It’s Time

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This letter was recently sent to the Australian government for an inquiry on ending indefinite and arbitrary detention of refugees. They published my submission (#398) and I await the outcome of the inquiry – but I will not hold my breath waiting for humanitarian action from this government.

Committee Secretary
Joint Standing Committee on Migration
PO Box 6021
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600.
migration@aph.gov.au

Dear Secretary,

Re: Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill 2021.

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to this inquiry, which I believe to be the most important and historic human rights inquiry by the Australian Parliament in over twenty years, because it focuses upon an area of human rights that has needed redress for many years.

This inquiry is an opportunity for Australians to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. As someone who has been a human rights activist for many years, I thank Andrew Wilkie for having the integrity to propose this Bill and I thank the Committee for their willingness to consider submissions such as mine which call upon the Australian government to live up to the principles of egalitarianism and giving a fair go to the underdog.

I support the passing of this Bill in order to ensure that Australia upholds the principles and practices of human rights, human decency, and international law.

Background of this Bill:

Australia was one of the original architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Declaration enshrines the universal and inviolate nature of human rights.

I note that on World Human Rights Day (10 December) last year, to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne, publicly upheld the ‘equality… indivisibility and universality’ of human rights, and stated that:

“As one of the eight drafters, Australia remains as committed today to the values and ambition of the Declaration as we were at its inception…
“Australia will continue to advocate for equal human rights for women and girls, people with disabilities, LGBTI people, indigenous peoples, and others who may be in vulnerable situations…
“Australia will continue to defend human rights and encourage the international community to hold itself accountable to the Declaration’s principles.”

The passage of this Bill will bring Australia into line with these noble principles. Refugees are among the world’s most vulnerable people, and their equality must be respected alongside other human beings within our national responsibility. Indefinite and arbitrary detention violate basic human rights and diminish our national accountability and credibility in the world community.

Compliance with World Standards:

This Bill upholds the principles and laws found within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Torture.

In preventing human rights abuses including arbitrary and indefinite detention, lack of transparency, and the neglect of those asylum seekers who were recently abandoned in PNG, this Bill brings Australia into line with world class standards of human rights, and restores Australia’s reputation in the world arena.

Why this Bill is vital for Australia’s ethical, cultural and economic best interests:

Ethical:

The Bill reinforces the notion that our national strength lies in our diversity.

“The Australian nation is woven together of people from many ancestries and arrivals…
“In every generation immigrants have brought great enrichment to our nation’s life….
“We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship.”
(Prime Minister John Howard and poet Les Murray’s Draft Constitutional Preamble, 23 March 1999, as documented by Mark McKenna, Australian Parliament House website.)

This Bill implicitly acknowledges that “border security” should not be used as an excuse to inflict hurt or harm on innocent refugees who simply seek protection.

Our ethics compel us to “roll up our sleeves” and take action:

“The protection of human rights to promote the dignity of the individual is too important a matter for symbolic gestures alone. It is only through the pursuit of practical and effective efforts to promote human rights that we show our real commitment to the welfare of individuals and society.” (Alexander Downer).

Cultural:

This Bill exemplifies the positive aspects of Australian culture including mateship, common humanity and ‘a fair go’:

“For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.”(from the Australian National Anthem.)

This Bill also upholds the principles of those Australians who subscribe to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as all three religions are predicated upon honouring refugees as a central tenet of each faith (Moses, Jesus and Mohammed were all refugees).

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has upheld the common humanist ethics within these religions by acknowledging within his faith the “dignity and value of each and every human being and the responsibilities that they have one to another” (Sarah Martin, Scott Morrison tells Christian conference he was called to do God’s work as prime minister, The Guardian, 26 April 2021).

Scott Morrison’s maiden speech in Australian Parliament set the noble standard against which his government, and all others, should be judged:

“From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life… We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil…
“These are my principles. My vision for Australia is for a nation that is strong, prosperous and generous… above all, generous in spirit, to share our good fortune with others, both at home and overseas, out of compassion and a desire for justice.”(Scott Morrison, speech in Parliament House, 14 February 2008).

This Bill also upholds Australian tradition by enshrining the human rights and freedoms for which our military services have fought. Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, states on her personal website that she supports veterans. This upholds our culture of honouring the ANZACs and others who paid a heavy price to serve our country in theatres of conflict or war.

Economic:

The Bill eliminates the economic burden that is currently paid by taxpayers for the current refugee policies. Offshore detention and related onshore procedures currently waste billions of dollars upon a system that lacks transparency, accountability and independent oversight, and which fails to deliver humane and protective shelter for those seeking asylum and refuge. The Guardian reports that $1.4 billion has been paid to run the offshore processing regime for five years on Nauru alone (Ben Doherty, ‘Budget Immigration costs: Australia will spend almost $3.4m for each person in offshore detention’, The Guardian, 11 May 2021) and the Refugee Council of Australia reports that offshore processing costs to Australia have likely exceeded $9.03 billion (Offshore Processing Statistics, Refugee Council of Australia, 8 January 2022).

Onshore detention and welfare systems would cost much less, be more humane, and more in line with the cultural and ethical underpinnings of Australian society. They would provide opportunities for quicker, streamlined processing, ensuring that human beings are not detained any longer than necessary. They would ensure a professional approach to assimilation of new migrants in ways that provide mutual benefits for both the individuals concerned and for the Australian community within which they are already placed. Furthermore, they would also provide opportunities for independent oversight to ensure legal, humane and just processes and treatment.

National Credibility in the Context of Recent Events:

January 2020 brought Australia to the fore of public world attention with the arrival of a tennis player whose vaccination status brought him into conflict with our immigration regime. For part of his time in Australia before deportation, he was housed in the same hotel in Melbourne that also housed a number of refugees who had been detained there and elsewhere for up to nine years without prompt and due processing of their claims or adequate attention to their medical needs. The tennis player’s prompt processing, while those others remained detained and neglected by Australia, was on display for the world.

This Bill would remove those current practices which shame our nation in the eyes of all Australians of good conscience, and in the eyes of the world. It also ensures that future judgements of world history will define Australia as a nation that practices the lovingkindness that Holocaust survivor, Australian Halina Wagowska, writes about in her autobiography, a lovingkindness that illuminates the best of humanity:

“Love lights this place up. Without love it would be dark and cold here.”

Conclusion:

I ask this committee to endorse this Bill.

It will return Australia to its proud heritage of being a human rights leader in the world community.

It will uphold international law and the principles within Australian law regarding the inviolate and universal nature of human rights.

It also prepares Australia for further steps towards endorsing human rights through possible actions such as writing and adopting a National Bill of Rights.

I believe that all Members of Parliament enter this career because of a genuine desire to help improve Australia and the world. Rarely, however, does a Bill come along which so clearly provides an opportunity to unambiguously improve the country. This Bill is one such opportunity and I respectfully ask you to take it.

History will express respect for this Bill and those who adopt it.

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry.

Yours most respectfully.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn