Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, is the only minister who is not answerable to anyone for his decisions, with the exception of the decision to take us into war, which can be made by the Prime Minister alone.
New legislation passed this week gives Morrison unprecedented, unchallengeable and secret powers to determine the futures of those who come to Australia seeking sanctuary from homelands that are no longer hospitable to them. This includes the practice of refoulement, the ability to return asylum seekers to situations that are hostile and in some instances deadly without first determining if they are at risk, a practice that is inconsistent with international refugee law: Section 197 gives the government express permission to engage in refoulement irrespective of whether there has been an assessment of Australian obligations to that person.
Morrison is not required to determine in advance what risks an asylum seeker will face in being returned to the country they’ve fled, therefore, he has the power to send human beings to endure torture and death, and nobody will ever know he’s done it.
Within his area of responsibilities, Morrison is now a dictator. In the midst of a government determined to be as small a government as possible there is a department with a dictator at its head, whose control over some human beings is absolute.
In principle giving any politician, or any human being for that matter absolute power over anything, cannot be good. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Why is it necessary?
Of course, it isn’t necessary in any way other than the political. It serves the government’s purposes to cloak the fates of asylum seekers and refugees in secrecy. It doe not make our borders any more secure, it does not prevent us from being attacked by terrorists. What Morrison’s new dictatorship does do is fly in the face of the tenets of our liberal democracy, specifically its opposition to suspicion of concentrated forms of power, whether by individuals, groups or governments.
There is no reason why the people of this country should be kept in the dark about our government’s decisions as to the fate of asylum seekers and refugees, or any other decision our government takes, unless it is a matter of security. No matter how hard the Abbott government has worked to frame waterborne asylums seekers as a threat to our sovereign borders against which we are waging a war, they are not a threat and this is not a war.
The passing of the latest legislation finalises the relentless campaign conducted by both major parties to “stop the boats.” It has taken the matter of asylum seekers arriving by boat out of the public conversation. While this will come as relief to many politicians, the rest of us should be very afraid that in our treasured liberal democracy we have a minister who answers to nobody, and will conduct his nefarious business in absolute secrecy. This cannot be good for anyone.
First published on Jennifer’s blog: No Place for Sheep
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