Turnbull's boat ban is crazy and cruel



'Will this affect my case?' Hassan* was worried about the survey that said nearly 50 per cent of Australians wanted to ban Muslims from migrating to Australia. I was working on his protection visa from Iraq. He had a strong case. 'No,' I replied, perhaps overconfidently.

Malcolm Turnbull on Sky News'Not all Muslims are like Daesh,' he replied using the Arabic acronym for the self-proclaimed Islamic State. ' I fled Iraq to escape those crazy people and the many militias and criminal gangs. I hate them as well, they are not true Muslims.'

Over the years of working with refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan I had learned about some of the many different types of Muslims and Islamic groups and sects.

Like any large religion, there are many variations in practice and beliefs, influenced by cultural and historical events. To simply ban them all is a crazy option. You do not ban everyone just because a small minority are involved in criminal activity. Or so I thought.

Then the Prime Minister announced that there would be a life ban on people coming to Australia if they arrived by boat and were sent to Nauru or Manus Island. This is also clearly crazy, but it has been proposed and now we await the bill for parliament.

Already One nation supports it. This is not surprising, but what is concerning is that a major party has once again adopted the irrational hate and fear politics of One Nation as part of its policy for asylum seekers.

Back in 1996 One Nation advocated temporary protection visas (TPVs) for all refugees. Then Minister Ruddock later criticised the idea: 'The people you bring are very likely to have been tortured, traumatised and in need of support for rebuilding a new life. Can you imagine what temporary entry would do in terms of giving people a chance?' That was in September 1998. In October 1999 he introduced the TPV for boat arrivals.

Despite the TPV being proven, in studies by mental health specialists, to be harmful for a vulnerable group, the Abbott government reintroduced it and made it tougher — with no hope of permanent resettlement or family reunion, except for a small group who need to go through major hurdles. That was unnecessary and deliberately cruel, and I did not think it could be worse until last weekend.


"In 30 years of working with refugees, I can only think of one positive change in the law — the introduction of complementary protection back in 2012. There are around 45 other changes, which are detrimental, or reduce the adverse effects of a previous law."


The new law would place a life ban on those who came by boat — and are presumably found to meet the strict refugee definition — from ever being able to come to Australia, or reunite with family here. This affects maybe 2000 or so people, some of whom are already here on bridging visas awaiting decisions on their fate. The 35,000 others who also came by boat do not face a life ban (yet) but have major hurdles to get a TPV.

The fast track system is designed as a 'limited right of review' and it enables bureaucrats to refuse cases, without an interview, or a chance for people to properly present their cases for protection. This is done to limit the risk of the courts overturning the decisions on review.

Why is it being done? To send a message to people smugglers, to stop people drowning at sea and most significantly to punish those who came by boat, even if they are found to meet the refugee definition. A group of people has been vilified not because of any harm they have done to anyone, or to Australia, but because their presence here is against the stated policy of government. It is not enough to incorrectly label them 'illegal', we have also to change the laws to make it harder for them to get protection and reunite with family members. Then a small subset of this group face life bans from ever coming here.

The first Immigration Act — the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act — was only 19 sections in length. The current Act is over 500 sections, but at least 19 sections just provide bans preventing different people from even applying for protection in Australia unless the Minister personally intervenes. The concentration of power in one politician is great, and this is without any transparency or independent review. Now it is proposed to increase this central ministerial power.

On Q&A, Stefano de Pieri, the celebrated Italian chef and writer from Mildura, could not contain his disdain for this policy. 'Who thinks up this cruelty?' he asked. Indeed, how have we come to such a level of cruelty for a small group of people who have caused us no harm?

In 30 years of working with refugees, I can only think of one positive change in the law — the introduction of complementary protection back in 2012. There are around 45 other changes, which are detrimental, or reduce the adverse effects of a previous law. I think of Hassan's question and worry that if the many cruel policies we have already introduced are possible, then how far away are we from banning a group just because of their religion, or race?

We wait to see what will be introduced to parliament. Sadly, rather than seeking to deal with the complex issues of seeking asylum and refugee protection, politicians have decided to take the easy uninformed populist route. Probably that is easier to explain in 100 characters or in a 30 second media interview.

What is consoling is the large numbers of people, from many different walks of life, who are also questioning the vilification of people who arrive by boat. Often this is after meeting and listening to the asylum seekers and refugees themselves. We can only hope that more sensible, and less cruel, laws will prevail in the future.


