, the High Court found that the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) unambiguously provides for the indefinite detention of unlawful non-citizens, and that such a law is constitutionally valid. The cases are significant not only for reflecting different approaches to statutory construction, the aliens power and the potential protections offered by Ch III - the manifest issues before the Court - but for the broader perspectives of Australia's constitutional arrangements and the control of public power. With specific reference to the judgments in Al-Kateb and Re Woolley, this paper argues that the majority were inherently informed by a largely unstated assumption about the Court's constitutional role that relies upon an unprecedented deference to the other branches of government, as well as an attitude towards aliens as a category - reflected in the rhetoric of control, exclusion and unlawfulness - that echoes a regrettable part of Australia's constitutional inheritance. By neglecting to state or address these assumptions upfront, and by failing to present a coherent test to stand in the stead of the protection which earlier case law had promised, the majority's reasoning loses both its moral authority and legal coherency.