Julian Burnside – Home

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


JusticeConnect: working to provide effective means for people and organisations in need to access justice

AUST HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION: facts about asylum seekers and refugees

Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre at UNSW: debunking myths about refugees

New website: Compassion Without Borders

And find various refugee support groups across Australia here

Doctors for Refugees



Kate Durham’s jewellery: a small sample

Kate Durham exhibition of jewellery at fortyfive downstairs: Show ran from 17 Sept to 11 Oct

A VIDEO showing some of Kate’s work and a few photos: here and here


Art, music and theatre: what’s on at fortyfive downstairs (45 Flinders Lane Melbourne)

Wolfgang Sievers photographs for sale

Fine chamber music: Musica Viva Australia

Look at this remarkable example of art in cut paper: truly amazing


Opinion: National Times

Today news headlines: SBS online, Age, SMH, Australian, ABC, Guardian,

Breakfast Politics

World clock graphically illustrating time zones

Current affairs and comment: Inside Story

Something different: if you have 23 people in a room, odds are that two of them have the same birthday.  With 75 people in the same room, there is a 99.999% chance that two of them have the same birthday.  It is utterly counter-intuitive.  Here is the reasoning


The government constantly tries to justify cruel treatment of asylum seekers by saying they are worried about people drowning in their attempt to reach safety here.  It is dishonest hypocrisy.  Here is why the “Drownings excuse” is false


Morrison has used children in detention as a bargaining chip to get his Migration Act amendments through the Senate.  It is the conduct of a hostage-taker. Presumably his Prime Minister approved.  The character of this country has been betrayed by his, and Abbott’s, dishonesty. A lot of people are asking me “What can we do?”  Here are some ideas.

By using the release of children as a bargaining chip – something he was able to do without his amendments – Morrison acted like a hostage-taker

Sydney Peace Prize 2014 Here is the text of my acceptance speech; and the ABC Big Ideas video of it is here.

Wilfred Owen’s most lacerating war poem: Dulce et Decorum Est.  Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” translates as “It is sweet and right to die for one’s country”

And read Anthem for Doomed Youth: the last line will reduce you to tears

An update on the letter writing campaign

Greg Sheridan made much of his desire to be able to call boat people "illegal". He was wrong

Could climate change knock us off, or are we a permanent fixture in the universe?

Rule of law and national security concerns – the impact on human rights?

The government introduced sweeping amendments to the migration legislation on 25 September 2014.  It is the plainest statement yet that the Abbott government does not wish to comply with its obligations under the Refugees Convention, consistent with its repeated failure to observe it obligations under other human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it breaches constantly by holding children in immigration detention, here and in Nauru.

For more detail on its mistreatment of children, see the submission by Save The Children employees to the Human Rights Commission enquiry.

For a summary of the amendments to the migration legislation, see Chilout’s analysis of the new legislation

A Just Australia campaign: Write to be Heard

From the Big Bang to Life on Earth took about 9 billion years.  Life on earth emerged 2.1 billion years ago.  This chart compresses the 2.1 billion years of life on earth onto a 12-hour clock, to put human history into perspective.  It is arguable that, despite  our vanity, we are not central to the design of the universe

Why sending Tamils back to Sri Lanka is a breach of our obligations under the Refugees Convention.

Australia breaches Refugee Convention obligations Tamils seeking asylum disappear into a fog of Morrison’s petulance and contempt

Abbott says Sri Lanka is a society at peace.  Read the facts instead of believing him

Here is a revealing observation about our government’s values

Some reflections on Access to Justice

Learn about Liberty Victoria: protecting YOUR liberty

Here is an example of one of the Immigration Department’s 14-day letters

Letter writing campaigns:

   -   write to asylum seekers held on Nauru or Manus Island.  Here’s how to do it

   -   write to Federal politicians.  Here’s how to do it

And read excerpts from Scott Morrison’s maiden speech in Parliament. He says what his principles are.  Was he mistaken about his principles, or has he simply betrayed them?


