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Human Rights Over Board


Would you be outraged if you were told about a country that imprisoned people indefinitely without trial and without charge? I hope so?

What if that country was Australia?

Our high court ruled that a stateless man could be held in mandatory detention indefinitely because the only legal ways out were be granted a visa or be deported. He failed to get a visa but had no country to which he could return.

His is only one case in an exhausting litany of injustices in this book dedicated to the hundreds of people who died while seeking to escape persecution and death.

The sad comparison is they were held longer, in worse conditions than if they had been locals committing armed robbery or assault.

Human Rights Over Board is important but not an easy read. This report by the heads of the schools of social work details the human cost of the practice of mandatory detention of refugees from the infamous children overboard incident through the Cornelia Rau scandal.

Human Rights Over Board suggests changes but cannot adequately answer why these evils happened in a country that "believes in the fair go."

Human rights alone are not enough without grace, decency and honesty. In this shameful period of our history we let fear of a perceived threat led us to act gracelessly to people running in fear of their lives.

This gracelessness was compounded by bureaucratic legalism, where ordinary people inflexibly enforced rules with little competence, accountability or decency.

Then our leadership encouraged and dismissed this further committing the too common organisational sin – revising the truth.

Calling razor wire, walls and guards "detention" doesn’t stop it being a prison.

Some days it is easy to be proud to be an Australian – pondering the content of Human Rights Over Board, today is not one of them.

Rob Brennan is minister with the Banora Point Congregation on the Queensland/NSW boarder.