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Tag Archives: Refugee Convention

Ms Gillard’s sickening hypocrisy laid bare

It was with disbelief, and finally contempt, that I watched excerpts of the Al Jazeera interview with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the topic of her government’s treatment of waterborne asylum seekers, particularly women and children.

Gillard, now a global advocate for the education of girls and women, employed what has disturbingly become a normalised justification for Australian governments’ increasingly callous torment of women and girls in off-shore detention: we do it to stop people drowning at sea.

I have yet to get my head around the psychopathology of those who believe the torment of one group is justified in order to discourage another group from undertaking a particular action. I think such justifications are teetering precariously on just about every ethical and moral ground I can think of, beginning with the Kantian argument that it is reprehensible to use people as a means to an end, and that people are an end in themselves. To treat them in any other way is to dehumanise them, and ultimately, ourselves.

However, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott and now Turnbull apparently have no difficulty with treating waterborne asylum seekers as a means to an end, and justifying their hideous treatment of them as a necessary deterrent in order to save the lives of others.

It has been said more than a million times: arriving in this country by boat, seeking asylum, is not a crime. Indeed, as we are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention, we actively invite people to arrive here by whatever means they manage to employ.

If we want to save people from drowning at sea, and if we care about the humanity of those we already have in detention, we would cease to use the detained as scapegoats, and as examples of what will happen if you legitimately arrive here by boat. We would instead withdraw from the Refugee Convention. People come to Australia because we invite them, through our participation in the Convention, and our agreement with its principles.

Of course, we aren’t about to take that step. So instead we will continue to ill-treat asylum seekers in off-shore detention. We will continue to justify this crime against humanity by claiming it’s done to save lives.

And Ms Gillard will continue to strut the world stage advocating for the education of women and children but not, regrettably, those she imprisoned in mandatory indefinite dentition in tropical hell holes where they are abused, raped and made mad.

Women for Gillard? Non, merci.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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Part 2: Arise Scott Morrison, Lord Sixwords of Cronulla!

“Consider what kind of power Scott Morrison wanted” asks George Venturini.

Part 2 explores the chilling answers.

Arise Scott John Morrison, Lord Sixwords of Cronulla!

But why Sixwords? Simple: Eine Sprache, ein Gezetz, ein Kultur – translated into ‘One Language, One Law, One Culture’ for the benefit of the ‘boys of Cronulla’, Morrison’s grand electors.

A new Ozymandias

The ‘establishing provisions’ of Morrison’s (and his successor’s) dictatorship are contained into three instruments: the first is the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014. During its iter it was travelling with two other bills, but the former is the most important and fatal to any surviving notion of respect for international treaties and conventions signed by, and until recently nominally abided by, Australia. This Bill, by far the most important, was introduced into the House of Representatives on 25 September 2014, was debated and sent to the Senate on 28 October, there to be debated, agreed to on 4 December, re-sent to the House of Representatives and finally passed by both Houses on 5 December 2014. It was assented on 15 December and is now knows as Act 135/2014.

Two minor bills had also been introduced: the Migration Amendment (Character and General Visa Cancelation) Bill 2014, introduced on 24 September 2014 and passed on 26 November 2014 with Labor’s support. It has not yet received the necessary assent; and another: the Australian Citizenship and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. This was introduced on 23 October 2014, read a second time in the Senate on 25 November 2014. But, in the process, on 30 October 2014, the Senate referred the provisions of the bill immediately to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. The closing date for submissions was 6 November 2014. The reporting date was 1 December 2014. Four days later no action was reported, yet.

The two companion bills are no less offensive than the first, but the latter is the most pervasive in its subversion of Australian and international law.

Consider what kind of power Morrison wanted: “As an elected Member of Parliament, the Minister represents the Australian community and has particular insight into Australian community standards and values and what is in Australia’s public interest.” the Minister wrote in the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the bill. “As such, it is not appropriate for an unelected administrative tribunal to review such a personal decision of a Minister on the basis of merit, when the decision is made in the public interest.” The logic is bizarre.

Such breathtaking self-justification could make even the most acute Jesuit blush. And Jesuits do not do that frequently. But they are persistent and this was explainable with the stubbornness of a government the overreach of which on asylum seekers is too frequently frustrated by the courts and which wants now to have legislated a way of circumventing those courts’ judgements.

Briefly summarised in bureaucratese, Act 135/2014 was described as amending the Maritime Powers Act 2013 to: provide clarity and consistency in relation to powers to detain and move vessels and people; clarify the relationship between the Act and other laws; and provide for the minister to give directions about the exercise of maritime powers; as amending the Migration Act 1958 to: introduce temporary protection for those who engage Australia’s non-refoulement obligations and who arrive in Australia illegally; create the authority to make deeming regulations; create the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa class; introduce a fast track assessment process and remove access to the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT); establish the Immigration Assessment Authority within the RRT to consider fast track reviewable decisions; clarify the availability of removal powers independent of assessments of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations; codify Australia’s interpretation of its protection obligations under the Refugees Convention; clarify the legal status of children of unauthorised maritime arrivals and transitory persons; and enable the minister to place a statutory limit on the number of protection visas granted; and as amending the following acts: Maritime Powers Act 2013, Migration Act 1958, Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1997, Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946 and Migration Regulations 1994 to make consequential amendments.

