Julian Burnside: The failings of super-minister Dutton

Julian Burnside is a barrister who specialises in commercial litigation and human rights.

The failings of super-minister Dutton:

This article by Julian Burnside was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 28, 2018 as “A silk terse at a sow’s ear”. 

Here are a few extracts from that article:

“. . .  When Dutton took over the immigration portfolio from Scott Morrison in December 2014, he adopted Morrison’s misleading characterisation of boat people as “illegal”. Morrison had decreed that the people referred to in the Migration Act as “Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals” should in future be called “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”. Dutton has picked up the idea, even though it is a lie.

Dutton shamelessly uses the “illegal” tag.

At the very least, this shows ignorance of some basic facts; at worst, it shows dishonesty. Boat people do not commit any offence by arriving in Australia without a visa, without an invitation, seeking to be protected from persecution. On the contrary, they are exercising a right acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration starts this way: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

Australia made a significant contribution to the creation of the Universal Declaration, and it was Doc Evatt, an Australian, who presided over the General Assembly of the United Nations when it was adopted on December 10, 1948. More than half a century later, on July 27, 2017, Dutton wrote an opinion piece about Operation Sovereign Borders, which included these words:

“It’s now been three years since a people-smuggler’s boat loaded with Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) reached Australia …

“Had the Coalition not mounted OSB – the boats and illegal arrivals would still be coming.”

“. . . .  Dutton told the public these refugees had received “an enormous amount of support” from Australian taxpayers for a long time, saying: “there is a very different scenario up on Nauru and Manus than people want you to believe”. Taxes cover the absurd cost of maintaining offshore processing arrangements. It costs about $570,000 per refugee per year to keep the men and women on Manus or Nauru. So in that sense, refugees receive support from taxpayers. . . . ”

“On April 7, 2018, Dutton called for “like-minded” countries to come together and review the relevance of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

So, here it is: Australia’s most powerful minister is wilfully mistreating innocent people at vast public expense. He is waging a propaganda war against refugees and against the people who try to help them. And he is trying to persuade other countries to back away from international human rights protection.

He tries to make it seem tolerable by hiding it all away in other countries, so that we can’t see the facts for ourselves.

Dutton has often expressed concern about people drowning in their attempt to get to Australia. But his concern about people drowning is a lie. If he were genuinely concerned about people drowning, he might treat survivors decently. Instead, if they don’t drown, he punishes them: he puts them in offshore detention for years. He does this in order to deter others from trying to seek safety in Australia.

Perhaps the most worrying thing about Dutton is not his dishonesty, but his propaganda war, which already has led the Australian people to accept things that would have been unthinkable even 10 or 20 years ago. He has blinded us to the fact that we are now deliberately harming innocent men, women and children, in ways that are completely inconsistent with our view of ourselves. After all, aren’t we the nation that believes in a fair go for everyone?

By small degrees Dutton is inducing Australians to tolerate the intolerable. His campaign to make cruelty acceptable has the potential to lead Australia to very dark places. Invested in him is great power to do so, more power than any minister has had before.”

3 thoughts on “Julian Burnside: The failings of super-minister Dutton

  1. The following is from SBS NEWS on Immigration:


    Compassion can undo efforts against people-smugglers:
    Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton.

    File: Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton leaves Question Time in the House of Representatives Source: AAP

    Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says Australia is facing a “danger phase” and any compassion for refugees in offshore detention will see more get on boats.

    UpdatedUpdated 5 days ago
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    Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says Australians must guard against compassion towards refugees as it could undo the government’s hard-fought success in discouraging people smugglers.

    The boats are still coming and if the government were to relax its tough stance, such as by transferring refugees held on Manus and Nauru to the mainland, it would see the people-smuggling business restart, he told The Weekend Australian.

    A group of refugees from Manus Island and have reportedly left for the US.
    More refugees on Manus Island sent to US

    “We are in a danger phase because only a month ago we stopped a steel-hulled vessel with 131 people coming out of Sri Lanka, there are 14,000 people still in Indonesia and there is excited chatter among people-smuggling syndicates about the prospect of Australia being available again,” Mr Dutton said.

    “It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia.

    “The boats are there, we are scuttling boats, we are returning people and we are turning around boats where it is safe to do so. The boats haven’t gone away and if there is a success defined by an arrival of a boat in Australia then the word will spread like wildfire.”

    Activists hold a vigil for Salim, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar who died on Manus Island, in front of Immigration minister Peter Dutton’s office in Brisbane.

    Activists hold a vigil for Salim, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar who died on Manus Island, in front of Immigration minister Peter Dutton’s office in Brisbane.

    It’s a view echoed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who told the Nine Network on Friday: “Here in Australia we have one of the most generous refugee and humanitarian programs in the world.

    “The reason we can do that is because we decide, the Australian government decides, representing the Australian people, who comes to Australia; not people-smugglers.”

    The row over refugees has been reignited by US President Donald Trump’s decision to reverse a decision that separated children from their illegal migrant parents at the border and as Europe faces a continuing swell of people crossing the Mediterranean with the help of people smugglers.

    Source: AAP – SBS

  2. Just noticed the following letter from GetUp:

    Uta, we have some wonderful news.

    Last week, Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs department was standing firm in its decision to tear a small family apart. But today — thanks to our community coming together in our thousands — Bernadette and Giro are looking forward to celebrating his ninth birthday together in Australia.1

    After living in our community for 11 years, Bernadette Romulo had her application for permanent residency denied, and was ordered to leave the country in a matter of weeks, forced to leave behind her 8 year old son Giro.

    But thousands of us called on the Turnbull Government to allow Bernadette and Giro to remain together in Australia, where she can watch him grow —and they caved; intervening to grant Bernadette a 12 month visa just yesterday.

    It is a remarkable example of what our community can do when we come together for what’s right — and it means Bernadette can hold her little one close for a little while longer.

    But they aren’t out of the woods. While today Bernadette and Giro get to breathe a sigh of relief, the government has merely pushed the decision back a year.

    Malcolm Turnbull can still intervene at any time to let Bernadette stay with her son, for good — and we have to make sure he does.


  3. My view is that there are clear class issues that aren’t being addressed in the immigration debate. The people who write the immigration law are always well-education upper middle class folk, who in too many cases are acting in the interests of a business class seeking to increase immigration to drive down wages.

    While the communities where immigrants most often settle are poorly educated working class communities who see themselves competing with new migrants for jobs, housing and educational opportunities. It seems a great pity the people most affected by immigration weren’t consulted about a big influx of migrants into their communities. They feel it’s been forced on them and they resent it.

    And unfortunately there are far too many right wing populist politicians around the global ready and eager to capitalize on this resentment.

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