Physical and Mental Health Subcommittee of the Joint Advisory Committee for Nauru Regional Processing Arrangements - Nauru Site Visit Report 16-19 February 2014 - Executive summary

Offshore detention costs taxpayers $3,744 per asylum seeker per day.  Churches call on Joe Hockey to stop writing a blank cheque for cruelty.  See the detailed calculations

Using technology to make Intervention Orders more effective

The Undesirables”: an account of the detention centre on Nauru, by Mark Isaacs.  Published by Hardie Grant.  A must-read.  Here is my Foreword to it.

Good article by Chris Rau: Borders without Doctors (warning: file is 1.2 Mb)

Remarkable article by Greg Sheridan published on 6 September 2001: under a heading “Inflammatory denial of human dignity”, he says:

“The Government's behaviour towards asylum-seekers is appalling by any standards. Australia is the only nation in the developed world that has a policy of mandatory and non-reviewable detention for all asylum-seekers who arrive without a visa. You should believe virtually nothing the Government tells you about this. …”

It is one occasion where I can say he has written a very fine article, and that I agree with him.

New website: Sorry, Asylum Seekers (http://sorryasylumseekers.com/)

Minister warned of heavy metals contamination at Nauru detention centre: another health risk to refugees.  No response.

illegals”, “queue-jumping”, “border protection” and other myths

There is a much better way of dealing with boat-people.  It would avoid all the harm done by indefinite detention and it would produce huge benefits for the Australian community.

Harsher conditions in immigration detention as Morrison’s promises of cruel treatment begin to bite

Nauru, the rule of law, and Australia

Time to make it an offence for politicians to mislead or deceive us.

A bit of information about Coal Seam Gas, and a few activist groups concerned about it.

UNHCR reports on Australia’s breaches of human rights regarding detention conditions and processing of asylum seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island, November 2013

Here is a letter I received from a member of the public recently concerning our treatment of asylum seekers.  The writer has given me permission to make the contents of the letter public.

Read the story of two boat people from Iran: see why they are willing to risk their lives at sea in their attempt to reach safety:

     “Over the past decade, it is believed that more than a thousand asylum seekers have drowned. The   unseaworthy vessels are swamped through leaky hulls, capsize in heavy swells, splinter on the rocks. Survivors sometimes drift for days. Children have watched their parents drown, and parents their children. Entire families have been lost.”

Andrew Bolt has been criticizing me vigorously in recent weeks.  I am relieved.

Promises, Promises” by Clarrie Burke

5 November is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605: Guy Fawkes and all that.  It can still teach us some lessons

The idea that a deterrent policy might save people from drowning in an attempt to reach safety in Australia is attractive but mistaken.

Barry Jones Oration 2013, at Werribee Park

Scott Morrison addresses detainees in Nauru. Warns them about “lies”, but overlooks his own lies. This is the man who thinks he can lie to Australians in order to be allowed to brutalize refugees.  Oh, and he claims to be a devout Christian…Worships at ShireLive church. They must be terribly proud of him.

Scott Morrison insists that asylum seekers are “illegal”.  It is untrue, but is calculated to make it seem respectable to mistreat them.  Here is a simple explanation of the legal position.  Now that we know our politicians are stealing from us, it is important to recognize when they are lying to us.

Anglican Synod condemns use of the word “illegal” to refer to asylum seekers

Does the Abbott government really care about people drowning?

Ubud Writers Festival: A Letter to the thing I wish I had written: A Recent History of Australia, written 20 years from now

Not a good look for Brandis: rorting expenses to schmooze with journos at Smith wedding

Sign on a church in Gosford: Human Rights abuse starts with secrecy

On 17 September I gave the Tim Costello Lecture 2013

On 12 September 1683, the Ottomans abandoned their siege of Vienna.  This led, by way of holy wars and odd bits of etymology, to coffee and croissants.

Morrison defends Fiona Scott’s fatuous comments blaming traffic congestion on refugees, and persists with his dishonest use of the word “illegals” to refer to boat people.