Scott Morrison had, until 21-23 December 2014, and now the new Minister has unchecked power to decide the outcomes which will affect the lives of asylum seekers and refugees coming to Australia. Act 135/2014 has handed the Minister unprecedented, unchallengeable and secret powers to control the lives of asylum seekers. Decisions cannot not be challenged.

The enactment means that Australia is now no longer obliged to adhere to the Refugee Convention, a treaty that Australia was instrumental in constructing and implementing after the second world war. Australia was, at that time, at the forefront of human rights of refugees. It signed the initial Convention and the subsequent 1967 Protocol.

Australia adherence to these international documents had placed it, until recently, as a ‘good world citizen’ with an agenda to uphold human rights, and, in this case, treat people seeking sanctuary with dignity, fairness and compassion. Refugee law is built upon the fundamental principle of non-refoulement: that is it is forbidden to return a person to a country where they may still be persecuted or tortured. This is recognised by every one of the 147 signatory countries of the Refugee Convention.

Here was Scott Morrison claiming in his inaugural speech in 2008 “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.” He had just finished saying that he derived his values from his faith: “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.”

He had quoted Jeremiah, chapter 9:24 alright, about loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth. He had previously praised Tutu and Wilberforce.

In 2014 it was time for a harsh jeremiad from the brutal marketeer: “ … it does not matter whether Australia has a non-refoulement obligations in respect of an unlawful non-citizen.”

This is saying that Australia is now entitled to return an asylum seeker to any country, even the place where s/he has been, or knows s/he may be, tortured or persecuted.

Australia will now follow a new, independent and self-contained statutory framework, and this will have the government’s own interpretation of international law. Australia now regards itself as free from the bonds of the Refugee Convention. Any checks and balances which were previously in Australia’s refugee system have been stripped away, removing basic protections for those who arrive by boat seeking asylum.

New citizenship laws are on the cards, and they will not just affect refugees. The lifting of rights has a corollary: its unencumbered power by the executive.

If any of this seems exaggerated, one should take a close look at the new national security laws. Civil rights, the law and international treaties are only as strong as those upholding them. Once their application becomes arbitrary, they are useless. “Stopping the smugglers”, “stopping the boats” are scant consolation.

Once the Bill reached the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights it was subjected to the closest examination which resulted in a Report tabled on 28 October 2014.

Human rights considered by the Committee are those defined in the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 as the rights and freedoms contained in the seven core human rights treaties to which Australia is, albeit nominally, a party. These treaties are: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Convention on the on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The examining Committee is composed of ten members, five from the House of Representatives and five from the Senate. On the Committee sat three members of the Liberal Party, two members of the National Party, four members of the Labor Party and one of the Australian Greens. The chair was held by one of the Liberal Party members.

In twenty one pages the Committee was, unanimously, scathing of most of the clauses of the Bill.

It is not possible, and would turn out somewhat pedantic, to examine every proposition put forward by the Committee, but the following should suffice to indicate the extent of the damage inflicted upon ‘law and order’ of which the Coalition considers itself the absolute protector.

The Committee noted that the Bill, once enacted, would “remove most references to the Refugee Convention from the Migration Act and replace them with a new statutory framework reflecting Australia’s unilateral interpretation of its protection obligations.”

Dealing with “Incorporation of international law into Australian domestic law”, the Committee noted that “the measures in Schedules 1 and 5 of the bill engage and limit a number of human rights, including: non-refoulement obligations; the right to security of the person and the right to be free from arbitrary detention; the prohibition on torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment; the right to freedom of movement; the right to a fair trial; and the obligation to consider the best interest of the child.”

The Committee made specific reference to articles of the seven core human rights treaties.

By removing most references to the Refugee Convention from the Migration Act and “replac[ing] them with a new statutory framework … the bill would … allow Australian domestic law to develop independently from Australia’s obligations under international law.”

The Committee called on the Minister – Morison until 21-23.12.2014 – to provide an advice as to whether the amendments in Schedules 1 and 5 are compatible with the rights listed above.

The Committee strongly lamented that “The proposed amendments to Schedule 1 of the bill expand powers to intercept vessels and detain people at sea, and to transfer people to any country (or a vessel of another country) that the Minister chooses. Further, they exclude court challenges to government actions in this context.”

Having cited several cases considered by the High Court of Australia and reported in 2014, the Committee noted “that the obligation of non-refoulement is considered in international law as jus cogens, which means that it is a fundamental or peremptory norm of international law which applies to all nations, and which can never be limited.” The Committee was taking the strongest objection to such provisions. It concluded that “the proposed implementation of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations through executive action alone, … as a limit on a peremptory norm of international law, and so a failure to comply with the obligation of non-refoulement.”

In the view of the Committee, the proposed amendments in Schedule 1 were incompatible with Australia’s obligations of non-refoulement under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture.

