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Budget makes asylum seeker vilification official


The Government's vilification of people arriving by boat has now reached the level where the term 'illegal' features in the Budget documents.

Immigration Minister Morrison has insisted on referring to people arriving by boat as 'illegals' for some years. When he became Minister, he directed his staff to refer to people as 'illegal', despite the Migration Act using the less pejorative term 'unlawful non-citizen'.

This is not just a lawyer's linguistic debate; if it were not important, the Government would not insist on the term. 'Illegal' has a connotation of criminal behaviour, and that is why they use it. It is vilifying and dehumanising and is linked to smuggling. 'Unlawful' evokes something more in line with getting a parking ticket.

Using the term 'illegal' in formal documents to describe boat arrivals is like calling people who receive social security payments 'dole bludgers', and insisting that bureaucrats use this term in documents and meetings.

The term in the Migration Act for those arriving without a visa is 'unlawful maritime arrival'. Yet the Budget papers have a section entitled 'Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMA) Onshore and Offshore Management'. It is ironic that after this deliberate vilification, one of the stated objectives is to 'treat IMAs with dignity and respect'.

We 'treat them with respect' by refusing to give them permanent residence or family reunion. We remove access to funded assistance with refugee applications and to any funded advice whatsoever. Those to whom the Labor Government 'recklessly' granted permanent residence now have the lowest priority in sponsoring spouses and dependent children, which means years of waiting.

The Government has stated its intention to reintroduce some form of temporary protection visa, despite reports by psychologists about the harm such a program caused in the Howard years, and two recent attempts to reintroduce it by regulation being disallowed in the Senate.

Previously people who arrived by boat or air without a visa and were taken to detention could obtain migration and legal advice. Legal Aid has not been available for asylum seekers for many years, as the funding comes from Immigration. Without funded legal assistance in detention or in the community, people do the case themselves, or rely on pro bono help. A few may have funds to pay for private lawyers and agents.

Now the Government has ceased funding to help people with review cases in the Refugee or Migration Review Tribunal. This cut is short-sighted as it means more unrepresented applicants in a system which is legally complex. Access to justice is a basic right, but now access is seen merely as a privilege for those with means.

Further to all this is is the proposed 'Australian Border Force', which sounds like some leftover from Empire on the North West Frontier, like 'Morrisons Border Rifles'. This furthers the militarisation of this humanitarian issue under Operation Sovereign Borders.

Probably the day-to-day work of Customs and Immigration officers will not change with these titles, but there is a legitimate concern about transparency here. Once you refer to issues as a security matter, transparency becomes opaque and the risk of unlawful acts by government increases. Remember Cornelia Rau?

The rhetoric of this and the previous Government is that 'saving people from drowning at sea' is a good thing. But what happens then? We dump them on Pacific processing colonies, and encourage them to return home to what they fled in the first place. Nowhere in Morrison's speech to the Lowy Institute does the term 'human rights' appear. In fact, 'rights' is only mentioned in connection with 'property rights'. 'Human' does not feature.

In Italy, when boats sink and people drown, they have days of mourning, and the Pope calls it a vergogna — disgrace/shameful. In Italy the naval operation is called Mare Nostram and their focus is on rescuing people at sea and bringing them onshore to assess their cases. In Australia we call it 'Operation Sovereign Borders', vilify the asylum seekers and sub-contract dealing with their human rights to poor countries.

In his Lowy Institute speech, Morrison claimed he has 'freed up' 20,000 places in the refugee and humanitarian program over this and the next four years 'by ensuring their places are not taken by those who came illegally by boat'. This is disingenuous, because firstly the Coalition reduced the program from 20,000 places annually to 13,750, a 30 per cent cut. So really they have reduced the number of visas by 31,250 over five years.

For every person who is granted a visa, whether onshore or in a camp or urban area overseas, thousands miss out. That is the reality. There are 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, few of whom would ever have a chance here, and there are now reports on Australian officials trying to encourage Syrians in Nauru to return to their war-ravaged country.

Maybe in 20 years we will have a judicial inquiry and an apology in Parliament. I would like to see that. In the meantime, the vilification and demonising of a group of asylum seekers continues because it serves a political purpose to have a group in society who are unwanted and can be blamed for our failings. This is our vergogna.

