By Blake O’Connor and Ugur Nedim
The federal government signalled its intention this week to well and truly close Australia’s doors, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing that asylum seekers who arrive by boat will never be allowed to enter Australia.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton is set to introduce retroactive legislation to impose lifetime bans on all adults who arrive by boat from 19 July 2013, including those currently detained at Manus Island and Nauru.
Many have expressed outrage at the proposal, which appears to breach international laws regarding the right to seek refuge.
The government is marketing the ban as a way of breaking people smuggling rings and protecting our borders from criminal gangs, with Mr Turnbull saying:
“The government is locked in a battle of wills with criminal gangs of people smugglers. This will send the strongest possible signal to those who are seeking to persuade people currently on Nauru and in Manus Island that the Australian government will change its policy and allow them to settle here”
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is disgusted by the proposal, saying it “is a clear breach of International law and the refugee convention … which exposes Australia’s nasty obsession with punishing refugees and has dangerous echoes of the White Australia Policy”.
Some see the proposed laws as another example of the government’s march towards totalitarianism, with Mr Turnbull confirming that outgoing Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson had not been consulted on the proposed changes. Mr Gleeson resigned after publicly criticising Attorney-General George Brandis for failing to consult him on marriage-equality laws, anti-terrorism measures and citizenship laws.
Predictably, Mr Turnbull has received support from One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, who has claimed credit for the idea of lifetime bans.
Operation Sovereign Borders, the Coalition’s anti people smuggling operation, reports that 72% of processed asylum seekers have been assessed as genuine refugees.
This suggests that the proposed legislation will summarily refuse asylum to a large number of genuine refugees.
Australia is a signatory to several international instruments which seek to protect the rights of asylum seekers.
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Australia is a signatory, states: “people have the right to ask for asylum in another country, if they fear prosecution”.
Article 31 of the Refugees Convention, which we have also signed, says it is legal to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum.
The proposed lifetime ban would appear to contravene these obligations. It is also sure to attract further criticism of Australia’s already shaky recent human rights record.
The Amnesty International 2016 Annual Report named Australia as one of the countries in the Asia Pacific that is presently violating International law by “forcibly returning people to countries where they would face a real risk of serious violations”. NGO Human Rights Watch has labelled Australia’s refugee policies as “abusive”.
Advance Australia, Fair?
Peter Dodds McCormick, who wrote Australia’s national anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’, may have edited the lyrics in light of recent immigration laws. In part, the famous lyrics state:
“For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”.
Those lyrics might now be amended to read, “For those who’ve come across the seas, we do not want you here”.
Such is the present state of our human rights policies.