Tag Archives: asylum seekers

The biggest threat to our democracy is not asylum seekers but the Minister responsible for them

According to this year’s Lowy Poll 48% of Australians see asylum seekers arriving by boat as a critical threat to Australia’s national interest.  It is somewhat ironic then, that the greatest threat currently comes not from refugees but the Minister who oversees the refugee program, the Minister for Immigration, Mr Scott Morrison.

Two things lie at the heart of a liberal democracy. First, liberalism, the conviction that the rights of individuals must always be respected, that no individual can be sacrificed on the altar of communal well-being or political expedience. Second, accountability, the belief that we should never simply take the word of those in power that they are doing the right thing, but that they should be accountable to us. This accountability comes not only by way of elections but by maintaining systems of government that are open and transparent, by insisting that secrecy can only ever be justified in the most extreme circumstances and that even then a third party in the form of our courts can be appealed to to test the claim that secrecy is necessary.

The approach of the current government to asylum seekers arriving by boat completely trashes both these core values of liberal democracy. First the human rights of asylum seekers are being sacrificed on the altar of an imaginary communal well-being. Second, the refusal of the Minister to inform the Australian people of what is happening on the seas constitutes a flagrant violation of the notion of accountability. I can see no justification for it, no benefit that justifies abandoning transparency. It seems the government is adopting an attitude of “trust us”. Well, I don’t trust them, and the health of liberal democracy depends upon all of us not trusting them, but demanding transparency.

Liberal democracy is rarely undermined from below. Rather the challenges usually come from those who possess power seeking to avoid transparency and accountability. They get away with it because it is rarely the majority who suffer from the breakdown of liberal democracy. It is minority groups that bear the brunt. They are demonised and their human rights are trampled.

The latest example is the report that a group of asylum seekers have been handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy after an interview-at-sea assessment process that by any measure is farcical. On face value we have violated the most fundamental principle of international law concerning the protection of refugees, that they not be returned to a place of danger. It is a dramatic and disturbing escalation in the government’s efforts to “stop the boats”. Yet the Minister for Immigration refuses to release any details, refuses to confirm or deny the existence of the boat, let alone the government’s response. If anything demands transparency, critique, and accountability it is this.

So when I see the face of threat to our liberal democracy I don’t see the face of a refugee. I see the face of Scott Morrison. By this I don’t suggest the Minister or any member of the government is disingenuous in their personal motivation; I’m not calling into question their personal character; I’m not arguing that they are seeking to create some kind of Orwellian state. They have difficult responsibilities, and in my experience politicians seek to discharge them to the best of their abilities. As people of goodwill, I trust that our leaders wrestle with the ethics of governing. What I am suggesting is that in seeking the end of stopping boats, the means that are being employed are sacrificing the very foundations of a liberal democracy. And that scares me.


Perhaps the Coldest Thing I’ve Ever Heard from a Politician

I know politicians can be cold and calculated, but footage of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison addressing asylum seekers detained on Manus Island and Nauru is chilling. With sombre, determined tones he advises asylum seekers that they are where they are because “you entered Australia illegally”, that “you will be here for a very, very longContinue Reading

Are Crime Rates Higher Among Migrants, Including Refugees?

Are Crime Rates Higher Among Migrants, Including Refugees?

Whenever I find myself in a conversation about refugees it’s not long until somebody brings up the question of refugees and crime. They worry that migrants, including refugees, are more prone to crime than established Australian communities, and can usually cite some anecdotal evidence to support their fear. So what do the crime statistics say?Continue Reading

No, it is not a joke. We really are trying to send refugees to Cambodia

No, it is not a joke. We really are trying to send refugees to Cambodia

Immigration minister Scott Morrison has just visited Cambodia and apparently one of the points on his agenda is the possibility of Australia sending asylum seekers there. Seriously? Cambodia? I’m just reading The People Smuggler, which tells the story of refugee Ali Al Jenabi. Ali grew up in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where he and his familyContinue Reading

Right Question, Wrong Answer

Many people find themselves torn over asylum seekers. They want to be compassionate, and for them this includes stopping people from dying at sea. Between 2000 and 2013 it is thought that approximately 1,225 asylum seekers on their way to Australia died at sea. During the same period 24,203 people arrived by boat , meaningContinue Reading

Should Scott Morrison be Charged with Child Abuse?

Federal Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is guilty of child abuse and should be reported to the Department of Child Protection, says the Australian Medical Association (AMA) of the Northern Territory. The legality of making such a report is being investigated by the AMA, “not as a political stunt but as an important medical intervention”, saidContinue Reading

An admission of cruelty

Finally a politician has admitted it-asylum seeker policies are quite intentionally cruel. Malcolm Turnbull was quoted in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald as saying Our policy is a harsh one, it really is. All of the policies to deal with asylum seekers and people smuggling are harsh, cruel in fact. But the problem is the status quoContinue Reading

Comparing Policies on Refugees and Asylum Seekers

As we move toward a Federal election I will post comparisons of some key policy areas held by Labor, the Coalition and the Greens. In this post I look at refugee policy. The world faces a global refugee crisis. Over 15 million people have been forced to flee their country due to a well-founded fearContinue Reading

Welcome to Australia…Not

How would you expect Australia to treat someone who has fled from a dictatorial, violent regime? They have seen loved ones murdered and realised that their only hope is to leave their place of birth, their home, the place all their hopes and dreams have centred on, their family, their friends. Leaving their community and allContinue Reading