Bruce Sinclair has a few words for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Human Rights Day 2014 around the latest stomping  his portfolio has delivered to those seeking asylum in Australia.


So, it’s Human Rights Day 2014 and the one word on my mind is the French term “refoulement”.

It sounds like some kind of dirty protest you might be training your dog out of. Oh that it were. With a tasty treat and a friendly word, the humane owner can quickly modify a pooch’s behaviour. However, the handler here is not only encouraging a mess that requires a poop scoop the size of something you might find in the mining industry, he is also lining the litter tray with documents his hound is determined to smear as quaintly outdated and open to exploitation by pettifogging shysters and criminals.

While the Senate has provided pit bull Morrison with the opportunity to grit his teeth, bear down and dump a load of ordure, the likes of which, have not been seen before, even in Australia, it is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the asylum seekers this aims to protect, that are striving to maintain their principles and dignity in the face of such piles of political malodour.

Refoulement (refouler in the French) is the principle that no state shall return a person to another state when there are grounds to believe that they would be in danger or subject to torture. An obligation Australia has signed up to. This, in conjunction with the Refugee Convention and Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” are the basis for the rights and treatment of persons seeking asylum.

However, Mr Morrison has said  –

The difficulty we’ve got with the Refugee Convention is not the document itself, but how lawyers and others have interpreted it for the last 50, 60 years… What started out being a pretty sensible document over time has had layer upon layer upon layer and it’s now being used as a tool by people smugglers to basically run death voyages.

You would think that a man who viewed the document as “sensible” would be prepared to at least give some consideration to the basics. It seems to me the minimum requirement would be to listen to a potential asylum seekers case; to consider the legality or otherwise of their plea. However, if you start with an assumption of guilt, as Morrison does, that anyone attempting asylum is an “illegal arrival”, then you have prejudged the matter before the fact. Moreover, this “criminalisation” of asylum seekers has been further reinforced with the image of incarceration in camps and the recent passage of the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment. With the latter, Morrison now has the powers to virtually disregard any of the measures in the “sensible” documents. The Bill allows him to process applicants before they ever make a protection claim or gain a tribunal hearing, and deport them knowing they will be tortured. That’s assuming they ever get off the boat since the bill also prevents this. Much of this can be done in secret and without any challenge to Morrison’s decisions. All this is done at a time when Tony Abbott is justifying Australian interventions in Iraq as “humanitarian.” It seems that the coalition is prepared to risk the lives of Australian soldiers in the name of the same principle that it is in denial of.

The United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This, and the other documents that make up the doctrine of human rights, are the product of two thousand years of human thought and debate. Including ideas from philosophers such as Locke and Kant, religions such as Christianity, which Morrison professes to be, and enacted in documents such as The United States’ Declaration of Independence and the French National Assembly’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. So a few people have given it a bit of thought. For Mr. Morrison to complain that it’s complicated and requires lawyers, and for The Senate in the blink of an eye to enact laws nullifying parts of it, seems like a spectacularly capricious act of political petulance.

Perhaps on Human Rights Day 2014 we need to make things simpler for Mr. Morrison as he seems like a man who appreciates the blunt appeal. The clue is in the title. It’s the ‘UNIVERSAL’ Declaration. This means it applies at all times, in all places, to all people.

The Coalition’s ill considered, inhumane and hypocritical stance means, that for me, this dog don’t hunt.

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