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Australia's border protection a cruel regime

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Villawood Detention Centre became notorious for cruel and degrading treatment of detainees (Screenshot via YouTube)

The Albanese Government needs to do more to step out of the Coalition's shadow and end the cruel treatment of detained immigrants, writes Julius Timmerman.

AUSTRALIANS ARE collectively appalled at the inhumane treatment heaped upon Ukrainians by Russia. But few Australians will know that here in Australia, our own Government is also heaping appallingly inhumane treatment on, amongst others, a Ukrainian-Australian professor who came to Australia in the early 2000s with his family and some students, to teach piano at a tertiary institution and make a great contribution to the arts in Australia.

Professor Victor Makarov, his family and some students migrated to Australia in the early 2000s. He taught piano at a tertiary institution and made a great contribution to the Arts in Australia with amazing results. Then out of the blue, he was accused and, despite conflicting unreliable evidence, found guilty of an alleged crime. He was acquitted on half of the charges and by the same token should have been acquitted on all of them, but despite many appeals he survived a 14-year sentence in gaol.

Notwithstanding excellent character assessments by prison authorities, he languished for four more years in arbitrary detention in Villawood, at great public expense. This came about simply because he was not born in Australia, and was therefore caught up in the politically-inspired, draconian, prejudicial Immigration Act Section 501 character test.

After these frustrated years of waiting, described by the Professor as “organised psychological torture”, he was deported, without his family, on 20 February, with expensive escorts to the Ukrainian border, to a war zone to fend for himself. Such is the inhuman, uncaring nature of our border protection regime. Internees who were born in Australia can go home after serving a sentence, but immigrants must go from there to arbitrary detention for years before finally being deported (or not as the case may be, in which case the detention becomes indefinite) and thus separated from their families.

The Albanese Government has stated it is taking measures to stop the deportation of New Zealand detainees, but oddly not with those who were born elsewhere. Why treat New Zealand detainees differently from all the others?

Professor Makarov declared:

“I was innocent in the first place, but still I have been punished twice for a crime I did not commit. Now I have to leave my family behind as well. The injustice and inhumanity are disgusting.”

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has suggested the arbitrary use of Section 501 to cancel visas on bad character goes beyond the original intention of the provision. It contravenes Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) while the risk of separation from family due to detention and/or removal from Australia, breaches Articles 17 and 23.

Article 9 states:

‘Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.’

Clearly, this convention has been violated by Australia’s Immigration Act – outside the judicial system – for those being held in arbitrary or indefinite detention. Their human rights have been abused by the Australian Government.

Professor Makarov’s experience in detention has been one of excessive humiliation, angst and frustration. Communication with Border Force personnel was incredibly difficult and bureaucratic, everything was processed at a snail’s pace and the piecemeal information provided was often confusing and inadequate. He was never treated as a human being, let alone as a person of great intellect.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman did nothing to further Professor Makarov’s appalling situation. There seems to be an embedded indifference regarding inhumane detention.

Serious deficiencies in Immigration Law and the treatment of detainees were highlighted by the Human Rights Law Centre in its report titled Torture and cruel treatment in Australia’s refugee protection and immigration detention regimes which is yet to be addressed by the Australian Government.

The Albanese Government has shown a slightly greater predilection towards being human than previous ones but clearly, there is a long way to go. Australia has always relied on migrants, now as much as ever, to fill labour and skill shortages to move the country forward for all, yet conversely continues to be blatantly prejudiced against them. They must seemingly always “know their place”.

So next time you get angry and upset about the Russian invasion, also spare a thought for this Ukrainian-Australian and others like him, whose freedom and humanity our very own detention system has also trashed.

Julius Timmerman is retired after a long career in the public service. His key areas of knowledge and concern are climate change action and social injustice.

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