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.”