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JULIAN BURNSIDE SPEECH: On Border Matters, 6 March 2019

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Julian Burnside with executive editor Michelle Pini during the Q&A session after his speech, March 2019

IN EARLY April 2014, Scott Morrison was crowing about the fact that, for 100 days, no refugee boats had arrived in Australia. The crowing has gotten louder as the present election approaches.

He does not mention that a number of boats have tried to get here and that their occupants were sent back to Indonesia in orange lifeboats. The fact that they tried to get here is significant, because we can be confident, on the evidence of the past 18 years, that a high proportion of them were genuine refugees legally entitled to protection.  But that is not something that engages Morrison’s Christian spirit.

Neither is he concerned, it seems, that the people we push back will make landfall in Indonesia ‒ a country which has not signed the Refugees Convention ‒ and that they risk being sent from Indonesia back to their country of origin, where they face persecution.

So that is the source of Morrison’s delight: we are indirectly sending people back to a place of persecution, in plain defiance of our central obligation under the Refugees Convention.

But he is also pleased with himself because he can say he has saved them from drowning.

Let’s be very clear about this: every death at sea is a tragedy. No-one wants to see refugees die in their attempt to escape persecution, but the often-recited concern about refugees drowning is just hypocritical propaganda.

People like Abbott and Dutton and Morrison express their concern about refugees who drown. They are not sincere, but it provides a vaguely respectable excuse for harsh policies.  They are so worried about people drowning, that they punish the ones who don’t drown: the people on Manus and Nauru have, most of them, been there for nearly six years. Let me be plain about this: when Abbott and Morrison say they are worried about refugees drowning on their way to Australia, they are lying: they are deceiving the public. It opens the way to mistreat asylum seekers who have not drowned and helps them pursue the darker purpose of keeping refugees out.

This is the introduction to the speech by Julian Burnside QC AO at the Independent Australia event in Melbourne, held on 6 March 2019. The full speech may be read in the Independent Australia members only area.

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