Dear Mr Morrison (an open letter to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection)

letter pic

Dear Mr Morrison,

I have read on several occasions that you identify William Wilberforce as one of your heroes.  Wilberforce is also one of my heroes.  Not least among the reasons for this, is his persistence in letter writing to government officials, to call for the humane treatment of people who were oppressed.  He wrote letters for twenty years before slavery was abolished in England.  I have been writing to you regarding your cruel and inhumane asylum seeker policies and operations for almost five months now.  I hope you are prepared for the next nineteen-and-a-half years of letters you will receive from me, should you remain in office that long.

I have appealed to you on matters of language.

Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention says that, while it is usually illegal to enter a country without a valid visa, it is NOT to be considered as illegal, if it is for the purpose of seeking asylum. Yet, you continue to use the words “illegal maritime arrivals” and “entering illegally” in reference to people who are seeking asylum.

The Coalition’s use of phrases such as ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, ‘border protection’, ‘matter of national emergency’, ‘military response’ and even ‘war’, conjures up the idea in the national psyche that Australia is somehow being invaded by aliens who will destroy life as we know it.  It breeds fear and hatred among average Australians in the same way that the language of Joseph Goebbels spread fear and hatred in Nazi Germany.  However, this does not appear to bother you.

I have appealed to you on matters of international law.

As a UN Refugee Convention signatory, Australia is prohibited from imposing penalties on people entering for asylum if they are coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom is threatened.   The UNHCR defines ‘coming directly’ as arriving without having been offered protection and security in another country first (UN High Commission on Refugees guidelines on detention of Asylum Seekers).  Yet the penalty of off-shore detention is being imposed on those who arrive by boat in order to seek asylum.  Anyone who arrives by plane, or anyone who overstays their visa, is not sent to Nauru or Manus Island.  Not one person has had their claim for asylum heard since Manus Island re-opened in 2012.  People are not merely waiting in immigration detention for security clearances and ‘processing’; they are being gaoled for having arrived by boat.  Along with this, asylum seekers living in the community in Australia have been denied permanent protection, subjected to codes of conduct and made the lowest priority for family reunification, ONLY if they have arrived by boat.  These are penalties that are being imposed for attempting to enter Australia without authorisation, even though it is unlawful to impose such penalties.

I have appealed to you on matters of human rights.

In the two letters I have received from your office, I have been told that The Government of Australia takes its international human rights obligations seriously and will continue to adhere to those obligations.”.  Yet one letter also stated:

“Those seeking to come on boats will not achieve what they have come for, but will be met by a broad chain of measures, end to end, that are designed to deter, to disrupt, to prevent their entry from Australia and certainly to ensure that they are not settled in Australia.”

These two statements are diametrically opposed.

People seeking protection must not be prevented from entering a UN Convention signatory country.  They must not be returned to a country where their life or freedom is threatened (The 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, UNHCR, page 5). Yet your department turns back boats from Indonesia, and returns asylum seekers in Australian Government funded lifeboats, without hearing their claims for asylum.   Your government paid for Navy ships to patrol the Sri Lankan coast to prevent Tamils from escaping persecution to seek asylum elsewhere, and returns people to the countries from which they have fled.

Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights says this:

“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.”

“Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.”

However, your department persists with punitive, indefinite, arbitrary detention for those who have committed no crime.  Some asylum seekers have been waiting in detention for over four years without having their cases heard.  According to Nauru’s foreign minister, people are likely to be kept in detention there for more than five years.

Your response to my letters has been to assure me that “Australia is working closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”.  However, the UNHCR recently stated:

“We stress the obligation of Australia, PNG and Nauru to ensure that the human rights of asylum seekers are protected in accordance with international standards. The practice of detaining migrants and asylum seekers arriving by boat on a mandatory, prolonged and potentially indefinite basis, without individual assessment, is inherently arbitrary. Moreover, alternatives to immigration detention should always be considered.

We encourage Australia, PNG and Nauru to review their Regional Resettlement Arrangements urgently to find principled solutions that are fully consistent with international human rights standards, including the right to seek asylum, the right to freedom from arbitrary detention, and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

In a condemning judgment last year, the United Nations found Australia’s indefinite detention of refugees to be cruel,  inhumane and in breach of UN conventions, and ordered refugees detained by ASIO be released and paid compensation (ABC 7:30 25/2)  Yet the Australian Government has made no moves to do so.

And so I now appeal to you on matters of personal values and of faith.

