An Open letter from over 200 Australian Academics with concerns about treatment of Asylum Seekers – and proposed solutions

21 07 2012

The weblink for this letter is available at the bottom of this posting.


We are academics who have serious concerns about the protection of asylum seekers under the proposed legislation presented to Federal Parliament in the week prior to the winter break. The undersigned represent a substantial proportion of Australia’s leading experts in refugee and asylum seeker research. The strength of our concern is indicated by this unusual cross-disciplinary alliance and our wish to express our views.

The two major political parties claim that the most effective solution is to ‘stop the boats’. However, stopping boats of asylum seekers reaching Australia (if that is even possible) does nothing to address the reasons why people flee persecution in their own countries. Neither does it address the needs of asylum seekers to find a durable solution elsewhere. We argue, therefore, that none of the solutions proposed by either major political party is in fact a solution.

Reasons for our opposition are outlined below. We would prefer a different approach to this issue with a focus on protection to provide durable solutions for asylum seekers and refugees in the region. Refugees must have viable alternatives to jumping on boats; we outline these alternatives at the end of this letter.

Four “solutions” to the “problem” of asylum seekers arriving by boat have been suggested by the two major political parties. All of them fail to address the needs of asylum seekers and undermine Australia’s obligation to implement its responsibilities under the UN Refugee Convention in good faith. Furthermore, they are unlikely to be successful.

The proposed policies and reasons for our opposition

Returning boats to Indonesia. Experience with this policy under the Howard government showed how dangerous it was for both asylum seekers and Australian Navy personnel. Many lives were put at risk; for example, according to a Four Corners report, when SIEV 7 was returned to Indonesian waters in 2001, three men disappeared, presumed drowned, while trying to swim ashore from their stricken boat. There is also the question of incompatibility of the policy with the obligation to rescue those whose lives are imperilled at sea. Furthermore, Indonesia has indicated that it will not accept the towing back of asylum seeker boats to its shores and former Defence Force chief Admiral Chris Barrie has serious reservations about the proposed policy. In short, he does not believe that it will work.

Temporary protection visas. Refugees granted temporary protection visas under the Howard government were precluded from applying for family reunion. Thus, rather than deterring asylum seekers from taking boat journeys to Australia, evidence indicates that these visas encouraged many women and children to do so. For example, most of 353 asylum seekers who died in 2001 when the vessel SIEV X sank en route to Australia were women and children; many of whom had husbands or fathers on temporary protection visas in Australia. Furthermore, those of us who engage with refugees from that era have ample evidence of the mental harms done to individuals because of temporary protection visas; some persisting to the present day.

The Pacific Solution. 1,231 asylum seekers were detained on Nauru under the Howard government; many for a period of years. 484 were eventually resettled in Australia and 274 were resettled in other countries, all either as refugees or on other humanitarian grounds. 473 were returned to their countries of origin, mostly to Afghanistan. Evidence suggests that many of those returned to their country of origin fled soon after they arrived as it was still unsafe for them. Some of these asylum seekers have since returned to Australia and have now been accepted as refugees. Finally, the evidence is clear that asylum seekers (including many children) are being harmed psychologically, particularly when they spend a long time in offshore facilities.

The Malaysian Solution. Refugees’ human rights cannot be adequately protected through this scheme. Malaysia is not a party to the Refugee Convention and does not protect the rights of refugees in practice. For example, refugees have no guarantee that they will not be returned to their countries of origin to face further persecution. If Australia sends asylum seekers to Malaysia without first assessing their refugee claims, it may breach the core prohibitions against refoulement in the Refugee Convention and the Convention against Torture. It would also demonstrate a lack of good faith in the implementation of Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention and other core human rights treaties.

We propose the following:
1. Australia should implement its UN Refugee Convention obligations in good faith by processing those asylum seekers who come to Australia and seek protection. We should not shift them to other countries. We cannot encourage other nations to respect the Convention if we blatantly disregard it ourselves. Seeking to move asylum seekers to other countries may achieve short-term domestic political gain, but it will undermine Australia’s efforts to develop a viable regional framework, as it reinforces regional perceptions that Australia is interested in exporting its refugee ‘problem’ rather than collaborating in a genuine multilateral process.

