Friday, December 27, 2013

Refugees and asylum seekers: finding a better way

On 17 December 2013, in a Senate Committee Room in Parliament House, Canberra former Governor-General Sir William Deane launched a collection of essays entitled Refugees and asylum seekers: Finding a better way. This collection, edited by Bob Douglas and Jo Wodak, marked the completion of the first phase of an Australia21 project designed to contribute to the development of a process for dealing with asylum seekers which is fairer and more humane than the one we have been using in Australia in recent years.

The essays in this volume are in response to an invitation by Australia21 to people who have been actively engaged in various aspects of asylum-seeker policy to take a fresh look at the current dilemma in its global, regional as well as national contexts, and suggest ways in which the Australian community might respond more humanely, more sustainably and more responsibly to it.

Contributions were sought from a wide range of Australians – legal experts, ex-public servants and advisers, international and local agency representatives, ethicists, church representatives, academics and researchers, concerned members of the public and refugees.

In soliciting these contributions Australia21 did not prescribe any particular opinion or critique. It is striking, however, that not one of the contributors expresses support for either the Labor or the Coalition Government’s position on and treatment of asylum seekers or their response to and representation of the problem of asylum-seeking boats arrivals. Instead, there is a striking uniformity of view that current policies are inhumane, uneconomic and unjustified in terms of international, national and social obligations, and that core values of fairness and compassion have been sacrificed for political expediency. In the process there has been a demonisation of asylum seekers arriving by boat as opportunistic queue jumpers.

Contributors to this volume are:
-    Ms Widyan Al Ubudy, Iraqi Australian Project Coordinator for the NSW Community Relations Commission, who was born in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia
-    Professor Jane McAdam, Scientia Professor of Law and Foundation Director of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales
-    John Menadue AO, former Secretary, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs
-    ADM (Retd.) Chris Barrie AC, former Chief of the Defence Force
-    Trevor Boucher AO, former Commissioner of Taxation and Ambassador to the OECD
-    Paul Barratt AO, Chair of Australia21 and former Secretary, Department of Defence
-    Tony Kevin, former Ambassador to Poland and Cambodia, and author of two books addressing Australia’s asylum-seeker safety-of-life-at-sea record
-    Professor Emeritus Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission; former Dean of the Faculty of Law and Challis Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney
-    David Maxwell Gray, member of the Board of Social Justice of the Western Australian Uniting Church
-    Erika Feller, former Assistant High Commissioner for Protection with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
-    Professor Louise Newman AM, Professor of Developmental Psychiatry and Director of the Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology
-    Dr Simon Longstaff AO, Executive Director, St James Ethics Centre
-    Julian Burnside AO QC, Melbourne barrister who has acted pro-bono in many human rights cases, in particular concerning the treatment of refugees
-    Mick Palmer AO APM, former career police officer and barrister at law, who served as Commissioner of Police with the Northern Territory Police and the Australian Federal Police
-    Anne Kilcullen, infant wartime evacuee from Cairns, who organised doorknock collectors in a Brisbane suburb for the first World Refugee Year in 1959/60
-    Paul Power, Chief Executive Officer of the Refugee Council of Australia since 2006
-    Frank Brennan AO, Jesuit priest, Professor of law at Australian Catholic University and Adjunct Professor at the Australian National University College of Law and National Centre for Indigenous Studies
-    Professor Desmond Manderson, Future Fellow in the ANU College of Law and the Research School of Humanities and the Arts, Australian National University
-    Arnold Zable, writer, novelist, educator and human rights advocate; author of CafĂ© Scheherazade, Scraps of Heaven and The Sea of Many Returns
-    Professor Kim Rubenstein, Director of the Centre for International and Public Law at the Australian National University, and Jacqueline Field, who has been working with Professor Rubinstein on the Australian Research Council project Small Mercies, Big Futures.
-    David Corlett, writer and researcher who has worked on refugee and asylum seeker issues for about two decades; host of SBS Television’s Go Back to Where You Came From
-    Arja Keski-Nummi PSM, Fellow with the Centre for Policy Development in Sydney; former Head of the Division of Refugee, International and Humanitarian Division, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
-    John Hewson AM, economist and company director and former federal leader of the Liberal Party of Australia
-    Besmellah Rezaee, solicitor with a strong background in humanitarian work; former refugee from Afghanistan.

The complete publication can be downloaded as a PDF file at no charge from the Australia21 website  here.

If you would like to buy a hard copy for $25 including postage you may do so from here.

Please remember that Australia21 is dependent upon public donations to continue its work. If you would like to make a donation you can do so by visiting the Australia21 website at

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