A group of former parliamentarians and academics gathered in Melbourne earlier this week to launch a paper entitled “Why Accountability Must Be Renewed”.

“Australian citizens are increasingly denied effective democratic control over action taken on their behalf by governments of all political persuasions at Commonwealth, state and territory levels,” the authors say. “The failure of present day parliaments to hold governments to account for the actions they take on behalf of ordinary citizens demands radical reforms. Instances of ministers and governments thumbing their noses at the community are legion; examples need not be listed here as readers will relate to many cases in those areas which particularly concern them.”

All of which makes Petro Georgiou’s speech on the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill yesterday even more impressive:

I do not disclaim responsibility for the measures adopted by the Howard government. Whatever my reservations at the time, I voted for them. The rationales for harshness, however, have been undermined in recent years. The overwhelming majority of asylum seekers have been found to be legitimate refugees. A combination of factors has led largely to unauthorised arrivals ceasing. The disturbing consequences of the mandatory detention regime became more apparent. It was recognised that vulnerable children, women and men had been harmed, that they had been physically and mentally damaged. It became transparent that people who had committed no crime were being detained for years with no certainty of them ever being released. The fact that the policy itself was open to abuse progressively became exposed. Revelations about the treatment of Cornelia Rau shocked us all. Other revelations have continued to shock us.

Georgiou calls the legislation “the most profoundly disturbing piece of legislation I have encountered since becoming a member of parliament”.

What’s happened to accountability is pretty disturbing, too. It’s interesting that the Minister behind the Migration Amendment Bill, Amanda Vanstone, is one of the worst offenders for skipping scrutiny and passing the buck.

Interesting how the two go together.

Peter Fray

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