Asylum seekers:

H S Mackenzie writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. Crikey‘s editorial opined that Tony Abbott “refused to back down from his description of asylum seekers as ‘illegals’, which every legal mind in the country disputes”. It referred to Barrie Cassidy’s article in The Drum in which Cassidy claimed that Abbott was “wrong in domestic and in international law. The Migration Act 1958 allows for those seeking asylum to enter Australia, with or without visas. The same situation is covered by the United Nations Refugee Convention, of which Australia is a signatory.”

Cassidy in turn quoted Jon Faine in an interview with Abbott as saying, “They’re not illegal. Tony Abbott, do I need to remind you that the use of words in this is critical? They are not illegal arrivals.”

Crikey, Cassidy, Faine and everyone else who repeats these claims, no matter how worthy their motives, are wrong.

It is unlawful for a person to enter Australia without a visa even for the purpose of claiming asylum. The Migration Act 1958 says at section 228B “a non-citizen has, at a particular time, no lawful right to come to Australia if, at that time … the non-citizen does not hold a visa that is in effect”. It goes on to say at subsection (2), “To avoid doubt, a reference in subsection (1) to a non-citizen includes a reference to a non-citizen seeking protection or asylum (however described), whether or not Australia has, or may have, protection obligations in respect of the non-citizen (a) under the Refugees Convention as amended by the Refugees Protocol; or (b) for any other reason.”

The Refugees Convention does not override this. Nowhere in the Convention is there provided a right to seek asylum. (Rather this right is found at Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). The Refugees Convention as amended details how signatory countries are to treat refugees (and the responsibilities of refugees). It does not contain any provision that asylum seekers are not subject to national migration laws.

In fact the Convention’s Article 31 “Refugees unlawfully in the country of refuge,” makes explicit that being a genuine refugee in need of protection does not of itself give you a right of legal entry to the country in which asylum is being sought. Article 31 does however require signatory nations to treat refugees who arrived illegally in the same way as refugees who arrived legally.

I understand that anti-refugee spokespeople use the word “illegal” to make it seem like arrivals by boat should have less rights than refugees who arrived legally or that they deserve punishment.  But trying to combat that intention is no excuse for continuing to repeat false claims. Surely a better and certainly more accurate and truthful approach to people like Abbott would be merely to repeat Article 31 to them, to tell them, again and again if necessary, that Australia “shall not impose penalties on account of their illegal entry …”

The economy:

John Richardson writes: Re. “Mining bust? Seven questions for the RBA” (yesterday, item 18). Stephen Koukoulas seems to think that the corruption scandal that has enveloped the Reserve Bank should be viewed as little more than an irritating distraction compared to Glenn Stevens’ views on the economy at tomorrow’s meeting of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics.

Only last week, Bernard Keane similarly posited that Julia Gillard’s standing as Prime Minister should be judged on her policy credentials, without bothering about questions that go to her honesty and integrity.

Some might argue that the honesty and integrity of those entrusted to hold the levers that control the operation of our “system”, whether they concern matters economic or political, is the most critical factor to our having confidence in its workings. Without such “confidence”, surely nothing could function.

If Stephen and Bernard have become inured to the constant stream of scandals that have cluttered the global landscape in recent times (WMD, AWB, GFC & now Libor), I’d remind them of the behaviour of the world’s “big three” credit ratings agencies, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings, when they attempted to escape their criminal culpability for the GFC by claiming that their ratings were just “opinions” and not based on any objective risk assessments.

I for one would argue that Glenn Stevens’ integrity is the only issue that should be front of mind right now. Without that, surely his views aren’t anything more valuable than an “opinion” either?