As to Schedule 5, designed to amend the Migration Act to set up “a new statutory framework articulating Australia’s unilateral interpretation of its protection obligations”, the Committee noted, citing the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, that “it is not for a state to unilaterally determine its obligations under a treaty after ratification.” Again the Committee declared such proposals as contravening the I.C.C.P.R. and the Convention against Torture.

With reference with the intended temporary protection visa and safe-haven enterprise visas, to be governed under Schedules 2 and 3, the Committee made several observations: 1) people who were found to engage Australia’s non-refoulement obligations would be granted a T.P.V. only for a period of up o three years at one time, rather than being granted a permanent protection visa.”, 2) T.P.V.s would “require refugees to prove afresh their claims for protection every three years”, and 3) that situation would cast doubt on Australia’s obligations under the I.C.C.P.R. and the Convention against Torture. And, therefore, the Committee was requesting further advice from the Minister for Immigration and Border protection. (Incidentally, TPVs have been tried before – and failed. Between 1999 and 2007 – that is under a previous right-wing Coalition government, and soon to be abandoned by the succeeding Rudd Labor government – Australian granted 11,206 TPVs. And 95 per cent of those visa holders were ultimately granted permanent protection.)

As to the right to health guaranteed by the International Covenant on Economics Social and Cultural Rights, with reference to the introduction of T.P.Vs, the Committee noted that “research shows that TPVs lead to insecurity and uncertainty of refugees which, in turn, may cause or exacerbate existing mental health problems, or cause anxiety and psychological suffering.” And the Committee sought further advice.

Concerned with the right to protection of the family, and the obligation to consider the best interest of the child, the Committee reflected on several articles of the I.C.C.P.R. and of the I.C.E.S.C.R., as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and again sought advice of the Minister as to whether the proposed introduction of T.P.Vs was compatible with the obligation to consider the ight to the protection of the family and with the best interest of the child.

Turning then to Schedule 4, and with reference to the so-called ‘fast-track assessment process’, the Committee decided to seek advice from the Minister as to whether the proposed limitation on merits review through the creation of the Immigration Assessment Authority, and thus excluding the competence of the ordinary system of courts, was compatible with Australia’s obligations under the I.C.C.P.R. and the Convention against Torture of “ensuring independent, effective and impartial review of claims to protection against non-refoulement.”

The ‘fast track assessment’ procedure constitutes a radical shift in the manner in which a large number of asylum seekers’ claims for protection will be processed.

Research has demonstrated that long periods waiting for the processing of claims can lead to mental illness. A lack of work rights combined with ongoing uncertainty is also associated with deepening mental deterioration.

Asylum seekers in the current backlog have been waiting in limbo for almost two years to have their protection claims assessed, so the opportunity to have their claims heard will be welcome for many. However, the new assessment procedure carries real risks of privileging efficiency at the expense of fairness.

‘Fast-track’ assessments are intended to apply to approximately 30,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat between August 2012 and December 2013. The procedure will allow asylum seekers to make an application for protection to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Time frames for the provision and assessment of claims will be short. Applications which are refused will be referred to a newly created Independent Assessment Authority. The Authority reviews will be conducted ‘on the papers’; only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ will the Authority accept or request new information or interview the applicant.

Some cases will be excluded from an independent merits review altogether. This includes cases where the Department assesses the claims to be ‘manifestly unfounded’, where the asylum seeker relied upon a ‘bogus document’ or had access to effective protection in another country.

The Coalition government resolved to use this procedure for a group which, as statistics show, have been overwhelmingly found to be refugees. Departmental statistics indicate that over the four years prior to 2013, an average of about 70 per cent of asylum seekers arriving by boat were determined – at first instance – to be refugees. In addition, 93 per cent of those who had their applications reconsidered following independent review were later accepted as refugees.

On Schedule 6 which was intended to deal with unauthorised maritime arrivals and new born children, the Committee was quite indignant that the Schedule “would designate children born to parents who arrived by sea after 13 August 2012 as ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals, [with] the same designation under the Migration Act as their parents.” The Committee requested to advice of the Minister as to whether such designation of children “as ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’ [was] compatible with the obligation to consider the best interests of the child and the right to acquire a nationality.”

With reference to Schedule 7 and the right of the person and freedom from arbitrary detention, the Committee emphatically noted that Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides for the right to security of the person and freedom from arbitrary detention. This includes the right of a person: to liberty and not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention; to security; to be informed of the reason for arrest and any charges; to be brought promptly before a court and tied within a reasonable period, or to be released from detention; and to challenge the lawfulness of detention. The Committee questioned that the intended legislation would meet all such guarantees, and respectfully but firmly sought advice and reassurance from the Minister.

Whether the Minister ever replied to the many, polite but firm, requests from the Committee is not known.

Morrison’s position, as far as the effect of numerous criticisms from the United Nations Committee against Torture had not changed during his administration. As recently as 29 November 2014 he would reject any warning coming from the United Nations that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers caused them physical and mental suffering , persecution and abuse. The report had found that the asylum seekers conditions were harsh condition in mandatory detention, with overcrowding, inadequate health care, and allegations of sexual abuse and ill-treatment. Morrison made it very clear that only Australia would decide its policies. He curtly said: “I don’t share their view … Australia’s border protection policies are made in Australia, nowhere else.”