Kerry MurphyKerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers. He is a student of Arabic, former Jesuit Refugee Service coordinator, teaches at ANU, and was recognised by AFR best lawyers survey as one of Australia's top immigration lawyers.

Topic tags: Kerry Murphy, Scott Morrison, Budget 2014, asylum seekers



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Existing comments

Makes you weep that someone of this calibre can access such a powerful position which regulates what we can and can't do

Nokla Randall-Mohk | 20 May 2014  

It has not been helped by lazy media who refuse to understand that resettlement is the last option for refugees and not the first, that it is run by the UNHCR and not us and that 6,000 out of 46 million people is not generous at all, it's cruel and miserly as so many family members die waiting. Morrison is helped along byRuddock whose former chief if staff now works for Morrison.

Marilyn | 20 May 2014  

Thank you for bringing to our attention, the fact that this term 'illegals' has been used in the official budget documents. What mind boggling 'evil' is at play here. I searched for another term to use but could only come up with psychopathic.

Val | 21 May 2014  

I am so depressed about this situation and the lack of empathy from many Australians, I feel hopeless. So I can only try to imagine the hopelessness and sadness refugees are feeling. The children have no future and we are making it so.

Kate | 21 May 2014  

Thanks again Kerry. It takes away some of the pain Morrison and hiscolleagues inflict on one daily to hear the voices of decency, and especially of truth, raised against them. I used to think, in the Howard years, that I was ashamed to be Australian. The feeling this crowd engenders is even more painful. Perhaps this Budget, doing so much to let people see their idea of Australia clearly, will undo them. Wouldn't it be wonderful - a great instance of hubris meeting its nemesis.

Joe Castley | 22 May 2014  

Thanks Kerry Murphy for signalling this character assassination of asylum seekers and refugees. It's not just a matter of words as the major genocide tragedies of the world have all begun with labelling of the victims. While I agree with the Government in stopping the boats I'm still waiting for it to instigate better ways of resolving the fact that 45 million people are without the sanctauary that we enjoy freely each day. The Bishops of Australia are calling for realistic compassion in the treatment of these brothers and sisters. Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey are calling on us all to share the Budget pain, so they also need to call on us to share the pain of the 45 million. Australia could resettle 500 000 asylum seekers and this would be a boost for our conscience and also our economy.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 22 May 2014  

How we ever got to this stage baffles me no end. How this man speaks in tones that remind me of the beginning of the dreaded labor camps, make me think that history is repeating itself in my lifetime. Morrison's legitimisation of asylum seekers as "illegals" (in defiance of the UN charter on refugees) is classic totalitarian. But we all watch this man frothing lies and propaganda, polluting the very fabric of our society. How can this happen here, of all places? I really think that Godwin should review his Principles when it comes to our treatment of asylum seekers. Remember, we deserve the governments we elect.Wake up, people!

Alex Njoo | 22 May 2014  

Thank you so much, Kerry, for keeping the issue of refugees before us. Calling human beings "illegals" does call to mind pre- WW11 Germany. Does Eureka Street get sent to the Minister? Kevin.

Kevin O'Loughlin | 22 May 2014  

In a world that talks of "IMAs", "illegals" and "transferees", language is power. Really quite grimly disgraceful.

Andrew Lambkin | 22 May 2014  

Who really cares if they are called illegal or unlawful. If anybody tries to sneak in using a back-door is not welcome and nobody really cares about the terms used. What we really care about is the massive harm caused by the open door and free for all policies of Kevin Rudd. Billions of Dollars have were wasted to make people smugglers and their on-shore “supporters” very rich.

Beat Odermatt | 22 May 2014  

Scott Morrison claims to be a Christian. I can see no Christian values at play in his handling of his department's responsibilities. His parents are devout Elders in the Uniting Church. I am sure they taught him better values than the ones he is displaying. We Australians are surely more generous when dealing with refugees than the minister seems to think.

