“FAIR SUCK OF THE SAUCE BOTTLE”
We Australians are proud to boast that we value the quality of fairness above all. The ‘fair go, mate’ anthem has been part of our vernacular for many years. This week, when Peter Dutton, Immigration Minister, announced an October 1st deadline for 7,500 asylum seekers to submit applications for protection or risk deportation, it seemed on the surface to pass the reasonableness test.
However, on closer scrutiny, this ultimatum fails to pass to do so for a number of reasons.
- The announcement targets people who arrived by sea in Australia between August 2012 and December 2013, and who have been waiting over four years to apply for asylum under the government’s so-called “fast track” legal process, introduced in December 2014 through the Legacy Caseload Bill, and has short timeframes and arbitrary deadlines. Under this process, people have just one chance at being granted asylum.
- The Department of Immigration and Border Protection faces a backlog of 12 months to process people’s applications.
- The 7,500 people, yet to apply for protection, most of whom are already involved in legal processes to claim asylum but who have been unable to yet lodge their applications due to underfunded legal service, are struggling to meet already surging demand. Most of the people yet to apply are families with young children and vulnerable people including stateless Rohingya and people who have been tortured.
- Legal representation is essential to ensure people seeking asylum have a fair chance of lodging their claims for protection because the paperwork (only in English) is more than 30 pages long, includes 100 questions and is complex and impossible to complete without that professional legal assistance.
5. The Department has also told legal services that they will not accept any extensions on timeframes, abandoning a long-standing agreement with lawyers working in the sector. Legal services to refugees took a massive hit in the 2014 budget with government-funded legal supports for refugees and people seeking asylum slashed by 90 per cent.
The Minister’s claim that people seeking asylum were ‘refusing’ (my emphasis) to submit their applications and were therefore ‘fake refugees’, prejudges and distorts the legal processes. To use inflammatory language depicting asylum seekers as ‘ripping off the taxpayer’ and ‘conning’ the system is disingenuous at least and disturbing to hear from an elected official who must surely understand the real situation but chooses to distort unfairly for political reasons.
It’s also the tone around this directive that is as troubling as the announcement itself. Surely the Minister is aware of the irony behind his attacks on asylum seekers as ‘rorting’ the taxpayer when it has been allegedly both the tax office itself rorting the system and in recent months politicians ‘conning’ the system – several examples here, here, and summary here .
The Immigration Minister’s hardline attack on those least able to defend themselves is indicative of a creeping politically savvy yet morally vacuous tone in Western politics.
In a recent wide-ranging and well-researched piece for The Age, journalist Stan Grant neatly summarised the list of social and political challenges we now face. “In a world increasingly divided, the future of liberal democratic values are under threat“ says Grant. While we do have government administration he says, we don’t have authentic leadership at present.
And as many nations turn to autocratic and even despotic leaders and avert their gaze from crucial issues such as climate change, the legal and social fabric will become more and more frayed.
Grant quotes from fellow journalist and academic Bill Emmott’s The Fate of the West saying that retreat from what has sustained us — openness, equality, inclusion — is not the answer. Rather “we need to clean up and repair our democratic and economic systems.”
I agree that now is the time to focus even more on sustaining our legal, social and community structures with an emphasis on equal rights for all.
Synchronistically (and isn’t that always the case?) as I was composing this blog, our local council who only last week voted to raise the rainbow flag outside Council buildings from IDAHOT day until same-sex marriage is introduced, was busy having a second vote which decided to take down the flag.
Although the councillors, led by the mayor, supposedly support same-sex marriage, they oppose the flag-raising because it is ‘a social issue and not core council business.’
Following the meeting, a notice to rescind that resolution was lodged. As a result, the flag will remain in place as per the April Council resolution. The matter will be considered at Council’s next ordinary meeting on 27 June 2017.
It’s these sorts of petty, legalistic posturings that militate against community cohesion and civic participation, the very qualities we must struggle to nurture.