2. Australia should immediately increase its yearly humanitarian intake to 25,000 and resettle refugees from both Indonesia and Malaysia. It should consult with UNHCR to make protection available to asylum seekers who would otherwise seek their own solutions. This should include refugees already en route (that is, in Indonesia and Malaysia) as well as UNHCR priority groups in other countries.

3. Applications should be promptly assessed by the UNHCR in Indonesia and Malaysia so that refugees have viable alternatives to jumping on boats. The more people who do not need to jump on boats, the less deaths there will be at sea. The UNHCR needs to be given more funding by Australia to achieve this. Alternatively, Australia could process asylum seekers in Indonesia themselves and then transport the refugees safely to Australia.

4. Australia should bring an end to the mandatory detention policy and – after health and security checks – allow all asylum seekers to live in the community while their refugee claims are processed. This would follow the Labor Government’s recent initiative of offering bridging visas and community detention to asylum seekers not considered a risk to the community. Legislation should be adopted to enshrine this policy and to ensure that detention is used as a last resort and is not of indefinite duration.

5. There should be judicial oversight in cases where long-term detention is sought. To give but one example, there are over 50 (primarily Tamil) refugees in indefinite detention who have been found to be refugees but have also been assessed to be security risks. This is in part because of a lack of judicial oversight; these refugees are not even aware of the allegations made against them.

To conclude, we believe that any policy should preserve rather than compromise the human rights of asylum seekers – including their right to seek asylum. We need humanitarian policy responses that share responsibility rather than shift the burden.


This is already a very long post, so I have taken off the names of the academics. The names, their positions and University affiliations can be found at this web address , which is also the source of the letter.

Please share this letter. We need some rational and compassionate debate to take the place of the shameful political point-scoring we have seen for at least the last ten years.

People are dying.

(bolding in the article is mine to aid readability)

The saga of #qantasluxury

23 11 2011

photo credit Simon sees

I am always fascinated by how new media (Facebook, Twitter etc) is driving old media (newspapers, television and radio news) these days. And none has been as entertaining as the saga of the Qantas Luxury hashtag. This has been a massive PR fail for Qantas. And I love a good PR Fail. No-one does a PR fail on the same scale as Qantas.

A quick recap for those who may have been living under a rock over the past few months.

Qantas is in dispute with a number of unions over wage and job security negotiations. Basically the Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says that for Qantas to be competitive in the international marketplace they need to take jobs off-shore and they need wage rates that are more like those in other countries (specifically Asian countries) rather than the Australian wage rates currently enjoyed by staff. He may be right, but awarding himself a 71% pay rise (no that is not a typo) to a package of around $5million whilst crying poor for the airline was not a great PR move.

A quote from Twitter:
Captain PIREP: #qantasluxury @QantasAirways – the 5 Million Dollar Man is the luxury QANTAS can not afford.

However, a few days after receiving the pay rise he then unexpectedly grounded the entire airline citing “safety reasons”. National bad press aimed at the annoyance caused by staff and unions became instead worldwide condemnation in international media aimed at Qantas. Hard to see a win here. Rumours circulated that Qantas’ cheaper sister airline, Jetstar, had received a memo three days earlier informing them that this was going to happen. This did not improve the press.

As a result of the shut-down, the Australian Government decided to step in and refer the industrial dispute to the Industrial Relations Commission for resolution, demanding that Qantas get its planes back in the air. After seeking clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority (which wanted assurances that the airline which formerly cited safety concerns, was now miraculously OK to fly), they were back in business – CEO Alan Joyce blamed the unions for the inconvenience, an excuse which seemed like avoiding an apology. The Industrial Relations Commission gave the parties 21 days to find a resolution and outlawed any further strikes and industrial action by the staff and unions. Presumably that was the outcome Alan Joyce had been seeking in his high-price game of brinkmanship. (Meanwhile in the US, a Harvard University student called Alan Joyce was inundated by tweets from irate Qantas passengers, and dealt with them with humour and patience. Qantas could learn something here.)

