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The United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) affirms the importance of the international instruments approved over the years through the United Nations relating to refugees and believes that Australia should adhere to the letter and the spirit of those instruments. In particular, the Refugee Convention of 1951 emphasises the principle of not returning people to places where they have a well-founded fear of persecution. Australia should have policies that do not contravene that emphasis.

Responding to the challenge

Australian and overseas humanitarian agencies have stepped up their calls on the Australian Government.

They called for a dramatic increase in assistance in aid for refugees, and they called for a reversal of its attitude towards the refugee issue.

Since the 2001 Federal Election a host of eminent Australians have joined that call, sometimes expressing themselves in very strong terms.

Below are some of these responses to the hardline policies.

We begin with a media release from Sir Ronald Wilson of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid.

The quote box at the top of this page cites part of a letter by National Administrator David Purnell of the United Nations Association of Australia to the Hon Philip Ruddock, Australia's Minister for Immigration.

Sir Ronald Wilson

Former Human Rights Commissioner and current President of Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA)

"As part of a commitment to an international campaign to counter terrorism Australia needs to take a more humanitarian approach to the plight of refugees put at risk by that campaign"

"We need to end policy making on the run which is resulting in harsh and unfair treatment to innocent people fleeing desperate situations. This means we need to end the disgraceful and expensive diversion of asylum seekers into the Pacific Islands."

"....not only does this play into people's misconceptions and fears about asylum seekers, but it undermines the spirit and intent of the UN Refugee Convention."

The Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser

Australia's Prime Minister of Australia from 1975-1983, and President of aid organisation CARE International since 1991

"Turning 430 destitute people away from our shores cannot be regarded as an act of Christian charity. It was justified in people's minds by the image built of such people as a result of a long and deliberate campaign to depict them as unworthy of consideration. Policy that is dependent on that judgment is policy without a conscience."

In the ABC Radio Program The World Today:

"There have been so many concerns expressed about the mandatory non-reviewable detention, there have been so many riots, disturbances, the authorities seem to react to that by establishing an even harsher and more rigorous regime.

Now that's all one reason. But what's happening at the moment is damaging Australia's reputation worldwide. Until they've earnt a different kind of treatment, all people should be treated with respect and self-esteem. And we should treat people as we would like ourselves to be treated."

And again, in an ABC Radio PM broadcast:

"All too often these refugees have been treated as people outside the law. They've been told that they're illegal, that they're queue jumpers and that there are terrorists amongst them. These were people who had been overwhelmingly denigrated in public statements. The rhetoric totally fails to match the ultimate outcome. Would it not be better to treat them decently and with respect from the beginning?"

The Hon Fred Chaney

Minister for Aboriginal affairs under the Fraser government:

The Sydney Morning Herald: [Mr Howard and Mr Beazley are] "appealing to the worst in our natures".... " our attempt to show that we are very tough, I think we are failing the test of our own civilization: the civilization we're prepared to send troops overseas to defend."

and on ABC Radio National with Julie McCrossin:

"what I see at the moment is sort of an auction among political leaders as to who's the toughest. It's sort of like the distasteful law and order debates. Who's going to jail the most people. You know, pretty fruitless exercise in most cases. In this case you know we've all got to be so tough.

Well I think there are some very important human values being overlooked. I think we're making some serious mistakes, and the fact that it has apparently majority support that we should be very chest thumping about this I think really requires those of us who disagree to speak up."

"When people have been found to be actual refugees and were released into the Australian community, we are still I think treating them in a way which is most unwise. We do not give them access for example to English classes, which is surely a starting point for satisfactorily operating in this country.

We do not give them access to family reunion which leads to levels of desperation of the sort that we're reading about in every newspaper in Australia today. I think that we are really in our attempt to show that we are very tough, I think we are failing the test of our own civilization. The civilization we're prepared to send troops overseas to defend."

