“All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.” – James Thurber

About Julian Burnside

Julian Burnside AO QC is an Australian barrister who practises principally in commercial litigation, trade practices and administrative law. He is also a human rights and refugee advocate, and author.

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Let Them Stay

I just got this message from a friend: Tomorrow morning (Friday 12 February 2016), Dorothy   will accompany “Mohammed” and his family to the Dept of Immigration and Border Protection. The family has been asked to attend the Dept so that “Baby Johnny”, the newest – and Australian-born – member of the family can be issued with a visa. We hope this will be a straightforward, administrative exercise – perhaps confirming the identity of Baby Johnny? But what if it’s something else? What if its aim is to ensure that, if and when Johnny’s parents are given their marching orders to go back to where they came from, or even deported to some other place, Johnny’s existence will not be allowed to hold up the speedy exit of the family. What sorts of visas will be offered the parents – whose pre-existing visa has expired? A TPV? Which may mean that they can be sent from the country at any time? Or a SHEV? Which could send families, many of whose children are now enrolled in school, to other States, including remote corners of those other States, for a ‘sentence-like’ period of time? How long is the Australian community prepared to tolerate this cruel ‘processing’ of innocent human beings – who have no say about their futures, and that is being carried out behind a veil of secrecy? The asylum-seeking families we have come to know and regard as our friends are trying desperately to stitch together some semblance of normal family life. Despite language difficulties (they have had no free formal instruction in English), they are trying to find...

Detention is torture

David Isaacs has published a compelling piece in the British Medical Journal  titled “Are healthcare professionals working in Australia’s immigration detention centres condoning torture?” You can read it here So this is how the rest of rthe world sees us. And don’t forget what we are doing to little...

An Angel visits Malcolm Turnbull

Here is a message from a friend of mine: Human rights advocate and abuse witness Sarah Smith dressed as a Christmas Angel to make a plea for refugees to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at his private Sydney Harbour residence at 6pm on Christmas Eve. Accompanied by like-minded friends, Ms Smith handed over a white box containing images of over 30 offshore detainees witnesssed to have suffered psychological harm through trauma, long-term incarceration, loss of life options, beatings and sexual abuse by guards at Australian-run detention centres and in the community of their sweltering island prisons. Each photo is captioned with a brief description of the detainee’s specific strengths and suffering. “These people are to be treasured, celebrated, honoured and welcomed, said Ms Smith. Iranian school student Mogjan Shamsalipoor is a particular friend of Ms Smith. Having survived child rape and and fled arranged marriage at 17 to a man of 60, Mogjan lived for 2 years in Brisbane. There she studied and married her high school sweetheart before Immigration Minister Dutton had her detained without explanation. Tonight the box of photos and a message of goodwill towards all boat arrivals was reluctantly accepted by Federal Police who opted for a silent night. Carol singing was discouraged outside the Prime Minister’s mansion. It is unclear whether the Turnbull family was with-inn but it is known that there are rooms to spare. “It is to be hoped that Australia’s Prime Minister is no Herod and reveals his compassionate nature early in 2016, rolling back the turnback policies and allowing flights to alternative countries (such as Canada or New Zealand, still offering...

More misery: Christmas on Christmas Island

Christmas on Christmas Island Here is a desperate message from an Australian who is driven to grief by watching her Iranian friend suffer in detention in Christmas Island which is part of Australia.  I have disguised the name to protect the refugee involved. Ali is a former student of mine, who should never have been sent to villawood (“2 years for two beers” as he told another advocate who visited him in Darwin in July.”… *** While so many Australians are enjoying the love and company of their Christmas, a 21-year-old Iranian boy is starving himself to death on Christmas Island. Ali is 21 years of age. He has been detained in our detention centres for nearly 3 years and he can take no more. He believes death is preferable to the continued torture of his imprisonment in Christmas Island and the refusal of DIBP to discuss a visa with him. He has decided to refuse all water and food and is happy, yes happy at the thought of the release death will offer him. He came here believing this was a country with a decent heart. A country that would listen to his claim to be a refugee with fairness, compassion and justice. He no longer believes this. He cannot return to his country – so for him the only release is death. Ali is loved by many. But in the face of the obdurate cruelty of our immigration procedures all we can do is wait while he wills himself to death. When will the lunacy of bureaucracy gone mad stop!””...