Rob Brian | 22 May 2014  

"But we all watch this man frothing lies and propaganda, polluting the very fabric of our society." Thank you, Alex Njoo, for this pithy rich yet restrained comment on one whom we are justified in accusing of tyranny in our land. []

Gauvain Smith | 22 May 2014  

Beat once again bleats that people are trying to sneak in some back way, here is Amanda Vanstone 14 years ago. Senator McKIERNAN—I am talking particularly about the boat people. They are the people who arrive on our shores – mainly on Ashmore Islands – and who put their hands up and say, ‘Find me, find me! Take me in.’ They do not use these exact words, but they want to be found. These are not people who are escaping the scrutiny of our Coast Watch people. Senator Vanstone—Senator, I cannot resist! Perhaps you could tell Mr Beazley that so he does not keep raving on about this silly idea that we need a Coast Guard to locate the people. You at least realise that they want to be found; it would be helpful if your party realised that as well" LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE Reference: Consideration of Additional Estimates THURSDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2000 CANBERRA . Now will you just give it a rest, your hate for innocent people has become nazi like.

Marilyn | 22 May 2014  

Humiliation of someone else is not free of effect on the humiliator. It actually makes it easier for them to increase the humiliation. That is why it is so important to Morrison to make sure everyone describes asylum seekers and unlawful entrants to Australia as "illegal". He wants us to join with him in humiliating these people, and he has lazy and tame media to help spread the word. He wants us to treat them with contempt and worse as the Nazis did the Jews.

Peter Horan | 22 May 2014  

Surely the term 'non-citizen' is a double negative? I was ashamed to hear, on the radio, one of Cambodia's leaders describing Cambodia as a caring compassionate country. Would that we could say the same for our country!

Joanna Elliott | 22 May 2014  

I wrote to my local MP and to Scott Morrison on this issue last year and am tired of the stock answers that pose as policy. I am increasingly ashamed of our policies. We have settled a refugee family...it's not easy but it is a worthwhile investment in people. This is what is lacking here : the concept of human capital rather than monetary capital.

karan | 22 May 2014  

Maybe in 20 years time Australians may wonder how a pro-asylum seeker lobby narrowly based in the PC left was able to overturn a system for stopping mostly self-selecting economic migrants from illegally entering Australia - and in so doing resulting in the deaths of 1200 of them, including many women and children. Future generations may also wonder how the majority of Australians who were opposed to the scrapping of this system were vilified as xenophobic racists by this lobby and how the restoration of this system by the Abbott government was depicted as some sort of Nazi era plot by this lobby. They may also wonder what sort of twisted moral logic prompted this lobby to care more about the death of one unfortunate Iranian detainee on Manus Island than the deaths of over a thousand people trying to reach Australia – after being encouraged to “have a go” by this lobby. And well may Australians of 2034 wonder why we were favouring well-heeled opportunists over the millions of genuine refugees rotting in tents in Lebanon and Syria. Well may future generations wonder. .

dennis | 23 May 2014  

THANKYOU Kerry. Is it possible that this governments persistence in calling people who seek asylum by boat- illegals continues so that the government can justify to itself the appalling treatment FAmily separation is causing immense suffering- brothers, sister sent to Nauru and manus while other members come to mainland camps. Nauru conditions so brutal that young women are asking for terminations rather than face putting their babies in danger there living in communal tents with days of no water and strictly regulated food supplies. These women are flown in and out of Australia for abortions. They come from cultures where they would not have contemplated such a decision. One woman said to me - I committed a crime against my babyShe had agreed to a termination while in a detention camp because a case officer said that she had no right to get pregnant. This is what our brutal cruel detention camps encourage desperate people to do. We are destroying them and the govt exonerates itself by calling its victims - illegals. This policy is enacted by men who claim religion as their guide. This should anger and disgust the nation.

Pamela | 23 May 2014  

When our political leaders de-humanise asylum seekers by referring to them as 'illegals' it gives tacit approval for those responsible for their well being to trash them. The death of a young man on Manus Island is a direct result of this style of political leadership.

John W H Smith | 23 May 2014  

Dennis is yet another who thinks we can murder and brutalise innocent people because some others somewhere else might need help. He cites Syrians yet we are jailing Syrians on Nauru and Manus Island and here and forcing the wealthiest Syrians to pay $30,000 to come here.