The election next Saturday will seal the fate of the next generation like no other. A few years ago, climate change was the ‘greatest moral challenge of our times’.  This time round, it has barely rated a mention.  We are playing Russian roulette with our kids

This is a very disturbing election, with both major parties trying to outdo each other in their promises to be cruel to a particular group of human beings.  So how should we vote?

The UN Human Rights Committee has found 143 violations of international law by Australia involving 46 refugees indefinitely detained because of ASIO adverse security assessments; the decision was released on 22 August 2013

A failure of political leadership leaves both major political parties trying to outdo each other in cruelty to refugees and majoritarian rule begins to look like mob rule.  If politicians treated animals this badly, they would be drummed out of office.

Do Human Rights Matter?: A forum on our treatment of refugees: 26 August 2013, 6.30 pm at Kaleide Theatre RMIT 360 Swanston St Melbourne

How we can act decently and save money

Nauru: a statement by Salvation Army workers there.

PNG Arrangement: Defend the Bad against the Worse

A response to the PNG solution: disgracing Australia’s name.  But counter-intuitively, maybe we should not try to break it down just yet.

Read this letter from an Iranian still held in detention after more than 3 years, and finally on a hunger strike in desperation

Senator Carr’s arrogant and misguided views about asylum seekers

Why Senator Brandis is dangerously wrong

Detention Logs: a new website to help you stay informed of what we are doing to people who have done nothing wrong, but have asked for our help.

ASIO assessments and the profound unfairness of locking up people assessed as entitled to our protection.

Facts about refugees, compiled by the Centre for Policy Development. For some people, the facts have a bearing on their opinion. Unfortunately Abbott, Morrison and the Gillard government prefer to ignore the facts as they chase votes.

This is the information given to people carted to Nauru against their wishes: first we hijack them, then we threaten them, then we get Nauru to imprison them: that’s how we drive them to despair.

The Far West Community Legal Centre desperately needs financial help.  Follow the link, see what they do, and please contribute if you can.

ASIO assessments: the Coalition shows its warm fuzzy side

A reflection on Australia Day, 2013

Mother and baby locked up, possibly forever, without being allowed to know why. This is not how Australia is supposed to be.

Censorship on Manus Island: obviously we are ashamed of what we are doing. And so we should be.

Voices from people detained on Manus Island.  Think of their despair and ask whether this is how we should treat people, at Christmas or any other time.

A child detained on Manus Island tries to speak out.

Read the plight of a boy found to be a refugee but held in detention in conditions which the government knows are likely to result in his death.

Some small stories about the dreadful treatment of refugees right now.

The process of ‘screening out’ asylum seekers at the point of entry to Australia operates to create terrible injustice

The Golden Rule – the principle of reciprocity – the idea “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is nearly universal.  Here are some examples.

As we increasingly demonise boat-people it is worth remembering the voyage of the St Louis in 1939: It was denied permission to land its cargo of 900 Jews, and as a result hundreds of them died in concentration camps.

UNHCR report condemns Pacific Solution, and here is their press release

A girl held on Manus Island writes to Minister Chris Bowen

Some ideas for a better, and much cheaper way of treating boat-people.

The cruelty of Temporary Protection Visas

Refugee policy: heading down the wrong track

Here is the Constitution of Nauru – note the Charter of Human Rights at the start of it - and the very recent Nauru Refugee Convention Act

Very important decision of the High Court in case M47/2012: the High Court held invalid a regulation which prevented the grant of a protection visa to a refugee if ASIO assessed the refugee to be a risk to security. Accordingly, a majority of the Court held that the decision to refuse the plaintiff a protection visa on the basis of that regulation had not been made according to law.

Some irresponsible people put around emails saying that refugees get more government benefits than pensioners. It is false, as this report from the Parliamentary Library shows.  Spreading discredited stories despite the facts is the mark of bigotry.

DASSAN: Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network: doing a great job in the Northern Territory

The UNHCR does not seem convinced that Pacific Solution Mk II is a good idea.  In particular, their letter to Minister Bowen suggests that Nauru does not have the ability to undertake refugee processing, and Australia does not have the right to side-step its Convention obligations.  See UNHCR letter of 5 September 2012 to Minister Bowen

The $15 billion challenge: there are prizes to be won in this home-grown challenge.  I am donating the prizes to find who has the best ways of spending $15 billion instead of throwing it at the Pacific Solution Mk II.  See the challenge here.

