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Migration compact will benefit Australia



In September 2016, world leaders signed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (New York Declaration), a commitment to 'save lives, protect rights, and share responsibility on a global scale' for people on the move. One of the key manifestations of this commitment was for member states to develop a Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), and a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) in 2018. Australia, a successful multicultural country built on migration, must adopt the GCM.

Map of Australia with pin in itThe GCM is a historic development in the global governance of migration. It is the first universal instrument to provide common frameworks, guiding principles and approaches to deal with international migration. It has been developed over 18 months of multi-stakeholder consultations and six rounds of negotiations between UN member states with conflicting interests.

The final draft, completed on 18 July 2018, is a comprehensive document that 'sets out common understandings, shared responsibilities and unity of purpose regarding migration'. It is a call and manifesto for improving cooperation on international migration that all but two countries (the United States of America and Hungary) are likely to adopt in December 2018.

It is crucial for Australia to adopt the GCM for a number of reasons. The GCM strikes a fine balance between the prerogatives of state sovereignty and of the human rights of all migrants. National sovereignty and human rights are two of the GCM's guiding principles: 'The Global Compact reaffirms the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policy and govern migration within their jurisdiction ... ' Similarly: 'The Global Compact is based on international human rights law ... By implementing the Global Compact, we ensure effective respect, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants ... '

Australia's key interventions across the GCM negotiations have skewed towards reinforcing the state's sovereign right to control its borders, secure return of migrants as an option for states, and determine migrants' levels of access to fundamental rights and services. Australia's positions have contrasted with the positions of other member states that have advocated for a rights based compact — including the constructive interventions of the Holy See (Vatican), which has been one of the movers and shakers of the Compact, pursuing an agenda to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees in accordance to the Pope's 20 points of action. If Australia decides not to adopt the GCM it will be out of step with the vast majority of the world's governments, which are very supportive of the GCM.

The Australian government has sent large delegations to each negotiation. Notwithstanding disparaging comments from politicians about the United Nations and the international human rights framework, the very fact that Australia has been a proactive player in the GCM negotiations reaffirms a legacy of positive engagement with global governance frameworks dating back to the days of Doc Evatt and Australia's formative role in the creation of the UN Charter, the UN Refugees Convention and other key instruments. Adopting the GCM is simply the logical next step in this process of constructive engagement.

Any concerns that adopting the GCM would be 'surrendering our sovereignty' by compelling the government to implement provisions that impede its 'border control' objectives are unfounded. As stated in the GCM's Preamble, the Compact is a 'non-legally binding, cooperative framework'. What this means in practice is that a country can determine how to codify the Compact's provisions into domestic law and implement them to suit local conditions.


"Should we withdraw from the GCM, we will join only Donald Trump's USA and Victor Orban's Hungary in doing so, which will quite frankly be embarrassing for a country built upon the success of migration."


Australia is already party to key international human rights treaties, none of which have precipitated any serious surrender of sovereignty, unless one considers detaining children, women, and men for years on remote Pacific nations, cutting people with significant vulnerabilities off support services, or delaying legitimate citizenship conferrals to thousands of migrants as legitimate expressions of Australian sovereignty.

In actual fact, and contrary to recent media reports and interviews, the GCM clearly states the prerogative of states to manage their borders in accordance to national sovereignty. For example, Objective 11 highlights that states 'commit to manage our national borders in a coordinated manner, promoting bilateral and regional cooperation, ensuring security for states, communities and migrants, and facilitating safe and regular cross-border movements of people while preventing irregular migration. We further commit to implement border management policies that respect national sovereignty, the rule of law, obligations under international law, human rights of all migrants ...'

The GCM's enduring value is that it presents a comprehensive normative and practical agenda that if consensually adopted worldwide could benefit millions of migrants, refugees, and people seeking asylum and serve Australia's national interests in a number of ways. To take one example, Objective 15 calls on member states to 'ensure that all migrants, regardless of their migration status, can exercise their human rights to safe access to basic services ... and to ensure inclusive service delivery systems'. As a nation of migrants and one that benefits enormously from the in-flow of international students, temporary employment visa holders, and refugees, it is both an ethical and a policy imperative that Australian governments consider an underlying safety net for anyone in need, including temporary migrants in situations of vulnerability and people seeking asylum.

