The Howard government is responsible for many appalling pieces of legislation such as anti-terror laws and the like, but its creation of a two tier system for asylum seekers is particularly egregious.

As Federal Immigration Minister Chris Evans has found out today after he received legal advice on the matter, if a person seeking asylum is apprehended in an area which has been excised from the Australian jurisdiction, then they will be detained on Christmas Island and must be assessed by Immigration officials before they can make a claim for asylum. They have no recourse to the Australian courts. But if a person reaches the Australian mainland or an area in Australia’s territorial waters which is not excised, then they can be released into the community and make their claim for asylum.

The result of course is that members of one family, people who have been persecuted because they are from the same tribe or village or religious persuasion are treated differently depending on where they are apprehended. It is patently unfair.

The Howard government arbitrarily excised large chunks of Australian territory a few years ago as part of its futile strategy of wanting to create a Fortress Australia. Islands, installations such as oil rigs and waters off the Western Australian, Northern Territory, and Queensland were made, at the stroke of the pen of the architect of Australia’s hardline stance against humane treatment of desperate people, Philip Ruddock,

What if asylum seekers somehow made it to Tasmania? It would no longer be a state of the Commonwealth under this policy.

Excising areas from jurisdiction is a dangerous game and one that lessens Australia’s ability to argue in international fora against other countries that play similar games in border areas so that they can strip political and ethnic opponents of their rights and declare them to be illegal settlers or non-citizens and therefore not have to accord them due process.

The Rudd government should reinstate these areas for that reason alone, but also because it creates a very unfair two tier system for individuals who, compassion and justice necessitates that they be kept together as much as possible and treated equally.

But don’t expect the Liberal Party to rethink its policy on excision of areas to strip people of their human rights. The Liberals, with notable and brave exceptions, cannot get their heads and hearts around the “c” word: compassion.

We have the former Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews today bizarrely calling for Afghan asylum seekers to be repatriated to their home country — presumably to be shot on sight. Andrews seems bereft of any understanding of due process and humanity.

In the Haneef case he undermined a magistrates decision to grant bail by having the man detained under migration law. Then last year he played the race card in wrongly suggesting that African migrants were troublemakers.

Now he wants Rudd to suck up to the useless and corrupt Karzai government in Afghanistan and send back asylum seekers to what is acknowledged by the American and other armed forces in that country to be a rapidly deteriorating security situation.

Peter Fray

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