Book review


Australia’s inhumanity: Offshore processing of Asylum Seekers

Published by Labor for Refugees

Situations such as the tragic plight of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing persecution in Myanmar; the arguments over the mental and physical wellbeing of asylum seekers excommunicated on Manus Island and Nauru and the recent reports of sexual abuse of adults and children in detention can only evoke feelings of anger and shame among humane citizens in Australia.

The Drownings’ Argument is a small but powerful book that presents facts and logic about those who seek asylum and the policy of mandatory indefinite detention. The eight contributors to this text provide cogent detail, humanity and sanity.

The book’s sponsors, Labor for Refugees, are campaigning for the abolition of “the current regime of cruel and inhumane measures” to be replaced by “high quality programs” where the humanity of the seekers is recognised, legitimate claims are protected, honest and ethical leadership exists, Australia’s international obligations are satisfied and that costs are effective.

Julian Burnside QC argues that the policy of ‘stop the boats’ based on an apparent concern for the refugees is hypocritical as those who do not drown become destined for mandatory detention and placed in situations where mistreatment can and does occur.

Misha Coleman from the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce discusses the economic costs of the current policy of offshore detention, which are estimated to be at least twice the cost of onshore detention. This does not include the associated costs to physical and mental health.

Ben Saul, Professor of International Law at Sydney University, questions if offshore processing can achieve policy aims and be cost effective, when more humane and effective alternate policy is possible.

Professor James Hathaway, international refugee law expert, points out that Australia only hosts 0.1% of the world’s refugee population; that we are the 13th largest economy and that most of the responsibility for protecting refugees is carried by the poorest countries. He urges that Australia takes the lead in persuading governments to be collectively responsible for those people who become refugees.

Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker’s Resource Centre describes the response by Italy, where a humane response to drownings was enacted.

Anna Burke, Labor MP for Chisholm in WA, argues that there has never been a crisis and calls for factual argument to replace emotional hype. Independent research, Marg Hutton, outlines why a call to an end for offshore mandatory processing is not ignoring the tragedy of drownings, but how it compels us to react more compassionately to calls for help and to stop the demonisation of those affected.

Melissa Parke, MP for Freemantle, questions why we punish people who have survived the boat journeys, rather than working to prevent their need to take such perilous trips.

Tony Kevin, a former foreign affairs public servant, discusses the price we pay as a nation with reputation and relationships with close neighbours such as Indonesia, and more globally. He questions whether Australia is violating its duty of care to those people sent offshore.

Refugee advocate, Kate Jeffries, states that the restriction on refugee family reunions is a factor that contributes to the number of people who come by boat. She argues for a more compassionate approach to family reunions and that funding is allocated.

Whether you are for, against or confused about offshore processing I heartily recommend this book as a source of thought, hope and argument without rhetoric.

Patricia Murnane
IEU Executive Member Sacred Heart Primary School, Cabramatta