A clash of national ideals is exposed by Go Back

National list of organisations helping Asylum Seekers and Refugees

There are two contradictions at the heart of Pacific Solution Mk II

On 8 August Barry Jones’ gave the 33rd Daniel Mannix Memorial Lecture

26 August 2012: eleven years on from Tampa

Tony Abbott on 7.30: can we believe what he says?

Latest developments in Assange case

A marvellous Letter to the Editor from Dermot Daley-really worth reading

A few simple questions for Julia Gillard and Mr Abbott

A brief response to the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers

The policy of deterrence: is it really who we are?

The evidence about asylum seekers, by Sharon Pickering.

All submissions to Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers:

A selection of the submissions to Expert Panel:

     - Human Rights Law Centre submission

     - Asylum Seekers Resource Centre submission

     - Centre for Policy Development’s submission

     - Greens submission

     - Sev Ozdowski’s submission

     - Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network submission

     - my submission

     - and The Conversation has put together an expert panel to make recommendations: see their findings here

Mr Abbott criticizes boat-people as unChristian. He is wrong.  Read why.

Malaysian Solution or Nauru Solution: some choice.

Is Australia being swamped with refugees? No: look at this comparison

Detained, possibly for life, without charge, without trial, without appeal. this should not happen in Australia, but read about what we are doing to this mother and her two children

Asylum Explained.  Asylum Seekers Resource Centre has a brilliant new resource about seeking asylum: this is useful to refugee applicants, community supporters of refugee applicants, and just about anyone not in the lock ‘em up brigade.

Senate Report recommends substantial improvements to immigration detention system

A Just Australia reports: 528 children remain in immigration detention facilities or alternative places of detention as at March 2012. Welcome to Australia…

Senator Brandis and Ron Merkel - why Brandis is wrong

50 refugees face lifetime detention without breaking the law, without reasons.

Offshore processing and the problem with Nauru

How do we respond to the fact of refugees drowning at sea trying to get here?

Public swearing

Excellent article by James Hathaway about asylum seekers being held by Indonesia

Have a look at the website of Welcome to Australia – a really beaut idea.

Myths about boat people – get the facts here

op-ed in Newcastle Herald 3 November 2011 (original as published here: slow to load)

Senate Access to Justice Report (Dec 2009)

Refugee facts from the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre

Download Uniting Church Human Rights kit ; get a useful factsheet on refugees and a useful summary of myths and facts from the Refugee Council of Australia; and a useful compilation of asylum facts prepared by the Parliamentary library

Australians All and The Justice Project

find a Community Legal Centre to help you

The Rendition Monologues: available here for any theatre group to perform

Interesting and diverse legal coverage on Stephen Warne’s website

Latest news and projects

·       Special Review of CIA interrogation techniques in Guantanamo Bay etc

·       UN Human Rights Committee Report on Australia

·       A new report on the operation of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities

·       Human Rights Watch 2009 Report

·       The Australian Human Rights Group announces its campaign for a Human Rights Act for Australia, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: 10 December 1948 – 10 December 2008

·       Proust report on department of Immigration response to Palmer and Comrie reports

·       Sir Richard Kirby lecture, 2008

·       Report of joint parliamentary committee on detention

·       It’s Time for Australia to have a Charter of Rights

·       Magnificent bloopers in commentary at the Olympic Games

·       English Court of Appeal holds government to account for ‘special rendition’

·       Jail for politicians who mislead the public. Ignore Laurie Oakes and
Andrew Bolt who misrepresent or misunderstand the point.
See the argument here.

·       9th Manning Clark Lecture, delivered 10 March 2008

·       Age editorial calls for scrapping of mandatory detention

·       HREOC report on mandatory detention

·       Melbourne's most popular arts venue: fortyfivedownstairs at 45 Flinders Lane

·       The Charter of Rights in Victoria

·       The Centre for Constitutional Rights


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