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

*Not his real name.

Topic tags: Kerry Murphy, asylum seekers, temporary protection visa, Pauline Hanson, One Nation



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Existing comments

Our polity have gone barking made over the past 20 years, not a single acknowledgment that this is an island and all our ancestors came by sea.

Marilyn | 03 November 2016  

Another great piece Kerry, thank you. If only more Australians were able to 'meet and listen to the asylum seekers and refugees themselves' they would discover they really are people, just like us. Same feelings, hopes and dreams, similar family values and an overwhelming desire to settle safely and be at peace. It's horrifying that we have come to this bad place where persecution and deliberate cruelty prevail. In the face of such wickedness and misinformation, we have to remain strong, hopeful and determined to encourage the government find a fair solution. What drives certain politicians to such cruelty? I can only imagine they don't know what they are doing because they have not met the people they are persecuting. It's terribly sad to think we are being governed by fear and ignorance rather than wisdom and compassion. Slamming doors never works in the long term. So much better to leave them open and let the sun shine in.

Ali Corke | 04 November 2016  

This is a very good analysis of the problems faced by asylum seekers. Politicians who dream up ways of making it more difficult for refugees to settle in other countries are actually helping the "people smuggler" business. If the UN, for example, could resettle people as soon as they become refugees, then there would be no need for ordinary individuals to get involved in transporting people to other places. And, if the big powers did not start wars, there would be far fewer refugees. The Australians who support much harsher and more hateful ways of dealing with refugees, do not want to face up to the fact that because of our nation's close ties with the largest superpower, our politicians get us involved in its wars and policies that generate refugees. We have a greater obligation to play a role in helping these unfortunate people. Also, I think that there is a certain level of dishonesty and hypocrisy about the "people smuggler" argument. Not all the people who have helped refugees escape desperados who push them onto leaky tubs. Many have genuinely tried to assist them to have access to seaworthy vessels. In the quest to target people smugglers, politicians have employed strategies that are hurting refugees more.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 04 November 2016  

Seems we have deplorables n Australia too, and they are in government.

Irena. mangone | 04 November 2016  

How have we become so barbarically cruel, insensitive and lacking in compassion to the refugee problem; no, not 'problem' but the plight of our fellow human beings who need our help. Certainly there is a need for border protection but not off-shore processing and dumping of children, women and men like scraps of trash wherever they can be hidden. Maybe we need more poets and philosophers in our Parliament at least those with compassion. There are strategies of mutual benefit rather than the course of action we follow which will destroy the soul of this nation.

William Hartley | 04 November 2016  

... destroy the soul of this nation. It already has.

Peter | 04 November 2016  

I wonder if some of this country's fear of refugees arriving by boat is connected to the original illegal taking over of this land that was already inhabited. Is there an insidious sub-conscious insecurity caused by not acknowledging this?

Kerry Holland | 04 November 2016  

Why is our government so desperate to stop people trying to come to Australia by boat. To stop people drowning, they say. So why do people drown? Because they put to sea in unseaworthy boats. Why are the boats unseaworthy? Because the owners don't maintain them. Why don't they maintain them? Because they know that if they do make it to Australia, the authorities will confiscate them and probably destroy them. So does the Australian government share some of the blame for people feeling compelled to try to come in unseaworthy boats? Yes.

Gavan Breen AO | 04 November 2016  

Well written Kerry. I was overseas when the 4 Corners Programme on Manus and Nauru was aired .The programme effectively went viral as it was mentioned on CNN and the BBC World news. The story was deeply embarrassing to us as friends and people we met on our journey,asked us what was going on in Australia ! The latest edict from the Government is ludicrous! A good number of our eminent people who have brought prosperity to our country were refugees . I know/knew quite a few who fled here after the communist victories in Eastern Europe and more recently Vietnam . How absolutely dumb is this new law and sadly we are complicit by allowing the Government to get away with it .Shame ! I just hope and pray that the Senate blocks the legislation required.

