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Policy seeker

This week, the Abbott Government is trying to send asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka, flouting international conventions and domestic law in the process.

Australia has been accused of breaking international law and violating the refugee convention in relation to Sri Lankan asylum seekers who attempted to reach the country by boat directly into the hands of the Sri Lankan navy.

Yesterday, the High Court granted injunction over the return of an asylum seeker boat.

Far from being a soap opera, this is a matter of life and death for many involved.

The lines around migration and asylum have been cleverly blended and blurred by the political class to confuse, anger, and twist the view of our communities.

Asylum seekers or refugees and migrants have very different experiences and reasons for moving to another country. Migrants choose to leave their home country, and can choose where to go and when they might return to their home country. Asylum seekers and refugees, on the other hand, flee their country for their own safety and cannot return unless the situation that forced them to leave improves.

Australia has international obligations to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in Australia, regardless of how or where they arrive and whether they arrive with or without a visa.

Many Australians now appear confused about these definitions and responsibilities, and more and more take the view that all people who are claiming asylum are actually economic migrants, not asylum seekers. How many Australians (and now our own government) want to deal with this often ignore one important point – the law.

Getting here, and the reasons for it, is only the start of the issue. Detention once here is another big problem, as the photo (source) above shows

Clearly this issue continues to be a difficult one for us as a society to address due to the mix of ethics, economics, policy, politics and the law itself. However, when everything else proves either unclear, untested, or disputed, we should fall back on the law itself. Test the issue. Resolve the dispute, then move to change policy or laws if we are genuinely unhappy with them.

What concerns me, is the apparent desire and concious attempt by this government to break laws they know exist. No party can claim to have diplomatic immunity from the law on an assumed ‘mandate’. The law is not a democracy, nor is any party above the law.

Economic migration? Maybe for some, but that is now diverting us from our legal responsibilities to those that do need protection and asylum. Just one person who needs help should not have their legal rights ignored due to the behaviour of others.

The LNP approach (as usual) has gone way too far. It’s their version of Workchoices applied to asylum seekers, and like Workchoices they’ve gone too far.This whole issue needs a fresh approach. For me, the LNP have officially lost their right to a mandate on this one.

The government could seek an independent, bipartisan model (I’m assuming the Houston’ Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers won’t be used) from an independent group, and move quickly to deal with both the economic migration issue, and more importantly, to protect asylum seekers and observe international law in a reasonable, modern, and progressive way, but even that seems impossible when dealt with by politicians.

‘Open borders’ is an approach that I’m looking at more and more. Perhaps this is the answer if looking for a radical but logical way to break through this impasse? Governments, and indeed the community, seem happy to allow the free movement of capital around and across the globe, but not the free movement of people?

Regardless, we need a new approach – how else do we break this political and ethical deadlock – just all stay in our respective corners and punch on?

About Darin Sullivan (1967 Articles)
President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and a professional firefighter with more than 25 years’ experience. Father of two daughters, he lives and works on the NSW South Coast, Australia. He is a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around him. He is a Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and works with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist he has long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. Now a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and has decades of experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. He is passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. Darin is also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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