Earlier that day it was revealed that 37 Sri Lankan nationals who were returned to their home country after their boat was intercepted off Cocos Island had since been arrested. One other passenger was transferred for offshore processing.

Morrison said that he was very confident that the Australian government had fulfilled its international obligations in that situation. “The screening process which we adopt … has ensured that we have acquitted our obligations as we must and as we do.” he said.

Human rights organisations had leapt on the U.N. report, saying it has condemned Australia in the eyes of the world.

“On asylum seekers, Australia is acting in absolute defiance of international law and is being condemned on the world stage for doing so” said in a statement the Director of Legal Advocacy of the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne. He had briefed the Committee in Geneva. Sending people back without thoroughly assessing their refugee claims is “fundamentally incompatible” with Australia’s obligations, he added.

The U.N. report had also identified an attempt by the Australian government to make it even easier to return people to dangerous environments, according to Amnesty International Australia. “[The main bill before Parliament would] remove any requirement to consider when denying a request for asylum whether a person will be tortured or persecuted if they are returned home.” added Amnesty International Australia.

Still, under Act 135/2914, asylum seekers imprisoned on Christmas Island would be moved to the mainland while their claim was being processed. Up to 468 children would be released from detention. About 25,000 people currently living in Australia on bridging visas would be recognised the right to work.

All these seem significant concessions, but they are decision that Morrison could have made at any time, and they are not in any way flowing from the application of the new law. In December 2014 Manus Island and Nauru were holding 2,151 refugees and asylum seekers, in detention centres which have been blighted by violence, sexual assault and suicide attempts. They would remain unaffected by the new law or by any government ‘concession’.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott saw fit to call all such misery “a win for Australia.” He triumphantly proclaimed that “We always said that three things were necessary to stop the boats – offshore processing, turning boats around and temporary protection visa and last night [5.12.2014] the final piece of policy was put in place.” Amnesty International begged to differ complaining that there was no avenue for appeal and would see refugees returned to oppressive situations. “[The new law] violates international law by removing any requirement to consider whether a person will be tortured or persecuted if returned home.” said Dr. Graham Thorn, Amnesty International Australia’s Refugee Coordinator since May 2000.

As recently as 5 December 2014 Morrison proudly announced that 12 boats have been turned back to their country of departure since December 2013, essentially denying passengers the right to seek asylum and placing those passengers at risk of refoulement. These operations were carried out in Australia’s contiguous zone and on the High Seas, in breach of Australia’s obligations under the Law of the Sea and the Refugee Convention.

They don't always get their own way (image from thechronical.com.au)

They don’t always get their own way (image from thechronical.com.au)

The only boat of asylum seekers which was not returned in this period was that of the group of 157 Sri Lankan Tamils who left India in June 2014, who later challenged their interception, detention and attempted return in the High Court. On 29 June the Australian Navy intercepted the boat and detained the passengers in windowless rooms, separated from their families, without access to lawyers, adequate food, healthcare and only two hours of daylight outside per day. For 28 days they were detained on the High Seas as Australia attempted to return them to India, until negotiations failed and they were sent to the Cocos Islands on 27 July. They were subsequently taken to Nauru detention centre, again in an attempt to avoid Australia’s obligations to these people.

The case in the High Court essentially challenges Australia’s right to extraterritorially intercept and detain people, and subsequently return them to a place where they risk harm. At the time of writing the decision was still pending in the High Court.

Act 135/2014 is aimed at reversing any decision of the High Court which may limit Australia’s extraterritorial powers in relation to interception and returns, among many other significant changes. These laws will give the Minister for Immigration extraordinary powers to intercept and detain people at sea (both within Australian waters and on the High Seas) and to transfer them to any country or even a vessel of another country that the Minister chooses, without scrutiny from either Parliament or the court, even if that country is likely to torture or persecute them on return.

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees submitted as Amicus Curiae in the 157 Tamil case: “Where people are intercepted on the High Seas and put on board a vessel of the intercepting State, the intercepting State is exercising de jure as well as de facto jurisdiction and is subject to the obligation of non-refoulement.”

But all, it seems, to no avail.

To be continued . . .

(You can access Part 1 here if you have not yet read it).

Updated 4/4/2016. Click on the links to access Part 3, and Part 4.

Dr. George Venturini has devoted sixty years to the study, practice, teaching, writing and administering of law in four continents. He is the author of eight books and about 100 articles and essays for learned periodicals and conferences. Since his ‘retirement’ Dr. Venturini has been Senior Associate in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash; he is also an Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University, Melbourne. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.


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Arise Scott Morrison, Lord Sixwords of Cronulla!

There’s little doubt that Scott Morrison is the Abbott Government’s most notorious minister. We read about him almost daily, largely about his hard-line towards asylum seekers, and given his new portfolio we await similar stories about a hard-line attitude towards welfare recipients. But apart from his regular appearances in the media we know little about him. George Venturini sheds more light on the man, taking us through a four-part series about the enigmatic Scott Morrison.

Arise Scott John Morrison, Lord Sixwords of Cronulla!