I read the transcript of your maiden speech to Parliament with great interest.  In this speech, you declared that your values and principles are derived from your Christian faith and Scripture.  You quoted Jeremiah  9:24 and said this:

“From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own wellbeing; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family.”

Justice and righteousness would welcome transparency instead of secrecy.  They would be honest and open, rather than avoiding questions and withholding information about ‘on water operational matters’.  Justice and righteousness would welcome inquiries in order to demonstrate integrity.

Respect for rule of law would adhere carefully to international human rights laws, instead of using doublespeak and loopholes to ignore them.  Respect for rule of law would be less concerned with people’s mode of arrival, and more concerned with the fulfilling of human rights obligations now that they have attempted to arrive.

Compassion and loving-kindness would not need to clarify a question about a man who took his own life in immigration detention. Compassion and loving-kindness would automatically understand that the question, “Could this have been prevented?”, related to what could have been done to prevent the man’s death, not whether or not he could have prevented overstaying his visa.

Compassion and loving-kindness would not have implied that the young man, brutally killed while under the Australian Government’s supervision and care on Manus Island, brought the violence upon himself.  Compassion and loving-kindness would have said something like, “Tragically, a man who was being held in one of Australia’s off-shore immigration detention centres has been killed.  There will be a thorough investigation into how this could have possibly happened, to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.  In the meantime, I extend my sincere sympathy to his family and assure them that everything will be done to give them the answers they need.”.

Fighting for the opportunity for everyone to fulfil their human potential would not include returning people to homelands to face  persecution, beatings, torture and execution. It would not include causing a severe, negative impact to people’s mental health through ongoing uncertainty and indefinite detention.  Fighting for the opportunity for everyone to fulfil their human potential would not cry, ‘saving lives at sea’ only to have people killed in detention or take their own lives due to the depression and despair brought about by Immigration Department policy.

In your speech, you went on to talk about your vision for Australia being a nation grounded in generosity of spirit.  You echoed the words of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy when you said, “As global citizens, we must also recognise that our freedom will always be diminished by the denial of those same freedoms elsewhere, whether in Australia or overseas.”

Generosity of spirit and the offering of freedom would not translate into locking up children indefinitely on Nauru, in conditions which have been condemned by Amnesty International and the United Nations.  Generosity of spirit and the offering of freedom would not insist that people seeking asylum must join a mythical, world-wide queue for protection, which is anywhere other than here.

An understanding of the concept of ‘global citizens’ would work with world leaders to find humane solutions to the global humanitarian issue of people fleeing war and persecution.

I cannot help but wonder what happened to the man who so eloquently espoused his values, and principles of Christian faith, in a maiden Parliament speech.  Perhaps he never existed at all, and they were just meaningless words read from a piece of paper.  Perhaps he was sincere at the time, but he lost himself somewhere beneath ambition and a lust for power.  I’m not sure which scenario I find more disturbing.  What I do know, is that the Bible says that the way we treat “the least of these brothers and sisters” is the way we treat God (Matthew 25:31-46). 

You have said that, for you, “faith is personal, but the implications are social.”  I can see no evidence of the implications of faith in Jesus in the cruel, harsh and inhumane asylum seeker policies you have put in place.   Your speech mentioned that Lincoln said, “Our task is not to claim whether God is on our side, but to pray earnestly that we are on His.”

While you might be able to avoid the questions in my letters, it is not so easy to avoid God’s questions.  I sincerely hope you have thought through your answers.

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106 thoughts on “Dear Mr Morrison (an open letter to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection)

  1. I think that you have missed the boat on this – pardon the pun – but the boats have stopped. Yes stopped. So everyone that is in detention came on a boat before the boats stopped. So Mr Morrison is responsible for stopping the boats, the people in detention were caused by someone else. There is noone new coming into detention so soon the camps will be empty. Mr Morrison did not set up the current camp on Manus but he has to manage the situation that he finds himself in. He has taken the important step of stopping the boats which prevents people dying at sea as well as it prevents people coming to Australia by boat. In September 1600 people registered with UNHCR in Indonesia seeking refugee status, in January it was just 300. People have stopped going to Indonesia because it is no longer the launch point for boats to Australia. So all of this sermonising and moralising towards the government is just a little too cute. They have a tough job to do and they have succeeded in saving lives – not by making detention cruel (this was done by Gillard / Rudd) but by stopping the boats from Indonesia. They have done a brilliant job and deserve our commendation to achieve what everyone says was impossible. I think that most of the anger is because of this success.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, SUBU. While Mr Morrison is reporting that no boats have arrived at Christmas Island, he is not reporting how many boats have attempted to arrive, but have been intercepted and turned around. That, he says, is part of ‘on-water operational matters’ which will not be discussed. The plan of the Coalition was always to turn the boats around. Tony Abbott said this, in a pre-election speech in April last year: “Within a week of taking office, I would give new orders to the navy that, where it is safe to do so, under the usual chain-of-command procedures, based on the advice of commanders-on-the-spot, Indonesian flagged, Indonesian-crewed and Indonesian home-ported vessels without lawful reason to be headed to Australia would be turned around and escorted back to Indonesian waters.”

