At 9.38am on Sunday 21 May 2017, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton revealed his worst attack on refugees.

He said asylum seekers living in the Australian community had until 1 October to file applications for protection, failing which they would be or they will be denied Government payments, subject to removal from Australia, and banned from re-entering the country. There are about 7,500 people in the community who are affected by this edict.

The problem is that, for most people, the deadline will be impossible to meet.  The reason is simple:

  • the applications are very complex.  Have a look at it : form_866c
  • they have to be completed in English;
  • they involve all sorts of difficult and subtle legal issues;
  • they cannot be adequately completed without legal help;
  • asylum seekers do not generally have access to interpreters;
  • the Government has already cut legal support for people seeking asylum;
  • asylum seekers cannot generally afford to pay for legal help;
  • the free legal refugee support services are being crushed by the burden of trying to provide the help that is needed.

The result of these facts is that many asylum seekers will not be able to comply with the Dutton deadline.  One of the refugee support services, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, said this:

“The introduction of an impossible deadline that immediately places thousands of people at risk of being deported to danger.   In the 62 years since Australia ratified the Refugee Convention no government has ever dared to do something so unlawful and despicable.    Based on the heinous action of our government, there is now more people at risk of harm than ever before.”

Put to one side whether the deadline will be legally valid, it is worth recognising the dishonesty surrounding Dutton’s announcement.  Despite being a Minister of the Crown, Dutton is chronically dishonest:

  • He refers to asylum seekers as “illegal”, even though they have committed no offence by coming to Australia the way they do;
  • He refers to offshore detention as “border protection”, even though we do not need to be protected from asylum seekers:  they are human beings looking for a safe place to live;
  • He said many asylum seekers had been in the community for years: but he failed to admit that they were not allowed to apply for protection until late 2016;
  • He referred to asylum seekers who have not yet applied for protection as “fake refugees”.  This prejudges whether or not they are refugees and therefore entitled to protection;
  • He referred to the fact that social welfare benefits for refugees was costing the economy $246 million each year: he did not mention that locking refugees up on Manus Island and Nauru was costing the economy billions of dollars each year, and that offshore detention is the most expensive form of detention.

Have a look at the Australian Values Statement, which is part of each Form 866:

99 AUSTRALIAN VALUES STATEMENT

You must sign this statement if you are aged 18 years or over.

I confirm that I have read, or had explained to me, information provided by the Australian Government on Australian society and values.

I understand:

• Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law,

Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good;

• Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background;

• the English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.

Could Dutton seriously say that he “values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law”?  And would you believe him?

It is interesting to see Dutton’s callous attitude in context.  The target for his government is boat-people, that is, people who come to Australia without invitation.  Jordan has a population about one third of Australia’s, and its economy is weak.  Jordan is in a difficult part of the world: it has borders with Israel, Syria and Iraq.  Jordan has not signed the Refugees Convention.  Nevertheless, right now there are more than a million uninvited refugees in Jordan.  That is more uninvited refugees than Australia has received in the 70 years since it singed the Refugees Convention.

How strange that Jordan treats refugees so well and Australia treats them so badly, even though Jordan has not signed the Convention and we have.