Gavin | 04 November 2016  

Most people (well certainly readers of ES) know why and how people (whole families) become refugees. It is now a fact of life that there are six million refugees held in refugee camps around the world but mainly in the Middle East. As major powers fight proxy wars in foreign lands they create an unending stream of more refugees. Not unreasonably the residents want to get as far away as possible from conflict zones, if not for themselves at least for their children. In the absence of cooperation between transit countries and Australia the processing of these refugees is appallingly slow. In jump the opportunistic people smugglers exploiting desperate people in desperate situations. And the Australian government, instead of working for regional cooperation with the transit countries, leaps on the easy solution of "stopping the boats". With scarcely a reference to the backlog of refugees building up in the transit countries. "Stopping the boats" we are told demolishes the people smugglers business plan. Rubbish. These criminals turn to different businesses in the transit countries. The only people suffering are the refugees. The people smugglers are entrepreneurs who have an agility and innovative skills that would rival those of CSIRO scientists.

Uncle Pat | 04 November 2016  

A great explanation Kerry. There are two issues: 1. Dealing with those currently in detention (gaol) Those already here need to be resettled immediately - some have done years of "gaol" without conviction for any crime. Just fix it! We are also wasting billions of dollars on this facade. 2. Stopping further boats Certainly Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals have to be prevented. That gives no one the right, to use those that have come already, to be abused as pawns in a misguided hypothetical attempt to stop others. These are lives WE are sacrificing for political expediency! Intolerable in Australia. We forget about the first settlers and our early ancestors. What would we have or have not if this had applied in the time of the First Fleet and early arrivals!

Chris | 04 November 2016  

Good Kerry. informed and informing as usual. Thanks

Nola | 04 November 2016  

For the sake of humaneness, for the sake of common decency, for the sake of decent Australian citizens who do not want such policies and punitive behaviour on their consciences, for the sake of innocent people and especially children whose childhoods have been in effect stolen, and who cannot even dream of a future life and a place in society, this bill must be opposed. Enough wrongs have been committed in our name, it's time to put a stop to the barbarities. This is a crucial moment that will have implications for everyone in this country. It's not about stopping the boats any more, but about stopping those who would limit and curtail rights that ultimately affect all Australians. Hope cannot exist in a vacuum, much less a hellish one. Hope has deliberately been made unsustainable for the people detained on Manus and Nauru. Why?

Jena Woodhouse | 04 November 2016  

Sharp piece. It's also worth noting that in both America and Australia it is unconstitutional to discriminate by religion. What Trump has proposed here is illegal. Tarring with a brush is foolish. Hitler was born Catholic -- did the Allies ban Catholics in their countries because one nominal Catholic was a murderer doing his best to slaughter and enslave the world? Did Australia ban Buddhists because nominal Buddhists were attacking Australia?

Brian Doyle | 05 November 2016  

As Elizabeth Farrelly said in her article in SMH yesterday, we've become the cruel country.

Kim | 05 November 2016  

Great article, comments all supportive but do the rule makers read them ? If they do they ignore them but I suspect they actually have no soul or conscience to even care. I am ashamed to be Australian when it comes to care of refugees ! What can we, ordinary citizens do to fix this mess ?

Christine Bateman | 06 November 2016  

Thank you Kerry for all your energy spent in this cause

Marie | 07 November 2016  

When even bleeding-heart lefties like Germany's Angela Merkel start to imitate Australia's boat policies, as she is now, you know that reality is kicking in. It might take a while to reach the E.S. clique here. But it will happen.

HH | 07 November 2016  

When the Liberals recently scraped in by the slenderest of margins aided by the few independents they recruited, we all thought there would be a fresh approach to "the boat people". But there was not. The current ragtag bunch of bluecoats, redcoats, greens and One Nation are using the "turn back the boats" issue to diflect attention from the real issue that should be their preoccupation, and that is unemployment. Instead of fresh hearts and minds to both problems, we got jaundiced attitudes and hearts as dry and tough as dried figs. Any genuine refugee, Muslim, Buddhist, so called "Christian" or otherwise should be granted access. Rural Australia is crying out for new blood and workers for the fields and children to populate the classrooms. We cannot seem to rid our politicians of the fixation that historically and inherently, we are a nation of goalers. Nauru and Manus should be seen for what they are: substandard prisons.

francis Armstrong | 08 November 2016  

Quote( Our polity have gone barking made over the past 20 years, not a single acknowledgment that this is an island and all our ancestors came by sea. Marilyn 03 November 2016 ) Not all Marilyn. The Owners Have no recollection of Arrival, but of everything else!.

Neilium | 21 January 2017  

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