But why Sixwords? Simple: Eine Sprache, ein Gezetz, ein Kultur – translated into ‘One Language, One Law, One Culture’ for the benefit of the ‘boys of Cronulla’, Morrison’s grand electors.

Scott John Morrison, born on 13 May 1968, is a member of the Australian House of Representatives for the Liberal Party. He was elected in the 2007 for the federal Division of Cook, an electorate in the southern suburbs of Sydney, which includes Cronulla, Caringbah, Miranda and Sylvania. After the Liberal Party was elected to government at the 2013 federal election, Morrison was appointed the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

At age 46 he became the most powerful person in the Australian Government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

When on 8 December 2009 Morrison became Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship he won the accolade from the newly elected Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who referred to Morrison as “a great talent who was one of the bright new stars of the new generation of MPs.”

Five years later no other minister, not the Prime Minister himself – or his Deputy, the Foreign Minister, not the Attorney-General, reached the same unchecked control over the lives of other people. He became the only minister not answerable to anyone for his decisions – a dictator within the most Right-wing government in Australian history.

At 8.06 in the morning of 8 December 2014 the House of Representatives passed the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill, which had been approved in the early hours of the day by the Senate and returned to the House as amended, into Act 135/2014.

The Act is a very complex, lengthy piece of legislation, which restores the failed policy of temporary protection visas introduced by the Howard Government – a process which, once lifted, increased the number of boat arrivals. The resolution of “Asylum Legacy Caseload” refers to the failure by the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments to “stop the boats” – which would become one of the slogans of the Liberal/Country Party Opposition during the electoral campaign concluded with victory of the Coalition in September 2013.

“Stopping the boats” of the Orwellianish described as ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’ has been for years ‘the policy’ of both wings of what passes for a tropical rendition of the Westminster System in Australia: the Conservative Coalition and the Australian Labor Party. It was to become the ultimate step of cruelty to asylum seekers which began with the introduction in 1992 of mandatory detention of such arrivals.

In fact the new Act will go much further than what appears as a house-cleaning operation. It frees Australia from any obligations associated with the Refugee Convention and half a dozen of other international treaties or conventions to which Australia is a party – but by which it has long ceased to abide.

The Act confers upon the minister, Morrison until 21-23 December 2014 and after that his successor, and his Department of Immigration and Border Protection the power to return people to persecution, torture and possibly death; that decision is not subject to judicial review.

For all practical purposes Morrison would become and his successor will henceforth be effectively above the High Court.

How did Morrison get there?

As Nick Bryant, a former BBC correspondent from Australia, noted in The Monthly of February 2012, Scott Morrison was born and grew up in Bronte, one of the affluent eastern suburbs of Sydney, now one of the wealthiest enclaves of Australia’s richest parliamentary constituency. His family background, however, could hardly be described as part of the élite. Rather, Bryant wrote, “it was strongly Christian and communitarian.”

His father was a police commander who founded the local Boys Brigade in Bondi Junction, played rugby for the local Randwick team and was an active member of the local Returned and Services League of Australia. His mother worked in administrative positions. Outside their day jobs, Morrison’s parents ran youth programmes for the local church. His father was involved in aged care and served as a local-government councillor for 16 years.

Scott Morrison was an active member of the Uniting Church in Bondi Junction, and became “a dedicated Christian”. He is now a Pentecostal, a member of the most rapidly growing denomination in Australia. He worships at an American-style mega-church called ‘Shirelive’ in his constituency, where the ‘gospel of prosperity’ is preached in an auditorium which can accommodate over 1,000 members. With its water baptisms and designer-shirt pastors, ‘Shirelive’ has close ties with the better-known ‘Hillsong’ community. The founder of Hillsong, Harley Davidson-riding pastor Brian Houston, is one of Morrison’s mentors.

In Who’s Who Morrison lists the church as his number one hobby. The inaugural speech that he delivered on 14 February 2008 reads in part, as will be seen, like a personal testimony delivered on the last night of a church retreat. It is heavily larded with passages from Jeremiah and also from the Book of Joel: “Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Maybe there was not enough money in the family to send young Scott to one of those (too many) private schools which are designed to instil ‘the values’ of Australian society in young aspiring leaders: conformity, a ‘Christian’ education, ‘good manners’ and the feeling that a ridiculous and backward looking uniform, cadet training, a traditional tie, a fanciful head-cover, and plenty of money would ‘buy an education first’, and the entry into the better-offs later. Still, Morrison’s formal schooling was privileged: he was sent to Sydney Boys High School, one of the best in the public sector. He proceeded to the University of New South Wales, where he received an honours degree in applied science, studying economics and geography. It is there, perhaps, that young Scott established his values and aspirations in life – officially: marketing, tourism, property, politics. [Emphasis added] The Italics seem critical. The official Parliamentary page describes his occupations before entering Federal Parliament: National Manager, Policy and Research Property Council of Australia 1989-95; Deputy Chief Executive, Australian Tourism Task Force 1995-96; General Manager, Tourism Council 1996-98; Director, NZ Office of Tourism and Sport 1998-2000; State Director, Liberal Party (New South Wales) 2000-04; Managing Director, Tourism Australia 2004-06; and Principal, MSAS Pty Ltd 2006-07.

