Australians have had enough of the Coalition's complicity with Saudi, savagery and ignoring international law, writes human rights lawyer and Greens candidate for Dickson, Benedict Coyne.
“TERRIFYING” is the only reasonable response you could have to Sophie McNeil’s captivating and excoriating reportage on ABC Four Corners last Monday (4 February), regarding courageous women on 'Escape from Saudi'.
Viewers were pummelled with profoundly disturbing allegations of Australia’s explicit complicity in persecutions, torture and possible fatalities of young women attempting to escape the definitional “terror” that is being a woman in Saudi.
Thankfully, the courage of 18-year-old Rahaf Al Qunun and McNeil facilitated by Twitter, allowed a spotlight to be shone on dark corners of the Saudi world exposing a number of complicit accessories to these heinous crimes — namely Thailand, the Philippines and, sadly, Australia.
A veritable Handmaid’s Tale"writ real and writ large: a glimpse into Saudi women’s lifelong restraint by male guardians with no autonomy to make any decisions, travel anywhere, take a job or study without their male guardian’s permission. If the guardian is abusive and they try to make a report, they are imprisoned. If they try to escape to Australia – which, we were told, many do – they will be turned back to the terror.
McNeil revealed that when single Saudi Women appear at Australian customs, even with valid Australian visas, they are questioned by Border Force officials as to why they are not travelling without a male guardian.
Just when you may have thought that our global reputation of running roughshod over international law could not possibly get worse, McNeil revealed that Four Corners has evidence of Saudi women turned back by Border Force officials after making their asylum claims clear to Australian officials on entry.
“ ... because there are steps that are required in the process which Australia and any other country considering such a matter would have to go through. We will go through those according to our own system and our own processes.”
Yes, you can hear former Prime Minister John Howard ringing loud and clear in the subtext.
After days of waiting for Australia to act, the UN became increasingly worried about Qunun’s safety and delivered her to the Canadian Embassy where her visa was processed in a few hours and she was put on a plane to Toronto that night.
When she arrived in Toronto, she was caringly escorted out of customs by the Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who embraced her, gave her flowers and publicly welcomed her to Canada in front of the media.
Australia, what happened to you? How did we become so cruel and hardhearted?
Earlier in the show, when McNeil and Qunun are holed up in Qunun’s barricaded Bangkok airport hotel room – after Thai officials have cancelled her visa to force her home to what she claims is certain death from her family – she finds that her Australian Immigration profile account is strangely shut down.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Immigration Minister David Coleman and Border Force have very serious allegations to answer in relation to this. Unsurprisingly, they did not respond to requests for answers.
But they need to.
The international legal principle of "non-refoulement" – that is, forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution – is a fundamental principle of the civilised world that cannot be derogated from.
Australia is bound by this law, not just pursuant to Article 33 of the 'International Refugee Convention' (which we helped draft) and Article 3 of the 'Convention Against Torture', but by customary law created by the expected civilised behaviour of states!
Things have become so downright psychopathic in Australia’s border protection regime that we are now in extremis in breaking the basic rules of civilised democracy willy-nilly. All for some profoundly misconceived idea that our electorate will be ruled by fear, fright and division.
I thought the bigotry-backfire of a Super Saturday in Longman coupled with the liberally nuclear Victorian Election result had proved Peter Dutton’s smorgasbord of “It’s okay to be white”-neo-Nazi-fist-pumping-white-south-African-gang-exaltations an abject failure in the egalitarian electorate of modern, multicultural Australia?
But what about the report over the holidays that took us right over the edge of reason? A legitimate North Korean refugee granted asylum in Australia in the 1990s is to be deported on character grounds — notwithstanding his likely execution or internment in a forced labour camp. All because such possibilities were not deemed as an “insurmountable” hardship by Australian administrators in order to prevent his deportation.
But Dutton or Coleman could easily exercise their discretion and intervene. Much like they could for the young family from Biloela – Priya, Nades and their two Australian-born daughters – who face imminent deportation to persecution as Tamils in Sri Lanka.
And Border Force officials could allow Saudi women escaping torture and persecution the ability to lodge a claim for asylum to be processed according to law.
My grandfather fought in WWII against the Nazis so that we could all enjoy freedom and extend that freedom to others fleeing from persecution. And I can hear him rolling in his grave, his ghost scratching its head asking, What happened to us?
PM Scott Morrison often claims he respects "the rule of law”. Peter Dutton was once a Queensland Police Officer charged with enforcing it. But look at them now – committing crimes against humanity with impunity – numerous cases have been filed by international legal experts in the International Criminal Court and now in the High Court of Australia.
Both of these brutality-lovers have spent millions of our taxpayer dollars on lawyers to stop sick children temporarily coming to Australia for urgent medical treatment. They have spent billions of our dollars without proper authorisation building camps, breaking laws, breaking bodies, breaking the spirits of men, women and children. Breaking the international torture convention, which Australia had not previously been accused of until this Manus-Nauru nightmare.
All in some malevolently misconceived notion it will still win them votes.
And the chief architect of all of this barbarousness that has 'outraged the conscience' of Australian-kind (to borrow a familiar phrase from a famous Declaration part-drafted by an ANZAC hero), now sits in the golden seat.
He shut the media out; shut the accountability down and super-charged the “punitive deterrence” — also known as “crimes against humanity”.
But the ghosts of Howard and Tampa have faded far. The tired, no longer blinded, eyes of Australia and a compassionate heart, rooted in reason, is bursting forth into the fray.
No greater symbol of such tremendous triumph than Behrouz Boochani’s Victorian Premier's Literary Prize win, in so powerfully and poetically exposing the sacrilegious sites of state violence and systemic torture by Australia.
And this election it’s time we all stood up and said, No! Enough’s enough — you can’t sacrifice innocent lives to buy our votes.
That’s one reason I am standing against Dutton in Dickson.
It’s time to turn the tide on torture. It’s time to reclaim our reputation as a civilised nation.
Benedict Coyne is an international human rights lawyer, former national President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) and Greens Candidate for Dickson, running against Peter Dutton. You can follow Benedict on Twitter @bennarama.
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