Moral Courage Absent in Government Response

13 April 2006

The Uniting Church in Australia today criticised Cabinet's decision to process asylum seekers offshore and tighten maritime surveillance, labelling it an act of moral abandonment and a decline in Australia's commitment to human rights.

Uniting Church President, the Rev. Dr. Dean Drayton said the decision lacked moral courage and showed the Government was willing to allow human decency to drop off the political agenda.

"This decision shows the Government's commitment to human rights will now run, at best, a poor second to foreign policy considerations.

"Asylum seekers do not risk their lives and flee their homes for no reason. They flee because they are being persecuted and fearful of such human rights abuses as torture, unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping or death. Many flee because they have already experienced atrocities or have seen family members disappear or be killed."

Rev. Drayton said the Uniting Church was appalled at reports the Government may allow foreign countries to provide advice to Australian officials processing asylum claims because it is counter to the spirit of fair and independent assessment processes laid down by the United Nations Convention on Refugees.

"We are appalled that the Government is willing to take advice from other governments rather than exercise its own moral leadership.

"What country anywhere in the world would openly admit human rights or other abuses against its citizens if asked to provide advice or a report to Australian Government officials?"

Rev. Drayton said the Uniting Church was also concerned at the apparent targeting of particular asylum seekers and moves to deny them the right to seek protection in Australia under Australian law.

"Moves to process asylum seekers in offshore centres severely reduces accountability and limits access for NGOs and churches, who currently provide valuable advocacy and welfare services to asylum seekers. It will also limit the appeals process available to asylum seekers whose initial claims are rejected.

"The Government has previously used the secondary movement of asylum seekers as the main reason for refusing to process claims onshore. This has now been proven a farce. Anyone coming directly to Australia, like the recent West Papuan asylum seekers, will now be processed offshore.

"To deport people offshore and refuse to process them under Australian law is a breach of our International Obligations and potentially a breach of Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that every person has the right to seek asylum in another country. What the Government is doing is refusing anyone the right to land in Australia, claim asylum in Australia and be processed under Australian law.

"It is a sad day for Australia when its Government shelves our commitment to uphold the basic human rights of all people. The Uniting Church looks forward to the day when the Government re-discovers some moral courage and puts human rights and human decency ahead of political expediency," Rev. Drayton said.