After graduation he was fortunate, despite some ‘rough seas’: while in the employ of the Tourism Task Force he found a way of jumping ship to its main rival, Tourism Council Australia. Afterwards, the Tourism Task Force changed its employment contracts to prevent others from “doing a Morrison”.

When the New Zealand government looked around to set up an Office of Tourism and Sport, it favourably considered an application by Morrison. He distinguished himself for promoting the highly acclaimed ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign, but also came under fire from the Labor Opposition for acting as a sidekick to the tourism minister who had appointed him. When his benefactor was forced to resign for corrupt practices, Morrison lost his protector. He turned that to his advantage and was able to terminate in advance his contract, at a price – in his favour of course.

In March 2000 Morrison returned to Sydney, where the Liberal Party offered him an appointment as State Director. The Liberal Party prides itself on being a ‘broad church’. It is quite possible that in Sydney Morrison came into contact with one sample of such ‘liberality’. One comes to think of one Lyenko Urbanchich, or Ljenko Urbancic. The precise name is of no importance. His activity in the Liberal Party is. Arriving in the l950s, Urbancic found his natural den in the Liberal Party in Sydney. It was he who invented ethnic branch-staking in Australia. Through that every aspect of nefarious activities took place, particularly the profound hatred for Jews which had become one of Urbancic ‘specialities’ as broadcaster of Radio Ljubljana, in that part of Yugoslavia which was occupied by Fascists and German troops.

Having joined the pro-Nazi party Zbor in early age, while at university Urbancic became a capable organiser and propagandist. In early October 1943 he wrote his first pro-Nazi article and organised the first SS-supported Home Guard volunteers – the Slovensko domobranstv, Slovene Home Guard. Domobranci Urbancic wrote for Jutro newspaper, another source of collaboration with the Fascist-German occupiers. From the very beginning of his career he had pledged his blind loyalty to General Leon (or Lav or Lev) Rupnik, Slovenia’s puppet ‘president’. At the end of the war Urbancic fled from Slovenia, was later arrested but released from British custody in 1948, and arrived in Australia as a Displaced Person in late 1950.

For over two decades he stacked Liberal branches along the eastern sea-board part of New South Wales. His control of the Liberal Ethnic Council of New South Wales, set up in 1977, was absolute. His faction was openly called ‘the Uglies’. It did not die with the death of Urbancic in 2006; on the contrary, it continued by the care of an Upper House’s member – with quiet success. The key to that is anti-Semitism – broadly defined, and most of the time discreet, whispered, nudge-nudged and wink-winked. The transfer of that prejudice was to embrace in an attitude of diffidence, in time mounting to hatred, for most people from the Middle East (in a convenient Anglo ‘definition’): ‘the Arabs’, the Turks – who won at Gallipoli, the Lebanese – often lambasted as ‘bloody Lebs’, the Iraqis attempting to take refuge after ‘the good, real-Australians’ had recently invaded and devastated their country, and of course the Israelis, and the Palestinians. So Morrison was, quietly at first, in his comfortable milieu.

Morrison presided over the organisation of the Liberal Party in New South Wales, earning the praise by future Prime Minister John Howard, who said that he had never seen the state party better organised.

In 2004 Morrison landed the position of Managing Director of the new government tourism body, Tourism Australia. The Federal Member for North Sydney, Joseph Benedict “Joe” Hockey – who since his re-election in 1998 held a number of ministerial portfolios including Small Business and Tourism, Human Services and Employment and Workplace Relations, who was later made Minister for Financial Services and Regulation, and since the return of the Coalition to government in 2013 has been Treasurer – secured for Morrison the position of Managing Director of Tourism Australia 2004-06. The salary was a not insignificant: $350,000, yearly. Morrison gained a tremendous success, in Australia, with the campaign based on the slogan “Where the bloody hell are you?” Abroad he encountered considerable troubles, particularly in England, where the adjective ‘bloody’, so commonly used in Australia, is considered ‘not kosher’ according to the advertising regulations, which incidentally had not been read and/or understood by the enthusiastic Morrison. Americans and Germans had no problem with the word. The Japanese, to whom the publicity was principally directed, did not understand a word of the slogan. As far as they were concerned the campaign flopped.

There were also problems with the board of Tourism Australia, the nine members unanimously regarding Morrison as aggressive, intimidating, arrogant, authoritarian, secretive and exclusive. The matter was settled by allowing Morrison to resign, quietly but under no uncertain pressure. The matter carried a tag of $300,000 for a ‘gentlemanly separation’.

The time was not too far for Morrison to demonstrate “through [his] actions his Christian faith and the value [his] family placed on public and community service.” and to declare, as he would in his inaugural speech in February 2008, that: “In our family it has never been what you accumulate that matters but what you contribute.”

It was probably after the ‘separation’ that Morrison turned his attention to securing a seat in the federal Parliament. He had taken up residence in the seat of Cook. The Division of Cook, an Australian electoral division in the state of New South Wales, was set up in 1969 and is named for Captain James Cook, who mapped the east coast of Australia in 1770. The division, located in the southern suburbs of Sydney, includes the suburbs of Cronulla, Caringbah, Miranda and Sylvania.

