Commission president champions people power Reply

by Pasko Vrbat

Behind the wire, a recreation yard at Villawood Detention Centre: 10,000 asylum seekers are being held indefinitely in Australian detention centres. Picture credit: M

Behind the wire, a recreation yard at Villawood Detention Centre: 10,000 asylum seekers are being held indefinitely in Australian detention centres.
Picture credit: M

Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, has urged Australians to speak up for asylum seekers. Before 200 people at St Scholastica’s College in Sydney recently, Professor Triggs argued that the Federal Government’s policy on illegal asylum seekers had to change.

“We’re years beyond standard practice in what are comparable jurisdictions,” she said. “No other country has this policy.”

According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the detention of individuals without charge or trial by a tribunal is illegal, yet about 10,000 asylum seekers are being held indefinitely in Australian detention centres.

Professor Triggs said such detention is “antithetical to the Australian spirit” and that, during her recent visit to Villawood detention centre, it was “really heartbreaking” to see Sri Lankan boys subjected to security checks before they attended a nearby school.

She said the only way to resolve the issue is to establish an impartial tribunal that will authorise the release of asylum seekers who are not viewed as a threat to the community.

Currently, such decisions are the prerogative of Government ministers.

However, Professor Triggs acknowledged that the Commission could not force the Government to adopt its recommendations.

To overcome this obstacle, she encouraged the public to write to their local members of Parliament and their local newspapers about the issue.

“We have to speak up to our political leaders,” she said. “We have to get ourselves into the public arena. All over Australia, groups are saying ‘enough’.”

Sister Elizabeth Murray, a member of the religious congregation Good Samaritan Sisters, emphasised that a “doable humanitarian solution” could only be effected by a Government with a conscience.

“What’s needed is leadership with integrity,” she said.

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