Prominent human rights advocate, Julian Burnside, QC, was scathing in his assessment of both the major parties and mainstream media’s approach to asylum seekers in a public address at the invitation of the Townsville branch of Amnesty International on Jun 14.
Burnside told the audience that “both parties are trading in human misery in order to win or retain power” and mainstream media have to stop spreading the message that asylum seekers are illegal.
On his return to the country after having spent the last week in Nauru, Burnside was quick to point out that “the facts are pretty easy to find unless you read the tabloid press”.
“Muslim countries allow other Muslims free passage so they end up in Indonesia. Malaysia and Indonesia have not signed the convention on human rights. In Indonesia they go to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and register as refugees. If the authorities in Indonesia find them they will be sent to jail for 10-40 years. An alternative to that is to take their courage in both hands and get on a rickety boat to Australia,” he said.
Burnside then openly questioned the audience as to whether anyone in the position of an asylum seeker would not take the same course of action.
“I’ve never heard anyone say that they would do anything different to what asylum seekers do. An important fact is that when they make the choice we would make they do not break any law. Politicians who call them illegal are lying”, he said.
“That purpose is to make people think badly about boat people. More than 90% are assessed as genuine refugees”.
“I don’t want Australia to look more frightening than the Taliban”, he said in reference to the Christmas Island tragedy.
“Those people who drowned are just as dead as those killed by the Taliban”.
Mandatory detention had no impact on boat arrivals according to the statistics Burnside presented and he reminded everyone that in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Australia had an increased immigration rate of about 25,000 a year but now have a rate of about 200,000-250,000 a year now.