Young boy held in Manus

The Manus detention centre is supposed to hold only adult men. It is far too harsh for women or children: even the Immigration Department understand that. A Rohingyan boy has been held there for 18 months and he is still only 17. This will be his second Christmas on Manus. A colleague sent me a message about him.  It includes the following: “… He is currently 17 years of age, by his own account, and has been detained on Manus for over 25 months, since he was 15 years old. He no longer remembers his date of birth, but knows he was born in 1999. He is Rohingya, from Myanmar. He left Myanmar following a riot, in 2012. The reason Immigration officials have recorded his age as older than this, leading to his detention, is that he has falsified papers, a “Family List”, required to obtain a White Card which allowed him to travel within Myanmar. His parents recorded his age as several years older, to facilitate the family moving. [xxx] says he told Immigration, “100 times”, that his age was recorded incorrectly, and the reason for it, but they would not listen. He does not look older than 17 currently, and I am sure would have looked much younger over two years ago. …” Leave aside the misery and degradation in Manus; leave aside the fact that we are holding innocent people there and treating them with conspicuous cruelty, on the logic of hanging a dead fox on the fence.  The fact is that he is a child.   If we have to lock up children, it should...

From the Big Bang to the Present in 12 months

In any debate about evolution or existential threats to the survival of the human species we are inclined to under-estimate the time-frame of the Universe. Most people know that the Big Bang was about 13.8 billion years ago.  But that’s such a long time that it is hard to give it full weight. Wikipedia has a Cosmic Calendar (it’s not as “hippy-trippy”as it sounds.  It was popularized by Carl Sagan).  It compresses the history of the Universe, from the big Bang to the present,  into 12 months.  You can see it here. What is truly remarkable is to recognise that, if you take the Big Bang as 1 January and the present as midnight on 31 December,  life on earth did not emerge until November.  And that was just pond-slime.  Dinosaurs appear on 25 December and disappear on 30 December: they survived 130 million years.  Homo Sapiens emerges about 6 minutes before midnight on 31 December. Think about it: if dinosaurs existed for 5 days; we have existed for 6 minutes, and agriculture began just 21 seconds ago.  On the same scale, Christ was born about 5 seconds ago. Those of us who grew up in one of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are taught that the Creation took 6 days.  Here’s how the days went: Day 1: “Let there be light” Day 2: “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” (The sky) Day 3: “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. … Let the land produce vegetation” Day 4: “Let there be...

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Julian on Twitter

Sending kids to Nauru is child abuse. Question for Turnbull: Child abuse or human decency? It's his choice julianburnside.com.au/let-them-stay/

Question for Malcolm Turnbull: Will you deliberately condemn refugee children to child abuse (Nauru), or will you show some human decency?

'There's no hope, there's nothing': drawings by children in immigration detention – video gu.com/p/4gc7y/stw

“Absolute cruelty, cruelty without mercy is something we’re starting to find hard to hack” gu.com/p/4ggkq/stw David Marr at his best

Signs at last that Australia has tired of cruelty without mercy to refugees | David Marr gu.com/p/4ggkq/stw

Water shortages, toilet restrictions and constant fear: Details about life on Nauru revealed theage.com.au/federal-politi… via @theage

11 February 1990: Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa

There was not a single Labor MP who spoke out against the deporting of 267 asylum seekers in federal caucus meeting today. Retweeted by Julian Burnside

This is amazing twitter.com/Cheer_up_Pics/…

Manus Island asylum seekers given anti-malarial drug known to cause mental health problems ab.co/1V0g5Rg via @davidlipson Retweeted by Julian Burnside

Remember people, in 1936 the world thought the German govt was 'tough but fair'. Isn't that the image @TurnbullMalcolm is going for? #auspol Retweeted by Julian Burnside


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