Here is my submission to the Senate enquiry on the MIGRATION Legislation AMENDMENT (Regional processing cohort) BILL 2016

The Bill relevantly inserts sub-section 46A(2AA)

The effect of that provision is to “prevent unauthorised maritime arrivals (UMAs) who were at least 18 years of age and were taken to a regional processing country after 19 July 2013 from making a valid application for an Australian visa”.

The Bill should be opposed, for the following reasons:

  1. In the short term, it will operate to prevent people who are currently in a Regional Processing Centre, and who have been assessed as refugees, from being reunited with members of their immediate family who are presently living in the Australian community.  That is a result which most Australians would regard as needlessly harsh.  It would be unsafe to assume that the present Minister would exercise his discretion in favour of allowing the family to be reunited: he has previously refused to exercise his discretion in favour of a result which most people would regard as in keeping with Australian values.
  2. In the medium to long term, it would mean that people presently in a Regional Processing Centre and who are assessed as refugees and who settle in (say) Canada or Sweden and rebuild their lives there will never be able to visit Australia for tourism, or business, or any other legitimate reason.  This has absurd and pointless possibilities:
    1. A person builds up a successful business in Canada and wants to visit business associates in Australia, but is not able to make a valid visa application;
    2. A person settles in another country and wins a Nobel Prize; or becomes eminent in some field, and is invited to visit Australia to give a lecture, but is not able to make a valid visa application.
  3. The medium to long term effect is founded on a misconception.  It assumes that a person who has been held in misery for years at Australia’s direction and who makes a new life in another country will (if allowed to visit Australia) want to discard their new life and relocate to Australia.  It is difficult to understand this conceit: in my experience most refugees who have been held offshore for years and are forced to resettle in a third country do not share the Australian view that this is the best country in the world.  It contradicts ordinary human experience: relocating just once to a new culture is hard; to do it a second time (leaving one safe place to go to another safe place) seems unlikely.
  4. This measure, which is ostensibly intended to send a message to people smugglers would have been unthinkable in Australia 25 years ago.  It can only be contemplated now because Australia has adopted a policy of undisguised cruelty to people who arrive here seeking protection.  International opinion does not hold us in high esteem: we have distinguished ourselves as cruel and selfish.  Australia’s suggested excuse for its harsh, deterrent policies is a pretended concern about refugees drowning, because of the indifference  of people smugglers.  This is a plausible, but false, reason.
    1. It is false because, if we deter people from escaping persecution and they are killed by their persecutors, they are still dead, just as if they had drowned.
    2. It is false because, if people try to escape persecution by heading towards Europe rather than Australia, and if they die in that attempt, they are still dead, just as if they had drowned.
    3. It is false because, if they  succeed in getting to Australia without drowning, we send them to Nauru or Manus where, after years of misery, they try to kill themselves – even children.  If they succeed in their self-harm attempts, they are still dead, just as if they had drowned.
    4. It is false because, if they succeed in getting to Australia without drowning, we abuse them and punish them.  All the psychiatric evidence demonstrates that prolonged detention of an innocent person is seriously damaging.  And they are innocent: they commit no offence by coming to Australia without a visa to seek protection from persecution.  Calling them “illegal” is false, even if it is politically effective.

It is time for the Senate to take a stand and say that our mindless cruelty has gone too far: it should not be allowed to go any further.  It is worth considering that Australia (because of its geography) has traditionally received very few refugees who arrive without prior permission.  Contrast our position with that of Jordan and Lebanon which, being adjacent to Syria, have received millions of Syrian refugees in recent years.  The purpose of the Refugees Convention, to which Australia is a signatory, was to spread the load of refugee movement so that the burden would not be born principally by countries adjacent to the source of refugees.  By our increasingly harsh policies, which are explicitly intended to deter boat people, we are contradicting the central purpose of the Refugees Convention.