November 2012

Excising mainland like a Monty Python sketch

It is time to restore sanity, good policy and civility to the decision-making processes in regard to the treatment of those who seek asylum and refuge in our country, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS

Australia has again set up offshore detention centres to process asylum seekers, this time on both Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and the small Pacific Island nation of Nauru. A few weeks ago, on October 31, the Federal Government also introduced a bill into parliament to excise the entire continent of Australia from the migration zone. This legislation is set to pass the House of Representatives, with the support of the coalition, before the end of November. Yet, in 2006 when the current government was in opposition, it denounced any such move.

These actions are extreme. I am left asking: what has happened to the mindset of Australians who support these draconian directions? In the current political environment, it seems that politicians only do what will support their re-election. So what does this say about ordinary Australians and how we vote? Is it that Governments respond to a mindset that is about exclusion and fear?

In the past, we Australians had an international reputation for a “fair go”, for the “underdog”, and a generosity of spirit in sharing this vast continent, its resources and our lifestyle. That spirit seems to have evaporated. Have we become so materialistic and consumerist that only self-interest and greed determine what we will or will not support in the political arena?

This change in attitude dates back to 2001. In order to stop people landing on Australian soil, the Australian Government then changed the Migration Act so that a number of Australian islands, including Christmas Island, became “excised offshore places”. These are areas which are part of Australian territory and under Australian law and jurisdiction, but are not included in Australia’s migration zone. That is to say, any person who is not an Australian citizen and enters Australia without a valid visa through an “excised offshore place” is considered an “offshore entry person”. Such persons cannot apply for refugee status under the normal process which applies on the Australian mainland. Now, as we excise our entire country, our credibility as a nation needs to be called into question. Only in a Monty Python sketch would a country excise itself from itself!

Even though there is a strong argument that people should be deterred from travelling on very unsafe boats through treacherous seas, which at times is the only argument presented, we need to keep in mind how desperate these people must be for them to attempt such a crossing in these vessels.

For a country that has for some years been involved in the war in Afghanistan (which of its nature has created many refugees) and has just acquired a seat at the United Nations Security Council, excising the whole country from the migration zone is hypocritical, inhumane and contrary to the UN Refugee Convention.

The Australian Migration Act sets out the laws regulating migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. The Act incorporates the UN Refugee Convention and defines a refugee as anyone who:

“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself [herself] of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his [her] former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Most asylum seekers and refugees are not the rich so-called ‘queue jumpers’ as portrayed by some media reports. Excising Australia makes no sense. It is time for decent, compassionate, intelligent Australians to stand up and be counted and to oppose these outrageous policies of the Government and the Opposition.

It seems that they are trying desperately to appeal to the worst in the Australian psyche, rather than what is best in the Australian psyche – a “fair go” for people in great need and distress. It is time to restore sanity, good policy and civility to the decision-making processes in regard to the treatment of those who seek asylum and refuge in our country.

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence. In 2022, Clare was awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University from Australian Catholic University.

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