Julian Burnside: Now is the time to stand up for justice
We need to face the fact that we are being cruel, selfish and dishonest, and the rest of the world sees it.
Our treatment of asylum seekers is unjust. Like many people, I am profoundly concerned about Justice. Campaigning for the just treatment of boat people has had strange consequences, including death threats and hate mail. I am liked by some people, and loathed by others because I stand up for decent treatment of refugees. It is an uncomfortable thing to be publicly vilified.
At a glamorous social function, the wife of a very senior and respected colleague sidled up to me and asked:
“Do you think it appropriate that a member of the bar speaks publicly about these matters?”
I answered, with more wit than preparation:
“Do you think it appropriate to know about these matters and remain silent?”
There the conversation ended.
Australians don’t usually get noticed by overseas media, unless it concerns sport.
But a recent exception to that was a favourable piece by Katie Hopkins, in an article published in the London Sun. Her admiration of Australia’s refugee policies looked less flattering when she described boat people as “vermin” and “cockroaches”. Presumably someone forgot to remind her that they are human beings.
The British Medical Journal recently published an article titled “Refugees: time for moral leadership from the Western democracies”. Its subheading was “Australia sets a disgraceful example in its treatment of refugees”.
It is a striking thing for Australia’s refugee policy to attract such sharp commentary in an international journal of such high standing.