My previous posting on this saga is here.

So now for the update. Unsurprisingly, they did not manage to come to an agreement within 21 days, and the dispute is back in front of the Industrial Relations Commission who will make a decision. Potentially not a win for either party.

However, Qantas, realising it has created its own massively negative PR campaign, has taken steps to improve its image in Twitter-land. It launched a competition using the hashtag “Qantasluxury””

QantasAirways: To enter tell us ‘What is your dream luxury inflight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include #QantasLuxury. TCs

Prizes were Qantas PJs and a toothbrush. (Note to Qantas – Singapore Airlines give away toothbrushes and bedsocks with every flight) This less than a month after they inconvenienced passengers all over the world.

Hmmmm…..well, tweeters didn’t really need to be encouraged to be creative! This is now the number one trending hashtag in Australia, and not in the way Qantas had hoped. Tweeters have used their creativity and come up with a remarkably wide range of mocking tweets, videos, articles and other ephemera, as well as airing every gripe, complaint and annoyance they may have ever had about Qantas.

John Dean : I want some tips from the social media coordinator of Qantas because that #QantasLuxury tag is booming.

Tommy__MTommy :RT @prebenvision: #QantasLuxury using a platform they have absolutely no knowledge of for promotional purposes and have it blow up in…

One of the most amusing (and popular) is this one:

And of course, the massive FAIL of the #Qantasluxury campaign has reached mainstream media. Part of the issue (apart from the pathetic prizes, lack of acknowledgement about recent issues and the impact they have had on their customers) is the timing. Again, this was pulled out within days of the Qantas pay dispute being referred back to the Industrial Relations tribunal, just over three weeks after they decided to ground the airline worldwide without giving passengers any notice. Someone at Qantas has a seriously poor sense of timing.

Danae Sinclair :#qantasluxury doesn’t look like a hash tag #fail to me – too much amusement & discussion to be considered anything but a #win – for us.

71% payrise for CEO = entire airline grounded worldwide inconveniencing millions of passengers
failure to reach agreement with unions and referred back to Industrial Relations Tribunal = competition talking about the “luxury” of Qantas with (trivial) PJs as a prize.

Is there any way to pull this one back from the brink? Is there some way for Qantas to fix this? The hashtag is out there now and can’t be retrieved. It has a life of its own, being shared among Tweeters who are keeping it going. Would having a decent prize help? Would some sort of apology help? Would the resolution of the pay dispute (without screwing the Australian workers) help?

Maybe something like Air New Zealand’s flashmob safety demonstration could help:

Note to Qantas – Air New Zealand were CREATIVE, AMUSING, SELF-MOCKING……and they gave away FLIGHTS! There are a whole series of these videos on their Youtube channel.

So, back to Qantas. Maybe only time will help. But they need some better PR advice.

Newsflash: maybe this is the solution Qantas are looking for – a new scandal not involving them:
klixplus (Adam McKinnon) : Did Allan Joyce pay Kyle Sandilands to take some twitter heat off #QantasLuxury ? If he did it maybe his first smart move for Qantas!

UPDATE: 23/11/11 1751: Police have suspended investigations into alleged death threats against Qantas Management. Alan Joyce and other senior Qantas management claimed that they had death threats made against them in May this year, and again in October. Mr Joyce alleged this was related to the wage dispute, saying, “Those who are in the business of using threats, violence and intimidation to obtain their industrial ends should know this: these tactics are cowardly and deplorable. They will not work. Anyone who is caught will face the full consequences.”

Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said the union had believed the decision was a stunt from the beginning and claimed the police decision confirmed this. “It is a disgraceful diversion of police resources,” he said. “The truth is now out. The next issue is for the truth to come out on the dodgy claim that Alan Joyce only decided to shut down the aviation industry on October 29. That’s where the real investigation is needed.”

For the full story, click here.