Marilyn | 23 May 2014  

Marilyn contends that I have condoned the “murder” of asylum seekers - presumably referring to the Manus Island killing of an Iranian detainee. And what were the consequences of the pro-asylum seeker lobby’s successful push to scrap the previous system for preventing asylum-seekers from entering Australia? 1200 dead people! Could it be said that this lobby has “blood on its hands”, knowing that many of these people would drown trying to get into Australia? And how are asylum seekers “innocent people”? They try to force their way into Australia illegally, after having already found refuge in Indonesia from whatever persecution they claim to be experiencing in their home countries. They destroy their passports and other ID papers before being picked up by Australian authorities, to make it very difficult to confirm they are genuine refugees not mere economic migrants. They then resort to every legal tactic – eagerly aided by the asylum seeker lobby/industry - to stay in Australia, sometimes fighting their cases all the way to the High Court, costing the Australian taxpayer millions of dollars.

dennis | 25 May 2014  

Denis the goal is to allow refugees to enter Australia, not waste billions to keep them out. If the refugee convention was about keeping refugees from being safe it would be the convention for the torture and state sponsored genocide of all those who seek protection.

Marilyn | 25 May 2014  

I would like to offer a reverse flip of this fine article with the author's indulgence on behalf of and for adult clerical sexual abuse victims aka sexual asylum seekers using the same sentiments of the author. So when is the law operative? And is that Canon Law, Civil Law? When our patriarchal society deems it so. Why does it matter? Who does it affect? Church Society? and Secular Society? Kerry Murphy points out that our elected Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has insisted on referring to people arriving by boat as 'illegals' for some years. When he became Minister, he directed his staff to refer to people as 'illegal', despite the Migration Act using the less pejorative term 'unlawful non-citizen'. This sounds to me a lot like adult clerical sexual abuse victims being called by our Church Hierarchy – both Bishops and Provincial Leaders – as “Boundary Violations”. Whoops, missed where that compass point was. Where was that boundary? A ship lost at sea. Oh well, just a technical hitch. NO harm done really.. “This is not just a lawyer's linguistic debate” Indeed it is not, if it were the Church Hierarchy would not insist on the term Boundary Violation instead of sexual assault and sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Abuse is 'Illegal' and has a connotation of criminal behaviour, and that is why clerical sexual abuse against adults is being legally avoided at all costs, even to the extent of using defenses publicly recently decried yet continue behind the scenes . To admit Abuse is vilifying and dehumanising to the perpetrator and is linked to long term smuggling of laity secretly behind closeted walls. 'Boundary Violations meanwhile evokes something more in line with getting a parking ticket, taking the ball beyond the boundary line, saying something out of line. But certainly not destroying another’s life by acting beyond an against one’s boundaries - against one of whom was within one’s purview. The term used by the CC Hierarchy, still in formal apologies, and in the RC, referring to adult lay lives destroyed by clerics, is that of Boundary Violations, yet the RC shows explicit coverage visual and transcript of same Hierarchy offering those violated “dignity and respect'. You do the maths.

Name | 27 May 2014  

Yes Marilyn, under the 1951 Refugee Convention Australia is obliged and should accept as many refugees as it can comfortably accommodate – provided they are genuine refugees not merely economic migrants. But as Bob Carr admitted when foreign minister about 90% of asylum seekers coming to Australia were the latter. Refugees are people fleeing persecution or who have been driven from their homes by war or political violence. There are millions of them in Lebanon and Jordan at present who we should be aiding. The $12 billion that asylum seekers have so far cost Australia could have been far better used helping these poor people – and perhaps also providing decent shelter for the thousands of our own homeless who have to sleep in the streets every night!

dennis | 27 May 2014  

From time immemorial people who lived in fear have fled and brought themselves to the mercy of strangers. Often, the strangers have reacted badly. Wealthy refugees were mostly welcome but those with few means had a rough ride. Yet they have helped countries and economies flourish and their legacy has been beyond people's imagination. Whole new schools of painters, musicians and philosophers, not to mention scientists, mathematicians and successful businessmen. The Swiss watch industry was started by refugees.Why do we so fear the addition of a few new residents in our midst? Our economy is healthy enough to accommodate many more, especially if we allow them to participate in growing the cake. Let's drop the paranoia and choose to see what incredible opportunity these people represent for us, to make our communities prosper as well as our economies. It's in human nature to be generous and to want to alleviate pain. Why is there such an intense campaign to try and make us forget this truth? In every other walk of society, lying is bad, cruelty is shameful, and having a hard heart is not something to praise. Let's wake up from this nightmare before we lose our sanity altogether.

Eveline Goy | 27 May 2014  

Seekers - what to do with their claims? Process them and give an answer within a month. Let them stay or don't let them stay.

Daveo | 10 June 2014  

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