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Refugee warrior's voice of reason

  • 24 February 2011

Government policy regarding refugees and asylum seekers is rarely out of the headlines. In a vicious circle, this issue seems to evoke the most ungenerous, and even racist reactions in sectors of the Australian community, which in turn brings out the worst in politicians as they maintain a draconian stance towards those seeking refuge here, particularly people arriving by boat.

Most recently it's been debate about taxpayer funding for detainees on Christmas Island to attend the funerals of family members who drowned in the SIEV-221 tragedy in December. Fortunately generosity won the day on that one. This became another episode in the ongoing culture wars about asylum seekers, migration and multiculturalism, and the place of Islam and Muslims in Australia.

Over many years, Kerry Murphy has been a voice of reason and compassion in this area. He's spent most of his working life as a solicitor specialising in immigration and refugee law, and is a longtime contributor to Eureka Street on issues to do with refugees and asylum seekers.

He spoke with Eureka Street TV in his office in Sydney. His interview forms part of a series marking the 20th anniversary of the journal. He talks about changes in government refugee policy since the 1980s, and reflects on why this is strongly coloured by community fears about migrants and refugees.

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Murphy first became interested in this field in the mid-1980s when he was finishing an Arts Law degree. As a volunteer with the St Vincent de Paul Society he began visiting Vietnamese migrants and refugees at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in south-west Sydney before it became a detention centre.

After finishing his degree, for the first five years he worked as a solicitor in general practice. In 1991 he moved to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. He left there in 1993 to coordinate the Australian office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, where he remained until 1997.

He spent the next decade working in a number of law firms in immigration and refugee law, and in 2006 he and his wife Lisa founded their own firm specialising in the field.

He has presented lectures and seminars on immigration and refugee law at the Australian National University, the University of New South Wales, and the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre training courses. He was recognised in 2008, 2009 and 2010 as one of this country's leading immigration lawyers in the 'Best Lawyers Australia' survey published by