CRISPIN HULL: Australia losing respect when it comes to refugees

By Crispin Hull

Published Friday 20 May 2016

CONSERVATIVES should be just as concerned as liberals over the recent erosion of the rule of law in Australia.

By the rule of law, I don’t just mean obedience to the laws passed by Parliament, but a range of principles upon which human liberty is dependent.

Australia is now a party to the illegal detention of 900 refugees on Manus Island. The fact they are now allowed out of the detention centre during the day does not change that. Nor does the assertion that because the refugees are the PNG they are PNG’s responsibility.

Australia is paying for the detention centre and Australia is asserting control over the refugees by purporting to deny any of them the chance to go the New Zealand. Australia can’t have it both ways.

PNG says it will not let anyone leave Manus Island without agreeing to be resettled in PNG.

Detaining people indefinitely on an island or, as is proposed, forcibly removing them to Nauru, is a breach of the rule of law, even if they are not citizens.

The PNG Supreme Court has ruled that the detention of the refugees is contrary to the PNG Constitution which prohibits detention of a person (citizen or not) people who has not been charged with an offence or sought to enter the country without authority.

These refugees did not enter PNG without authority.

Australia cannot plead that it has to detain these people as a deterrent to people smuggling. Again, it is a breach of the principles of the rule of law under which you cannot have an ulterior motive to detain people.

However important it is to deal with people smuggling, it should be an irrelevant consideration in how we deal with the Manus Island and Nauru refugees.

Australia is losing or has lost respect among countries that have traditions of upholding the rule of law over this.

We need to sit down with Indonesia and work out a sensible arrangement that will enable us to treat the people on Manus and Nauru humanely by bringing them to Australia and New Zealand without encouraging people smuggling.

The deal would be that anyone coming to Australia by boat without a visa would be sent back to Indonesia and never be considered for settlement in Australia and we would take an equivalent number or more of refugees from Indonesia.

That should be sufficient to deter people from engaging with people smugglers.

PNG and Nauru should not be options.