August/September 2016 – Is this right?



“So if young people are abused in youth detention in Australia you call for a Royal Commission and a criminal investigation. But if it happens under Australia’s care in immigration detention it’s none of anyone’s business – except for people whose families are being persecuted, executed and bombed out of existence; they need to know that they’re better off where they are. Is that right Mr Turnbull??”

See the letter below expressing some of these concerns to our Prime Minister
and the response further below from “JC at Border Force”

Dear Prime Minister,

…I am writing to suggest that the time may be near for you to depoliticize the troubled issue of the treatment of asylum seekers held offshore by Australia in mandatory and indefinite detention. This can be done simply by your calling a Royal Commission. It surely depoliticizes to a large extent the next steps if they are taken in deference to the Crown authority of a Royal Commission.

The dissonance between your call for such accountability regarding the treatment of young Australians in state care facilities and the lack of such a call for young people reportedly suffering abuse under Australian care in offshore detention is a dissonance that is, no doubt, obvious to you. There will surely be no shortage of opportunities for you to declare that the moment has come for such transparency and for the non-political hand of a Royal Commission to shape a new way ahead. Such a course avoids any embarrassment perceived in capitulating to voices and bodies previously disregarded. It moves the discussion away from the push and pull of factional and political interests and places our decisions with regard to refugee policy onto an essentially moral framework – where it properly belongs.

The most fundamental and most widely accepted moral principle requires that we treat others exactly the way we would wish to be treated ourselves in the same circumstance. It requires we treat the children of others in exactly the way we would wish our children to be treated in the same circumstance. It is of course the teaching of Jesus Christ.

I am writing to you openly and value the opportunity to publish your written response for the great many…whose concerns and convictions are echoed in this letter.

Accordingly I look forward to your reply.
With my prayers and kind regards,
The Revd Paul Wallis

Dear Revd Wallis,

Thank you for your correspondence of 18 August 2016… to the Prime Minister…Your correspondence has been referred to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection as the matter raised falls within his portfolio responsibilities.

As a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (the Refugees Convention), Australia takes its international obligations seriously.  Australia is committed to providing protection to refugees consistent with the obligations set out in the Refugees Convention and other relevant international treaties to which Australia is a party.

With the establishment of Operation Sovereign Borders on 18 September 2013, the Government has focused on disrupting and deterring people smugglers…to restore integrity to the migration programme.  Anyone who comes to Australia illegally by boat will be subject to regional processing arrangements and will not be eligible for permanent residency in Australia.

Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations and are not statements of proven fact… Some of these individual matters are historical in nature and have already been the subject of media reporting and investigation over an extended period of time by a range of oversight mechanisms, including…the Senate Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru (2015)

All individuals are encouraged to report alleged incidents to the Nauru Police Force (NPF)…The Government of Nauru has enacted child protection legislation; implemented a Child Protection Unit supported by Australian child protection social workers; and implemented a Gender Violence Unit with a hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Government remains committed to regional processing.

Your Sincerely,
Let me highlight some points within this reply.

Firstly the reply contains an error in fact. Royal Commissions are called by the power of the Crown delegated as a Prime Ministerial prerogative. It is not a matter for Peter Dutton. It is the Crown power of the Royal Commission that depoliticizes the issue. Not Peter Dutton.

The letter affirms the 1951 refugee convention. Yet the current policy of denying the right to settle in Australia to anyone who comes as a refugee by boat – which excludes all refugees fleeing to Australia – fundamentally contradicts our duties by that convention. Also for your information the recommendation of the senate select committee was that the responsibility for processing those seeking Asylum in Australia rests with the government of…Nauru.

Australia’s abdication of responsibility in processing is also contrary to the 1951 refugee convention. This is precisely why the Abbott government worked to remove all references to international laws from Australia’s immigration laws. The very use of the phrase “anyone who comes to Australia illegally by boat” is a contradiction of international law. Arriving by boat as an asylum seeker is not illegal.

I note that the person who wrote this letter did not even have the courage of their convictions to put their name to the letter. They signed off simply as JC, Australian Border Force.

At this point it appears that there is little mileage in appealing to morality, law or even the authority of the Crown to get these inhumane policies – for which history will rightly judge us harshly – removed. I think we should continue to press in every way for a Royal Commission.

Most urgently, we have to support every possible means to obtain film footage of what is being done in Australia’s detention centres and make it known to the Australian public. The government has illegalized such reportage precisely because it knows that public support for its detention policies would evaporate completely if the people of Australia were able to see for themselves what is happening. When that is achieved and the electoral support for these policies vanishes then we will see a change.