Advocating against 20 years of shameful asylum policy in Australia

It’s hard to believe that just over 20 years ago, the ASRC first opened its doors. But this year also marks another 20th anniversary and a pivotal moment in refugee and asylum policy in Australia.

On August 26th 2001, the MV Tampa a Norwegian cargo ship, answered a call from the Australian Coast Guard and rescued a small Indonesian fishing boat carrying 438 people seeking asylum, including pregnant women. Arne Rhinnan, the Tampa’s captain, informed the Coast Guard he intended to take the rescuees to Christmas Island (four hours away). 

However, hours later the Department of Immigration called Rhinnan and told him the Tampa was not to enter Australian waters and if he did, Rhinnan faced possible imprisonment and fines of up to $110,000.

After days at sea, the survivors were eventually forcibly removed to Nauru.

It was in the aftermath of the Tampa incident that Australia introduced the boat turnback policy, hardening asylum policy, with prime minister John Howard announcing in September that ‘we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’.

The ASRC has spent the past 20 years advocating to undo the harsh, punitive and deterrence-based asylum policy that was rooted in the events of August 2001. We never imagined 20 years after the Tampa Affair that our advocacy would be needed now more than ever and the pivotal role the ASRC would need to play in seeking law reform and policy change.

This week advocating for change

In the past week alone, we have put in a submission opposing the Government’s ‘Consistent Waiting Period for New Migrants’ bill which would introduce a discriminatory system where some in our society can access a safety net and others can’t simply due to their visa. We’ve also led a press release and joint statement opposing 3 bills before Parliament that would have a significant negative impact on people seeking asylum and refugees. Two of these three bills are listed for possible debate and vote this week.

Parliament resumes sitting this week after a winter recess and we are busy lobbying for;

  • the release from detention of all medevac refugees 
  • fairer processing for those in the community subject to the current Fast Track visa blitz
  • permanent pathways and family reunion for refugees currently living in limbo on Temporary Protection/Safe Haven Enterprise Visas
  • durable solutions and resettlement for those still stuck on Nauru and Papua New Guinea

Hands Off Our Charities 

Being fierce advocates is at the heart of what we do at the ASRC and now even that is under attack. We’ve joined forces with Hands Off Our Charities (HOOC) alliance made up of charity and civil society across the country to fight against the new regulations that could see charities deregistered for engaging in advocacy activities.

Draconian new federal regulations to be introduced this week will mean charities can be deregistered if anyone connected to them is involved in even the most minor of offences – for example, for blocking a footpath at a public vigil. The regulations could even see charities deregistered for unintentional acts.

And what’s more, they could be deregistered for things they haven’t even done yet but that the Charities Commissioner ‘reasonably believes’ they could do in the future. 

The laws are a case of extreme overreach, and an attack on our democracy. They weaken our ability to hold the government accountable, and undermine our national values of free speech and fairness.

Attending, organising and promoting rallies and events is a core part of our advocacy, which could be under threat if the new regulations pass. We are opposed to these changes and are furiously lobbying for the regulation to be disallowed by Parliament, and are supporting multiple calling parties to link people to their local MP to voice their concerns.

Join our next calling party now – and tell the Government to keep their hands off our charities

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