HSV Submissions – May 2014

Humane Treatment of Asylum Seekers

Submitted 11 May 2014 to 12 Federal MPs (with copies to two newspaper editors)

In recognition of World Refugee Day on 20 June 2014, we wrote to members of the Federal parliament calling for humanitarian action on asylum seekers.

Included in our call, we asked for the Australian Government and Opposition to ensure that their policies and practices conform to both Australian and international standards of law and human rights.  We also asked for:

  • Australia’s behaviour, as a current member of the UN Security Council, to be exemplary through its honouring of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments.
  • A public education campaign to inform Australians about refugees, asylum seekers, and Australia’s human rights obligations.

We finally asked Members of Parliament to ensure the introduction of ethical and humane asylum-seeker policies which would ennoble their time of service within Australian Parliament.

In response to the foregoing letter in which we called for the humane treatment of asylum seekers, we received a letter from the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, who repeatedly used the word “illegal” and stated that the government was determined not to exercise “false compassion”. He also stated that Australia “is among the top refugee resettlement countries”.

We received a lengthy response to the submission from the office of the Leader of the Opposition:

  • The issue of asylum seekers is very complex. Seven million people around the world seek asylum. However, Australia’s humanitarian program provides places for only 13,750 people, therefore we have to say ‘no’ to millions of worthy refugees.
  • Australians need to be very clear about our values. Modern Labor’s values are compassion, fairness and generosity with a fundamental maxim, that, as a country, we should not harm people.
  • Compassion leads us to see the end to the loss of life at sea. Australian’s regional resettlement arrangement has played a key role in saving lives at sea, and Labor continues to support this measure. But the Abbott government failed to ensure that facilities on Manus Island and Nauru are safe, humane and dignified. The failure to process or resettle those in detention was the major cause of tragic disturbances.
  • Fairness leads us to let the UN High Commissioner for Refugees determine who should qualify as a refugee rather than the people smugglers. Fairness also demands that we should not put people already here in limbo on temporary visas, which causes despair and dependence.
  • Generosity leads us to favour increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake. As a rich country we must do more. Labor will consult widely, in the coming months, on this complex issue.