The Hon Neville Wran AC QC

former New South Wales Premier

"The race card has been introduced into this election. It's a card and an introduction which we and our children will live to regret."

Humour on the web 1

Australians love their cartoons. In The West Australian, the cartoons are always folded in the centre of the Saturday newspaper. As one would expect, the Australian Government as well as Australia's Prime Minister John Howard got their fair share of attention in the media. Especially around the period of the 2001 Federal elections, John Howard and Kim Beazley, his Labor Opposition counterpart 'shared the limelight', also in cartoons.

With thanks to John Ditchburn (see the list of links below) we are proud to show you some of his artwork. Click on the button to see some cartoons dating from around and after the 2001 Federal Election in Australia.


Humour on the web 2

New series, 2002. Just like the issues have never abated since the MV Tampa days, and news reports appear every single day in our country, so has John Ditchburn's activity in making new cartoons not slowed down.


The Rev Tim Costello

President of the Baptist Union

"I don't remember a time when there has been an election with such a clear moral issue but treated by the major parties with such clear amoral electioneering...."

The Hon Paul Keating

Former Prime Minister

"The Government lied its way through an election campaign about a matter of central consequence and then sought to stonewall their way out of it. And when Admiral Barrie finally fessed up, the Prime Minister, brazen as brass, said Admiral Barrie enjoyed his full confidence even though Barrie's admission destroyed the integrity of a central factor in the Prime Minister's election campaign. The Howard Government reserves the right to make a hero of a general when it suits them and a fool of an admiral when it suits them. And pawns of the whole Defence Force whenever it fits their convenience."

"John Howard does not understand that the moral basis of our politics has to be protected and nurtured.. The moral gutting in the way our affairs have been recently run will exact costs down through history. Governments have to be wise enough and decent enough to know that such fraying is hard to stabilise once started and that such opportunism must be desisted with."

The Third Annual Manning Clark Lecture
A Time for Reflection: Political Values in the Age of Distraction,
delivered by the Hon Paul Keating at the National Library
of Australia on Sunday 3 March 2002

The Hon Ian Macphee

Former Liberal Immigration Minister

"If Australians re-elected Mr Howard, they would be condemned by the Asian region for supporting his inhumanity, selfishness and unreality [....] We will be seen as wanting globalised free trade in goods while banning migrants and refugees. Howard learnt nothing from his years in the Fraser government when it handled in a bipartisan manner a massive challenge presented by asylum seekers...."

The Rev James Haire

Head of the Uniting Church

"The unwillingness to hose down xenophobia actively plays into it, and that's what's happened in these elections. I don't know any issue, certainly in recent times, where the churches have been so offside with both political positions."

The Rev Gordon Moyes

Head of Wesley Mission, Australia's largest church-based charity.

On the whole issue of asylum seekers we have a divided community; what we must do is get together a committee of eminent Australians to overcome the divide so that they are not seen to be politically-biased, but committed to finding the best way forward, both for the Australian people who have voted to keep the doors shut and also for the asylum seekers who have legitimate needs. Children should go to normal Australian schools. Children have committed no criminal act [and] they should not be detained and then just deported. If we keep them in detention centres as we are they will become institutionalised and we will have a whole generation of young people bearing a grudge against Australia.

Mr John Yu

Chancellor of the University of NSW and former head of the Children's Hospital

"....heartless, xenophobic extremes...."
The Sydney Morning Herald further writes: He told of his experiences as a two-year-old war refugee fleeing the Japanese rape of Nanking in 1937 and arriving on a boat in Sydney with no papers. He was met by his uncle, who brought his university classmate Sir Earl Page, founder of the Country Party and one-time deputy prime minister, who "carried me ashore in his arms, unchallenged and undocumented by customs and immigration".

