Australian Government plumbs new depths of inhumanity in its treatment of asylum seekers

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Asylum Seeker Protest

Asylum Seeker Protest

The Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce stated on the 5th December that ‘the crossbenchers in the Australian Federal Parliament’s Senate voted through one of the most regressive pieces of refugee legislation ever seen in Australian 34 votes to 32. They did this on the advice of people like Sen. Nick Xenophon and Paris Aristotle, who bought the ‘short term sweeteners’ that Minister Morrison used to get it through. Some of the sweeteners are not even in legislation; Senators were asked to ‘trust’ the Minister to implement them’.

So what is the reality of the new legislation:

  • 200 children will be left on Nauru and 25 babies with their parents will now be sent back to Nauru
  • The 460 children whose release was enabled with the legislation will be achieved via an ‘illegal’ Fast Track ‘tick and flick’ process in contravention of the UN Refugee Convention protocols
  • The 460 children are only ‘saved’ temporarily. No permanent visas will be available to them; and
  • Although some children will be brought out of detention, unfettered power has now been given to the Minister for Immigration to curtail the Courts, decide interpretation of the UN Refugee Convention and he can now send these children back to persecution and danger in breach of our refoulement obligations.

This is a scandal and a shame on Australia.

This new legislation now ‘writes out’ the commitment to the various Conventions and wipes out decades of global citizenship on this issue of caring for humanity. Sister Brigid Arthur, Co-ordinator of the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Programme and Vic-Chair of the Taskforce said that this bill has effectively sold out thousands of Australians who asked the Senators not to pass this evil Bill.

In 2005, the great English Jurist, Lord Bingham set out the essential principles which differentiate a civilised society bound by the rule of law from societies that are authoritarian. One of the principles is that ‘questions of legal right and liability should ordinarily be resolved by application of the law and not the exercise of discretion’. Another is that ‘the law must afford adequate protection of fundamental human rights’ (Greg Barns, The Drum 5Dec14).

These principles have been ignored, deliberately, wilfully and probably by some in the Senate, unwittingly. The reintroduction of temporary protection visas offends both principles. The Australian Government can now return an individual on a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) after three years if it believes the original country from which the individual came, is safe again.

The powers given to an Immigration Minister and an internal bureaucratic process to determine the claims of those who arrive by boat seeking the protection of the Refugee Convention, a fundamental human right to which Australia has agreed, are an abrogation of the principle that questions of legal right and liability should be resolved by the application of the law and not on the basis of power being exercised by government officials and bureaucrats.

The Abbott Government’s laws now remove the right of individuals to have their case reviewed by the Refugee Review Tribunal and the courts.

The new law is frightening and shows contempt of the Executive by legislators who support the unparalleled powers given to the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and the bureaucracy for any check and balance in the exercise of power.

The Senate has effectively ripped up the Refugee Convention in front of our eyes and those of the world.

In the new law it is ‘irrelevant whether Australia has non-refoulement obligations in respect of an ‘unlawful’ citizen’ that is, a person who has arrived by boat seeking asylum. Non-refoulement, or the commitment not to return a person to the country or region where the person fled persecution in the first place, is critical under this obligation of the Convention. This no longer exists in the new legislation and now enshrines in Australia a new low level of inhumanity in its treatment of asylum seekers, who are legal, entitled and have a human right to seek refuge.

Our language, propaganda and distortions as a government and country in this debate are dreadful. Is this really happening in Australia?

I am interested in how our Senators were persuaded to take the short term gain sacrificing the longer term damage to these vulnerable people and our country’s reputation and standards. The pressure to give in to blackmail must always be resisted.

Let us not forget either, that Manus Island and Nauru currently hold about 2151 refugees and asylum seekers that have been consistently marred by violence, sexual assault, suicide attempts and other experiences of mental illness arising from torture, trauma and detention, but these remain unaffected by the new laws or the government’s concessions. These concessions could have been introduced without the new laws at any time in the last 15 months.

The short term win is a hollow victory and speaks volumes about the loss of perspective by those who cast and recast our laws in a vacuum in Canberra. Negotiating people’s lives in such a manner is a very sad day for our country, our values and our government.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

1 Comment

  1. Ted Witham says:

    I agree with all you have written, Lucy. It seems the more we protest the more draconian the Government becomes. These punitive policies are not the best Australia can do.

    I wonder if the Government, and the Minister in particular, is seeking affirmation, not criticism. The more we say his policies are inhuman, the more he thinks he has the balance about right, and the more likely he is to feel empowered to stand his ground. We, the religious Left, have become a sort of counter-weight for Mr Morrison.

    How often have we acknowledged the difficult complexities of his portfolio? How often have we affirmed his good intentions in keeping Australia safe? How many times have I written to him ands congratulated him on making the movements of asylum seekers orderly and non-threatening? (Never: all my letters to him have been harshly critical.)

    Just maybe some Christian fair affirmation and love for a brother in Christ alongside the analysis you have made above would be effective in bringing change. I’ll try it in a letter and let you know if I get a response!

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