      At least three orange, unsinkable life boats of asylum seekers have washed up on Indonesian shores in recent weeks. On 15 January, 2014 the Government confirmed that the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service had purchased lifeboats ‘to achieve the aims of Operation Sovereign Borders’. If the boats had stopped, why would these lifeboats be needed and why are they being used?

      I’m wondering how the detention camps will soon be empty, when no-one on Manus Island has had his application processed since it opened, and the Governor in Nauru has announced that it will take five years or more to process claims there.

      Yes, you are correct in saying that the Gillard/ Rudd government made detention cruel by reopening offshore detention. The Abbott government has added to that cruelty by making that cruel detention indefinite and arbitrary. I’m more interested in the policies than the political parties. The current policies are what we have to deal with, no matter who they belong to.

    • Subu
      You say it well. The blogger is also angry that the lifeboats are “unsinkable” apparently, the ultimate government crime. When the camps are empty and there are no longer boats arriving, will she be happy? I doubt it: she will find some other policy to complain about.

      • Hi again Al. I’m not sure how you could possibly read my open letter, and the responses I have made to your earlier comments, and conclude that I am “angry that the lifeboats are unsinkable”. Surely you would have understood that what I am concerned about is that people are being returned without having their claims for asylum heard. Not only is this in breach of the international laws Australia has willingly signed up for, but it means people who are fleeing political persecution could well be sent back for execution. The description of the lifeboats being orange and unsinkable was included in the hope that SUBU would use the information for some independent research.

        When the camps are empty due to people having their applications processed in a timely manner, and those who have been found to be refugees being resettled in communities where their lives and freedoms are no longer threatened, I will be exceedingly happy.

        As for complaining about policy, I will continue to do so if that policy, regardless of which political party it belongs to, includes unlawfulness and human rights abuses. This is called democracy. It protects us from tyranny, which, as you say in earlier comments, is the very thing which causes refugees to flee their homes in the first place.
        “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” (Thomas Jefferson)

      • My position is stop the boats, whatever it takes. Then deal with the illegals the last government let in by opening our borders: if dealt with properly this will take ages, as the illegals fly in to Indonesia, then destroy their Identification before paying $10,000 each to be smuggled to Australia where they believe the welfare system is more generous than any of the safe havens they have so far reached. We don’t know who, or what they are: Tamil Tigers, Al Quieda, Drug Cartel members (where did they get US$10,000 from?)…
        Then we need to fly in the legal refugees displaced by these queue jumpers, currently rotting in UNHCR camps in Somalia, Lebanon and Jordan, and show them the Christian charity you want to extend to criminals leaving safe countries for Australia. We send them back to Indonesia, not to Iran, so the risk of execution is just emotive, baseless rubbish.
        UN Conventions are not laws, and the UN is not a Government. If being a signatory to one of these conventions stops us from stopping the boats (and I don’t believe it does) then we should withdraw from those conventions at the first whine from a UN bureaucrat. We still have sovereighnty to decide who enters this land and who becomes a citizen.

  2. Al, I’m wondering what you think happens to people when they are sent back to Indonesia, and they are handed over to authorities. Given that they cannot stay in Indonesia, they can be deported to their homelands…..where execution is not ’emotive, baseless rubbish’, but reality.

    As for raising the money for a place on a boat, I’ve read reports of varying amounts. $10,000 would be at the top end (There are some people smugglers who smuggle more for humanitarian reasons than for financial ones). Often extended family members contribute to the cost in order to seek safety for their loved one.