The Hon Tom Uren

former Federal MP, Minister and Deputy Leader of the Opposition

What deeply disturbs me is that John Howard knowlingly pandered to a sector of our community who are racially prejudiced or who are religiously opposed to Muslim refugees. Howard knew the "Hansonites" he was pandering to. He may have achieved a short-term victory but he will carry the scar of his role in the divisiveness of our nation the rest of his political days. He inflamed the election debate by introducing false allegations of children being thrown overboard by asylum seekers and of parents of refugees sewing their children's lips together. We are all familiar with his inflammatory words, "we will decide who comes into our country".

The Hon Bill Hayden

former Governor-General, Federal MP for 27 years and Federal Labor Party leader.

There is no justification for impounding the current crops of refugee claimants in remote camps in hostile desert country or in other uncongenial places in the back of beyond. I accept there can be policy matters where we should be tough, but being gratuitously tough on an unfortunate lot of fellow human beings, when it is totally avoidable, is inexcusable and unacceptable [....] The caring, gentle, Christian man [Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock] is gone. Snarling, teeth bared, eyes hard and unaccommodating, like politics' equivalent of a pit bull terrier, faithfully on guard duty for his master, ready to maul, to injure.

[In his speech Bill Hayden labelled the Government's so-called Pacific solution 'a fraud' and 'a political stunt', claiming taxpayers are being ripped off through the cost of detaining asylum seekers on islands away from Australia.]

David Curtis

Executive Director, Medicines Sans Frontieres Australia

"Unfortunately, the debate within Australia has sometimes demonised refugees, with the use of inflammatory expressions such as 'queue jumpers'. This term implies some kind of super-market express lane for rich asylum seekers. The reality is far from that. A refugee is rarely a refugee by choice, but rather as a result of circumstances far beyond their control and their wishes. In my own personal experience working with refugees, I have found them to have immense courage, determination and pride in the face of personal loss and extreme adversity. The last thing they need is to be victimised. All they ask for is peace, and a chance to restart their lives."

MSF Australia Newsletter Issue 23 November 2001

Mr John Menadue

There is a major crisis of credibility of our public institutions and our leadership. People don't trust institutions and our leadership much anymore. I think what we're seeing now, this deluge of demonisation of untruths and half truths about asylum seekers, is causing enormous damage to the credibility of our public institutions.

[about Australia's PM, John Howard] To attack vulnerable, outcast, weak people, it is cowardice. It is not courage. And is not strong leadership. Strong leadership is required when difficult decisions have to be made and risks have to be taken for the sake of human beings.

Phillip Adams

Order of Australia, columnist, writer, journalist and documentary maker; Australian Humanist of the Year;

"....before the President of the US declared his "war against terrorism", the Prime Minister of Australia declared war upon asylum-seekers. Upon refugees fleeing the wars, the horrors, the terrors of Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Howard's war has been waged ceaselessly, pitilessly, dishonourably, in our name, against some of the most vulnerable people on earth."

The Hon Neville Wran AC QC

former Premier of New South Wales

John Howard was relying on the argument that asylum seekers were a threat to national security and an affront to national values, not on the argument that they were illegal, because he knew that the only thing these asylum seekers were ever guilty of was desperation. And while desperation without remedy may breed crime, desperation in and of itself is no crime. That's why we heard so much about queue-jumping. That's why we heard about children overboard. That's why we heard so much about people smugglers and, by association, asylum seekers were demonised as criminals as well. That's why we heard about children's lips being sewn together at Woomera. If you can't outlaw them, vilify them - demonise them.

Dr Robert Manne

associate professor of politics, La Trobe University

"In writing about politics and the English language, [the writer George] Orwell might have had Philip Ruddock in mind. On one typical occasion the minister was asked how he could justify the continued detention of the family of a traumatised six-year-old boy who no longer ate or drank or spoke. He answered thus: "Well, I do look at these issues in the context of humanitarian considerations and there are a broad range of issues that I have to look at, firstly in terms of whether or not we give up a refugee place that could otherwise go, in this case, to four other people, whose circumstances would, I suspect, be far more compelling."