Similarly, Objective 5 enhances the availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration stating that states commit to: 'adapt options and pathways for regular migration in a manner that facilitates labour mobility and decent work reflecting demographic and labour market realities, optimises education opportunities, upholds the right to family life, and responds to the needs of migrants in a situation of vulnerability, with a view to expanding and diversifying availability of pathways for safe, orderly and regular migration ...' Quite simply such a provision could benefit migrants by offering a defined pathway to settlement in a safe and prosperous country in a way that also benefits such a country.

The adoption of the GCM should not be politicised as it is a non-binding framework that clearly benefits our country, the international community and migrants themselves. Migration is a global phenomenon, not a situation that single countries can deal with in isolation. Australia has nothing to lose and much to gain from adopting the Compact alongside its global counterparts. Should we withdraw from the GCM, we will join only Donald Trump's USA and Victor Orban's Hungary in doing so, which will quite frankly be embarrassing for a country built upon the success of migration.

There is value in adopting the GCM at this particular moment in Australian history. As Malcolm Turnbull said in his speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2016 when the New York Declaration was adopted: 'we are one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world ... and our immigrants are as diverse as the nation they have joined ... we are indeed an immigration nation'. Adopting the GCM would symbolise Turnbull's commitment to these ostensibly fundamental elements of the Australian national psyche.



Carolina GottardoCarolina Gottardo is Director Jesuit Refugee Service Australia. She has participated in the development of the GCM process since the beginning and has attended most of the GCM's negotiations as a representative for Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network. She is also a member of the UN Women Expert Group on addressing the human rights of women in the GCM.

Topic tags: Carolina Gottardo, refugees, asylum seekers



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Existing comments

I'm very interested in matters of migration and settlement and welcome protocols and practices that genuinely work to settling refugees in a timely manner into a nurturing life - productive for them and the place they settle. But what is 'irregular migration' that Carolina mentions as part of Objective 11 of the GCM?

Susan | 07 August 2018  

Excellent and informative, readable and significant, importantly it is persuasive, thanks for this article.

helen donnellan | 07 August 2018  

Don't you think it is time for us to hold those who create the refugee "problem" accountable for the results of their actions? Build a tax into all armament sales which is used for re-settlement. Or better still, find a civilised way to solve differences that does not involve war and displacement of people. Now, that's a novel idea!!

Riborg Andersen | 07 August 2018  

Thank you, Carolina. We hope our government will be responsible regarding its place and role in world affairs and adopt the compact immediately.

Kevin Liston | 07 August 2018  

Well written Carolina, I agree with Riborg's comment. With wars and resultant massive dislocation populations now refugees , at least partly the result of George Bush's invasion of Iraq .Add now the so called civil war in Syria, plus the likely impact of 'climate change' refugees imminent , it is to be hoped our political leaders will adopt this protocol in full.

Gavin O'Brien | 07 August 2018  

We have already had 12 deaths of innocent desperate asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru! And we still have those who have been in these places for over 5 years. Please be very careful who you vote for at the next Federal election. Many of our pollies have been playing political games with the lives of desperate asylum seekers for years and I can't see these pollies changing their attitudes. They pray on people's fears and also play the race card when it suits them.

Grant Allen | 07 August 2018  

The bureaucratic doublespeak of the GCM promises the protection of national sovereignty, but actually undermines it. So now Australia joins “Donald Trump’s USA and Victor Orban’s Hungary.” Jewish writer David Goldman wrote how Hungary’s 100,000 Jews, “walk unmolested to synagogue in traditional Jewish costume and hold street fairs with minimal security presence…Budapest is safe for Jews because it is home to very few Muslim migrants.” The opposite holds true for Germany and France which has seen the emigration of Jews. The US economy under Trump is at a record high; black unemployment hit a historic low of 5.9 percent in May; and Hispanic unemployment also hit a record low of 4.5 percent in July. But “progressive” California, once a magnet for the world’s migrants, now has an emigration of the middle classes, with San Francisco being compared to a Third World slum with “City Streets Strewn With Trash, Needles And Human Feces.” And just last weekend in “progressive” Chicago there were 66 shooting victims and zero arrests. Australia may be “out of step with the vast majority of the world’s governments.” So too was Winston Churchill out of step with prevailing opinion when he was warning about Hitler’s rise.