The seat was held by the mild-mannered Bruce Baird from October 1988 to November 2007. Baird had held seriatim the posts of Minister for Transport, Minister for Sydney’s Olympic Bid and Minister for Tourism between 1988 and 1995, in a New South Wales Coalition government. He had an interest in Tourist Training Australia and the Tourism Education Service. But that was the only thing that Morrison and Baird had in common. Baird along with fellow Liberal members of parliament Russell Broadbent, Petro Georgiou and Judith Moylan would actively oppose mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

In April 2007, when Baird announced that he would retire at the next election, a fierce battle over his successor ensued. One Michael Towke was initially pre-selected as the Liberal candidate, but allegations surfaced that Towke had engaged in branch-stacking and had embellished his résumé. The allegations were subsequently proven false. But the damage had been done – by careful arrangement.

The ‘Right’ and the ‘Left’ in the Liberal Party engaged in one of the most vituperative pre-selection campaigns in the State history.

Morrison was not supported by either side, Baird remained decently neutral, and Morrison – who ostensibly had remained out of the fray – finished a long way back on the first ballot, receiving just 8 votes, against 82 to Towke.

It was then, and because of the arranged allegations, that the state executive of the New South Wales Liberal Party rushed to dis-endorse Towke and to hold a new pre-selection ballot. Morrison won the seat at the election; he is the current sitting member.

Scott Morrison presented himself as a Liberal moderate in his first speech to

As Julian Burnside, a prominent Melbourne barrister and human right advocate, recently pointed out, once in government, Morrison unrelenting, programmatic cruelty to asylum seekers, “sat oddly with his avowed religious views, and his maiden speech in Parliament, delivered on February 14, 2008.

Among other things, Morrison said: “I turn now to the most significant influences on my life – my family and my faith. Family is the stuff of life and there is nothing more precious … For me, faith is personal, but the implications are social – as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message …”

He drew on the example of William Wilberforce (the great English anti-slavery campaigner). He quoted Desmond Tutu as saying: “we expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked” and was inspired to add: “These are my principles.”

It is lucky he identified his principles so clearly, because no one would be able to discover them by watching his behaviour as immigration minister.

As minister, Morrison was more concerned to ensure boat people were treated so harshly that the prospect of being locked up in Manus or Nauru would act as a “deterrent”: it had to look more alarming than the risk of dying on the sea in the attempt to reach safety. He was responsible for holding more children in detention than any previous government. He presided over a system that was calculated to humiliate, degrade, damage and break people. And, worse than all that, Morrison deceived us into thinking that all this was being done for the benefit of the Australian public.

Morrison’s conduct as immigration minister is impossible to reconcile with his stated Christian beliefs. He visited the detention centre at Manus Island on September 26, 2013, and delivered a clear message that the transferees would remain at the centre until they went home or resettled in a country other than Australia. This stands awkwardly alongside a passage from Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”, a message at the heart of the Christian teaching he claims to embrace.”

Morrison was not destined to stay on the Opposition backbench for long. The Leader of the Opposition in 2008, Malcolm Turnbull, believing that he would recognise a fellow traveller from the ‘moderate wing’ of the party, elevated him to the Shadow Ministry as the spokesman for Housing and Local Government. But it was the immigration portfolio handed to him by the new Leader, Tony Abbott, in 2009 which provided the vehicle for his rise to prominence.

Some of his colleagues have criticised such rapid move to ‘the right’ under Abbott and have accused Morrison of “supreme opportunism”. The test was not long a-coming.

In December 2010, 48 asylum seekers died while attempting to reach Christmas Island by boat. Morrison’s attitude to the event was bitterly criticised by both the government and his own party for comments he uttered after the tragedy.

On 15 February 2011 the then Shadow Immigration minister questioned the decision of the Gillard Government to pay for relatives of the dead to attend funerals in Sydney.

Afterward fellow Liberal and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey denounced Morrison’s statements, saying that that he would “never seek to deny a parent or a child from saying goodbye to their relative.” Morrison acknowledged that the timing of his comments might have been insensitive, but did not recoil from the comments themselves.

“Do you think you run the risk of being seen as heartless on the day of these funerals to be saying – to be bickering over this money?” asked ABC reporter Barbara Miller, whose report that morning was broadcast on the programme AM.

Here is what Morrison replied: “When it comes to the question of do I think this is a reasonable cost then my honest answer is, ‘No, I don’t think it is reasonable.’ ”

The Fairfax press published a column which called him a “cheap populist”, with the outburst “harmful to the national interest”.

Caught unawares and always prone to equivocation, the Leader of the Opposition gave the remarks a lukewarm endorsement during the course of an interview with a notoriously Right-wing radio station. He said: “It does seem a bit unusual that the government is flying people to funerals.” Morrison’s comments were met with condemnation from former Liberal leaders. One called the comments “inhumane”. Another expressed his hope that “Scott Morrison is just a fringe element in the party.

