This week Scott Morrison invoked John Howard’s famous dictum “We will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come.” We should decide whether to turn back boats filled with asylum seekers and we should decide who gets a visa granting them the right to enter and live in Australia.

The right to determine who enters your country and under what conditions is one of the fundamental assertions of national sovereignty, and 99.9% of the time it does and should hold true. There is one occasion it doesn’t and shouldn’t: when people are fleeing persecution. International law provides that when a person is fleeing persecution they have a right to show up to any country and seek protection, and once satisfied their claim is genuine, the receiving country should provide protection.

There is a simple reason for this provision: without it people get killed. This is the extreme circumstance that the international community has decided trumps national sovereignty. And Australia is part of that international community and a signatory to the conventions that describe these principles.

To insist that we welcome those fleeing persecution is not ceding our sovereignty to Geneva (i.e. the UN) as Mr Morrison suggests but a recognition that we have already agreed there are rare circumstances in which we don’t and shouldn’t get to decide who comes to our country and the circumstances under which they come.

 

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