Ross Howard | 07 August 2018  

Susan asked about "irregular migration". Objective 11 of the GCM includes "We commit to manage our national borders in a coordinated manner, promoting bilateral and regional cooperation, ensuring security for States, communities and migrants, and facilitating safe and regular cross-border movements of people while preventing irregular migration." I presume irregular would just refer to whatever isn't in the category of regular migration; planned, organised and regulated by the State.

Harold Zwier | 07 August 2018  

You have hit the nail on the head, Riborg. But what you propose requires common sense and genuine humanity, something which the modern world seems to have abandoned in favour of greed and self-interest.

john frawley | 07 August 2018  

Adoption of the GCM is certainly consistent with Australia's positive collaboration in similar processes developed in the late 1940s and the 1950s to enable orderly settlement or re-settlement of the millions of people displaced by the Second World War. The world now faces a similar problem. Australia, the world's most successful multicultural nation, has a lot to give, and a lot to gain, by participation in the GCM.

Ian Fraser | 07 August 2018  

Where does one start with any critical analysis of R. Howard's comments. Unfortunately such Andrew Bolt like comments are gaining more and more traction these days, even in Eureka Street. Anyway from the comment we have a 'Jewish writer ? making an observation of finely dressed Jews going about life simply because there are no Muslims around? It seems that Muslims being somewhere means Jews cannot be there. Sort of like Collingwood and Carlton supporters outside the MCG on a Saturday afternoon. Then Trump is good for America, leaving aside all the scandals and threats to world security, because the economy is booming? Then we have the street description of a Californian city that best sums us this line of thinking, grab a picture and insert. Finally finish with a quotation from a distinguished leader who just happened to be one of those responsible for the catastrophe that was Gallipoli in the first world war.

Tom Kingston | 07 August 2018  

Tom Kingston. I think you have been a bit harsh on Ross Howard. There is truth in what he says - all genuine examples of some aspects of today's society. The Hungarian president is highly lauded around Europe and is a dedicated Christian with a genuine sense of social justice. Surely there is nothing wrong with unemployment rates falling in the USA. Some American cities are disaster areas and although Winston Churchill was a prime dolt in some ways he was not as naïve as Chamberlain et al and did recognise the evil that Hitler represented. He did inspire the English people and this almost certainly saved Britain from invasion. If you haven't read it, Tom, I suggest you read Douglas Murray's non-fiction, THE STRANGE DEATH OF EUROPE, published last year - a most enlightening illustration of the frog (Christianity) in boiling water (the turmoil of uncontrolled, largely illegal Muslim immigration). Many European leaders of today make Churchill and (God forgive) Trump look good !!! And I like neither of them !!

john frawley | 08 August 2018  

The centre of Budapest is not representative of Hungary and Hungarians. The Hungarian President is not highly lauded in Europe except far right conservatives and also draws on imagery of Hitler's ally Admiral Horthy (lacked a navy and a coastline) from 1920-30s nationalist Hungary. Orban maintains power through gerrymandering, divided centre left, race baiting and dog whistling in govt. 'owned' and biased media (Orban was advised by a former GOP advisor whom is gay, married, US Jew called Finkelstein who passed away in Vienna 2017). Meanwhile, Hungary does not have an 'immigration' problem but an 'emigration' one with 600,000 youth and working age left in recent years, out of a declining ageing population of 10 million (backgrounded by divorce rates of 67%). With declining tax payers and increasing numbers of retirees the Hungarian state budget is unsustainable, hardly a good example? Hungary in a few generations will be far smaller and a majority Roma society; Orban's open about his grandmother being Roma, maybe that's the plan?

Andrew J. Smith | 12 August 2018  

Great piece. This is the honest approach that is needed right now. Too many politicians are using this as an opportunity to chide the UN and to pretend that this compact is about the UN telling countries what to do, undermining their sovereign right to manage their borders. Instead, the entire process was State led and remains that way! States are clearly given the choice to determine how to codify and implement this non-legally binding document through/in their own national laws. And when and if they do, the Compact is made to HELP not to HINDER their efforts to curtail irregular migration, while also respecting the human rights and security of migrants and their citizens more broadly. Thank you!

Timothy | 14 August 2018  

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