Refugees could be freed in days, safety 'paramount'


Australia may begin releasing scores of refugees in immigration detention within days following a landmark High Court ruling.

A majority of the High Court on Wednesday found indefinite detention was unlawful and overturned a 20-year-old precedent.

At least 92 detainees who can't return to their original country might be freed and another 340 in long-term detention could join them, the court was told.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said the government was carefully considering the implications of the judgment and would continue to work with authorities to ensure community safety.

"Other impacted individuals will be released and any visas granted to those individuals will be subject to appropriate conditions," he said on Friday.

The plaintiff, a Rohingya man from Myanmar known as NZYQ, has been released.

He faced the prospect of life in detention as no country would resettle him because he raped a 10-year-old child.

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said he didn't have any confidence in the assurances provided by the government.

"They haven't said what crimes these people have committed ... provided no detail or no transparency to the Australian people," he told reporters in Canberra.

Senator Paterson pressed the government during Question Time, about whether the 92 people would be released before or after the court's reasoning behind the judgment was handed down.

The plaintiff behind the 2004 High Court case that set the precedent - Ahmed Al-Kateb - was a stateless Palestinian man with no criminal record.

"This is a life-changing decision for those people being held in indefinite detention. I can imagine how overwhelmed they must be by this news," Mr Al-Kateb said in a statement.

Law firm Slater and Gordon is assessing if a class action for those who had been indefinitely detained has legs.

"If the reasoning confirms a lack of legal basis to detain stateless people and non-citizens, then those people should be entitled to compensation for any unlawful detention," class actions associate Laura Nigro said in a statement.

Cabinet minister Murray Watt told the Senate the government considered community safety  "paramount" and would factor that in when detainees were released.

"We are considering the implications of the high court judgment carefully and we will continue to work with authorities to ensure that community safety is upheld," he told parliament on Friday.

"The government will use all available powers to keep the community safe and will consider all legislative and regulatory options."

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said Australia held immigration detainees for an average of 708 days and 124 people had been detained for more than five years.