    You seem to be regurgitating the same incorrect information (‘illegals’, ‘queue jumpers’ , ‘other safe havens’ etc.) over and over again. Please read the links to the websites I have given you, including the Australian Parliament one which has a list of facts you are ignoring. Once you’ve done that, I’d be happy to discuss further:. http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2012-2013/AsylumFacts

    • THANKS FOR YOUR COMMON SENSE ! ONE THING I DONT UNDERSTAND IS HOW COME AUSTRALIAN GOVT TAKEs SO LONG TO PROCESS SO FEW ! WHEN ITALY CAN SCOOP UP 250 AFRICANS FROM THE SEA AND SETTLE THEM IN A COUPLE OF DAYS !! GUESS THAT US THE SAME REASON WE SPEND 500K ON EACH ONE AND PAY OUR POLLIES MORE THAN THE AMERICANS !!

  3. Pingback: Dear Mr Morrison (an open letter to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) | serenesblessedbee

  4. I’m stupefied that people who call themselves Christians can’t see the hypocrisy in supporting detention of asylum seekers. I’m confounded that people can’t understand that the actions of the Australian government contravene their obligations as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention.

    I hate what our government is doing and I hate what it says about us—that we have little/no compassion for others, or, if we do feel for these people, we are too selfish to share our country with them. Most people seem to only want to look out for themselves—their jobs, their income. Bugger anyone who is worse off—and in these people’s cases, they are much worse off—than they are. I will stop here because I feel my heart rate rising …

    A wonderful letter—keep writing!

    • If you knew the REAL REASON why these “illegals” try to come here you may think differently. I have no problem with immigration … IF IT IS DONE THE RIGHT WAY … NOT through the back door, leaving people who have been waiting patiently in UN refugee camps FOR YEARS … it seems to some do-gooders that MONEY TALKS. Would YOU be prepared to house a family of
      5 – 6 of these “illegals”? Come on … be honest.

      • Hi Gordy, what is the real reason people (who are not illegally entering Australia as you would have discovered by reading the letter and its associated links) are trying to come here? How many of them have you spoken with to determine this?
        The only right way to seek asylum is to leave the country you are being persecuted in, travel to another one, and ask for protection. People may travel to Tanzania, to Kenya, to Jordan, to Italy or to Australia. The process is the same. It’s just that in Australia, we expect them to seek asylum somewhere else.
        I’m sure that Louise would be happy,as I am, to be called a do-gooder. It certainly beats being a do-badder!

      • They are NOT ‘illegals’ as you say, and I tire of hearing them called this. How many times do people have to be told that it is NOT illegal to seek asylum. What’s more, over 95% of asylum seekers who reach our shores have been found to be genuine refugees.

        Nor are these people trying to get in through the back door. They often come from countries where there is no front door—the Australian Embassy is not always in an obvious place, and sometimes that is for safety reasons. There is no queue for these people to join.

        If you really want to educate yourself, which I hope you do, here is an article from someone who is a lot more knowledgeable on this subject than me, Julian Burnside:
        http://theconversation.com/julian-burnside-alienation-to-alien-nation-18290

  5. I can only say what has been said numerous times before in comments: what a touching and well written letter. I hope Scott Morrison has the guts to read your letter himself.
    I would also like to say how I admire how you handle the critics who disagree with you. You take the time to refute every single point they make.
    I hope it doesn’t take another 19 years of letter writing to change this situation.

    • TO GET HIM TO UNDERSTAND YOUR LETTER WOULD BE LIKE TRYING TO GET HITLER TO HAVE SYMPATHY FOR THE JEWS !!! THE BASIC PROBLEM HERE IS A NEW BREED OF AUSTRALIAN WHO ARE RACIST,HEARTLESS,GREEDY AND CRUEL. STRANGE THING IS THAT MANY OF THEM WERE ONCE IN A SIMILAR SITTATION,OR AT LEAST THEIR FAMILES WERE. BUT IN THOSE DAYS WE HAD OUR DOORS OPEN, EVEN IF ONLY TO WHITES /EUROPEANS, UNTIL MALCOLM FRAZER LET IN ALL THOSE POOR PEOPLE FROM VIETNAM AND SAVED SO MANY LIVES PLUS OUR MARKET GARDENS INDUSTRY ETC ETC !!

  6. I didn’t know there were so many bigots in Australia…….. they don’t even know the law…..asylum seeking is NOT illegal

    • It’s difficult for people to know what our international law obligations are, John, when our government leaders persist with language which is deceitful and misleading. We have to keep getting the truth out there.

  7. Thank you for your well-thought out arguments and kind words. Thank you for being a staunch defender of refugees, and for showing those with prejudices based on being misinformed kindness but also logic. I do hope your words get heard by those who can make the changes.

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