The Government's delusory tolerance rhetoric


Tony Abbott National Security Address

‘Those who come here must be as open and accepting or their adopted country, as we are of them. Those who live here must be as tolerant of others as we are of them.’

Prime Minister Abbott’s National Security Statement last week quite rightly spoke of threats to Australia and the need to address them.

I am not disputing a change to the law to restrict citizenship benefits for those involved in supporting and advocating for the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Daish in the Arabic acronym), or certain terrorist groups. If we are to cancel citizenship, then make the process transparent so that a person affected can respond to allegations, and have genuine review right to make sure that mistakes or over zealousness can be tempered by cooler heads.

These statements of the Prime Minister would seem uncontroversial and it would be hard to think of someone who might disagree with these values. However, what about the situation where we treat people ‘who come here’ quite unfairly, vilify them and punish them just because of how they come to our country. We would not like them to reciprocate the attitude towards us!

One point in particular is the language used to describe people arriving by boat without a visa. There are several different levels of language used, from legal to populist. Whilst for some, criticism of populist language may be seen as being ‘political correctness’, there are times it is appropriate to be technically correct because the populist language maybe offensive, or vilifying.

Take for example previous use of the ‘N’ word – it is seen as offensive to indigenous people, and rightly so. We now use the more technical but more accurate term indigenous people, or even more specific references to a group such as ‘people of the Eora nation’. This is respectful of the people of whom we are discussing, and is terminology they recognise as acceptable and not offensive.

The same principle should apply to people arriving without a visa. In the Migration Act people who are not citizens are either ‘lawful non-citizens’ (s13) or ‘unlawful non-citizens’ (s14). The term ‘illegal’ has not been used in Migration Law since 30 August 1994 when the Act was changed to repeal the term. However the term has survived in common use, and was revived by the former Immigration Minister to the extent that it appears in official Departmental publications.

Curiously, the term is mainly used in the context of people arriving by boat without a visa, not for those who overstay their visa. People who arrive by boat without a visa are referred to in Migration Law as ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’ or UMAs. The previous (and current) Immigration Minister uses the term ‘Illegal Maritime Arrivals’ (IMA) and this is what is used in all Departmental correspondence or in public statements.

Some might say, illegal, unlawful, what is the difference. Well, firstly, if there were no difference, then the Minister and Prime Minister would not have insisted on such usage. Even Phillip Ruddock referred to people as ‘unlawful’, never as ‘illegal’. So for the politicians, there is some value in the word illegal, which they do not see in the legalistic term unlawful.

It is useful to remember that there is no offence in arriving in Australia without a visa, just the possible consequence of immigration detention (s189).  It may be an offence if you organise the entry into Australia of another person who is a non-citizen without lawful right to come to Australia (s233A), so the offence is committed by the smuggler, not the smugglee.

By regular repetition of the term ‘illegal’ certain politicians have reinforced a view that there is some ‘criminal’ or ‘nefarious’ element or aspect to the people involved. Then we treat them differently to other people – we reduce their rights, we take away review options, we send them to poor Pacific countries, or decide that we do not even need to consider our international legal obligations at all before sending them away (new s198).

We prevent them from working when released into the community (as the Labor Government did). Then create a puritanical code of behaviour document they must sign, which if breached (say if only charged, even if later the charge is withdrawn or dismissed), we cancel their bridging visa and place them in indefinite mandatory detention. This code of behaviour document is not required for anyone else – and there are tens of thousands of people on bridging visas waiting for a decision on their skilled visa, employer sponsored visa, partner visa or even protection visa. But if you are a UMA – you must sign the Code.

So someone on a bridging visa awaiting their partner visa is charged with a minor driving offence – that is unlikely to affect their bridging visa. Whereas an UMA will have their bridging visa cancelled for the same minor charge.  

So let us hope the people 'who’ve come across the seas' understand that vilification is not acceptable, even when done by our leaders.

Kerry Murphy profile photoKerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers and member of the boards of the IARC and JRS.

Topic tags: Kerry Murphy, Tony Abbott, national security, ISIS, asylum seekers, discrimination, tolerance



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Existing comments

PM Abbott, Minister for Immigration Dutton & former Minister Morrison are all "Anti Human Rights" people, as evidenced by their anti-refugee actions in contravention of UNHCR conventions. They, and the former ALP governments of Mr Rudd & Ms Gillard, bring the name of Australia as a good international citizen into serious disrepute.
John Cronin, Toowoomba Q | 03 March 2015

As I heard one pundit say the other day - Tony Abbott is governing for his voter base, not for the nation. I think it's about time we reclaim the term "conservative" - which I'm becoming convinces actually means "the centre". The current rhetoric is not conservative government, it's the loony right. Being conservative might mean just doing nothing - but that's better than doing harm and making the situation worse.
AURELIUS | 03 March 2015

I cannot comprehend how Tony Abbott is delusional enough to think we are tolerant of others when he treats asylum seekers as he does
Helen-Mary Langlands | 03 March 2015

Illegal is a sick bird
0316072 | 03 March 2015

The strident and repeated use of a pejorative word, such as "an illegal" is straight out of the handbook used by the Nazis and Soviet Stalinists. Crude, populist , but unfortunately effective in programming the masses.
Eugene | 03 March 2015

Why is it that endeavouring to live by Christian values means being labelled a 'leftie'? Surely feeling empathy with asylum seekers because they are fellow human beings is what Christ meant when he asked us to love one another. With empathy we can imagine what it might be like to have had to escape intolerable situations only to be treated worse than a criminal as an asylum seeker. We condemn and rightly so, the terrorism of the so-called ISIS but in a lesser way, aren't we also treating asylum seekers as though they are less than human and that their lives are therefore unimportant? In the face of the barbaric brutality of ISIS it might sound far fetched to compare their actions with our treatment of asylum seekers and their children but it is worth considering that it is dehumanisation that permits us to consider the lives of others less worthy than our own.
Anna | 03 March 2015

Kerry, helping people into the country is not illegal, it is not smuggling, there are no smugglers and our own courts have stated that since 2000, why do lazy people continue that lazy lie? Article 19 of the smuggling protocol EXCLUDES THOSE SEEKING ASYLUM AND FORBIDS PUNISHMENT FOR THEM OR THOSE WHO HELP THEM.
Marilyn | 03 March 2015

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. How come our self-proclaimed "Christian" front bench ignores what Jesus (p) said? Do they think he was a dangerous leftie?
Bilal | 03 March 2015

Well, Bilal, whatever the political terminology we use, Jesus got crucified for his views, and I don't think our frontbench have the intestinal fortitude or conviction to risk even a metaphorical crucifixion at the next election.
AURELIUS | 04 March 2015

FACT: Perpetrators of terrorism on Australian soil and many others implicated in planning and carrying out terrorist acts came via refugee and humanitarian channels. It is time to tear up the UN Conventions and restore sovereign control of our borders - especially in doing away with non-refoulement. It is only by virtue of the apathy of the average Australian voter that we remain a signatory to the Conventions. Were they to become aware of the risks to national security that our humanitarian program poses, there would be wide spread calls for it to be scrapped. Bring it on!
Paul Toms | 05 March 2015


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