Morrison was actually meaning what he said – and much more. In a very short time, understanding how quickly and conveniently the Liberal Party was lurching to the extreme right, he readied himself to become the hard-Right’s poster boy. It did not matter that he would associate with the militantly illiterate loud-mouths of re-emerging Australian racism. He thought it convenient, nay dutiful, that he should speak for his electors, no matter how degrading their views.

Within the Liberal Party it was not outrage to motivate criticism of Morrison’s attitude; rather it was fear that the mouthpiece of such vileness was being too ambitious and going too fast in the quest for ‘higher duties’.

Reaction to Morrison’s utterances encouraged leaks from party proceedings. One came from a Shadow Cabinet meeting in December 2011. In Abbott’s absence, Julie Bishop had been chairing the meeting. She had opened up a discussion on which issues should be prioritised the following year. The record of the meeting showed that Morrison had asked, in an agitated fashion: “What are we going to do about multiculturalism?” The question could be interpreted either way, but then Morrison made his position clear: “What are we going to do about concerns about the number of Muslims?”

For a long time multiculturalism had been a word of contempt in Cronulla, and Morrison was assuming the position of spokesperson for the people in his electorate.

There had been sectarian clashes and violent acts in 2005 in Cronulla, and they had subsequently spread to nearby suburbs. The situation became particularly tense on 4 December 2005 when a group of volunteer surf lifesavers were offended by a group of young men of Middle Eastern appearance, with several other violent assaults occurring over the following week. These incidents were widely commented on in the Sydney media and are considered to be a key factor in a racially motivated confrontation the following weekend. Racial tension was already prevalent among the two racial groups due to the Sydney Gang Rapes of 2000, among other social incidents. The Sydney gang rapes were a series of attacks committed by a group of up to fourteen Lebanese Australian youths against real-Australian women and teenage girls, as young as 14. Described as ethnically motivated hate crimes by officials and commentators, the crimes were covered extensively by the news media, and prompted the passing of new laws which likely contributed to the degree of the escalation, even though a later review by New South Wales Police found that the initial incident was no more significant, of itself, than other fights between the two racial groups.

A crowd gathered on the morning of Sunday 11 December 2005 and, by midday, approximately 5,000 people gathered at Cronulla beach to protest against the recent spate of violence against locals. Fuelled by alcohol, the crowd turned to violence when a young man of Middle Eastern appearance was spotted on the beach. He was surrounded by a crowd outside a local hotel and attacked, along with similar attacks later that day. Retaliatory riots also took place that night and on subsequent nights, resulting in several more assaults, including one stabbing and even some attacks against ambulance and police officers, and extensive property damage.

The attacks were widely condemned by local, state and federal members of parliament, police, local community leaders, and residents of Cronulla and adjacent areas. A large number of arrests were made over the subsequent months, from both the initial riot on 11 December and the retaliatory riots held over the subsequent nights. Travel warnings for Australia were issued by some countries.

Morrison had not yet reached federal parliament.

But he was there in February 2013 when he was accused of vilifying asylum seekers with his hard-line reaction to the charging of a Sri Lankan man living in Sydney on a bridging visa with the sexual assault of a university student. He said that the police should be notified of where asylum seekers are living in the community if any anti-social behaviour has occurred, and that there should be strict guidelines for the behaviour of those currently on bridging visas while they await the determination of their claims.

Image from radioaustralia.net.au

Image from radioaustralia.net.au

The new code of conduct was released by the Immigration Minister for more than 20,000 ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ living in the community on bridging visas. Before the end of the year the government announced a new rule which requires asylum seekers who arrive by boat and are in Australia on temporary visas to sign this code of conduct. Morrison repeatedly defended the use of the term “illegal arrivals” to describe asylum seekers and he had earlier said that asylum seekers have been referred to as “illegal arrivals” who “turn up illegally” on “illegal boats”. He further said that “I’ve always referred to illegal entry” – as opposed to claiming asylum, which is legal – commenting “I’ve never claimed that it’s illegal to claim asylum.”

On 18 September 2013 Morrison launched Operation Sovereign Borders, the newly elected Coalition government strategy aimed at stopping unauthorised boats departing for or reaching Australia. The practice has been controversial as it violates, amongst others, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In February 2014 Morrison was accused of “bungling” and “desperate cover ups” over the release of information about the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati on Manus Island. Initially Morrison had claimed that Barati was outside the boundaries of the detention centre when he was killed. Morrison subsequently retracted that claim following reports confirming that Barati was in fact murdered inside the detention centre, and therefore while under his duty of care as minister of immigration.

In September 2014 another Iranian asylum seeker, Hamid Kehazaei, was pronounced brain-dead as a result of severe septicaemia, after reportedly seeking treatment on Manus Island for days. Scott Morrison’s policies and perceived negligence have been the focus of numerous protests against conditions in detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

To be continued …

Updated 4/4/2016. Click on the links to access Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Dr. George Venturini has devoted sixty years to the study, practice, teaching, writing and administering of law in four continents. He is the author of eight books and about 100 articles and essays for learned periodicals and conferences. Since his ‘retirement’ Dr. Venturini has been Senior Associate in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash; he is also an Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University, Melbourne. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.


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