Dear Paul Scully.
Today I read an article in the Guardian that informed me that Parliament had passed a law that would allow them to indefinitely detain a refugee if their visa application had been rejected, but it was too unsafe for them to return to their home country as they would face persecution, or worse. I am writing to you to convey my deepest disappointment in our government.
I find Australia’s stance on asylum seekers abhorrent. We are the only country in the world that has mandatory detention for all adults and children during the process of their visa application. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” However, the Australian government has labelled those that come to our country as ‘unlawful non-citizens’. The prime minister himself, when he was the Immigration Minister, famously stated in an orientation video that was played on Manus Island and Nauru in 2014 that asylum seekers would never be resettled in Australia and should consider returning home. “If you choose not to go home then you will spend a very, very long time here and so I urge you to think carefully about that decision and make a decision to get on with the rest of your life.”
Instead of amending our practices, we quietly introduce new laws. Indefinite detention being made legal, contravening international law, is a direct response to a federal court case the government lost, with the court deciding that immigration detention must be for a purpose. AJL20 was a child refugee fromSyria whose visa canceled on character grounds because of criminal convictions as a teenager, and he was detained by the government. He could not be returned to Syria as he faced persecution there, so he faced potentially limitless detention. The court ruled his detention unlawful and ordered him released.
A prosecutor of the International Criminal Court described the duration, the extent and the conditions of detention as a crime against humanity. We are a signatory of the 1988 Rome Statute. But we are also a country that supposedly prides itself on being moral and just. PM Scott Morrison recently spoke of how God called him to lead our country. As a Christian myself, I wish to ask him why he has forgotten Mark 12:30-31. Jesus has been asked which commandment is greatest. He replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: you shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
As ratifiers of the Rome Statute, as a country part of a global community, as people who are supposed to be led by morals and ethics, as Christians, we should be committed to helping those who seek help. We are one of the richest countries in the world and yet we spurn those who are willing to risk their lives to come toour shores in search of a better life.
But instead we pass acts such as the Australian Border Force Act (2015). The ABF makes it an offence to disclose “documents and information about the provision of services to persons who are not Australian citizens.” The law effectively prevents employees from recording or disclosing instances of ill-treatment or abuse witnessed in detention centres. Julian Burnside called it a law that makes it “a criminaloffence to report a criminal offence.” Organisations working in detention centres are also asked to sign a ‘performance security’ clause as part of their contracts. This clause involves the payment of a bond – in the case of human rights organisation Save the Children, this bond was $2 million – that is relinquished if the terms of the contract are contravened. One example of contravening is speaking to the media without the governments approval. Save the Children chose not to sign the clause and their contract was not renewed.
I stated at the beginning of this email that I was disappointed in our government. But that doesn’t seem to encompass it. I’m furious with them. The profound shame that I have to feel as an Australian, with a government that passes these laws and treats asylum seekers in a way that has been condemned as a crime against humanity, and all in my name, fills me with contempt for our leaders. Christopher Rau, brother of Cornelia Rau, stated that, “There are atrocities being committed in our names. We are not stupid as a society. So when we elect governments we must – by our indifference – be complicit in the bullying and ill-treatment of others, as long as we can stick our heads in the sand.” But I refuse to stick my head in the sand. As a voter, and a citizen of this country, I have a duty to be aware of what is being done in my name. And I am disgusted by it.