Allan Asher is the former Commonwealth Ombudsman and an outspoken advocate for the rights of asylum seekers. He also recently participated in SBS’ hit show “Go Back to Where You Came From”. We were fortunate enough to host him at our annual conference on 20 July this year and have posted two videos below.
In this 6 minute Q&A video, Mr Asher gives a combative interview where he discusses the current debate about deaths at sea and the benefits of community detention. He also discusses attitudinal problems in the Department of Immigration and where the Labor Party’s policy on asylum seekers all went wrong.
When asked about those who are trying to prevent more deaths of asylum seekers at sea, Mr Asher said that they were motivated by making the problem go away, rather than fixing it. “It seems to me that those who don’t want boats coming here because they might sink don’t really give a damn if they sink somewhere else”, he said. He also took aim at the Department of Immigration, saying “I understand that recently there are lots of manifestations of the same old attitudes reemerging, and without any adequate supervision by the office of the Ombudsman there’s going to be nothing to stop the arbitrary use and abuse of the power that that agency has”.
This longer piece is the full video of his talk at the conference, entitled “People just like us; human rights for asylum seekers!”
Abstract: It is seven years since the release of a scathing report which found systemic weaknesses and deep-seated cultural and attitudinal problems among the staff of the Immigration Department. The Minister, Senator Vanstone announced that the Commonwealth Ombudsman would have a strengthened role in immigration and detention matters.
Three years later another Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, announced a Cabinet decision aimed at restoring integrity to Australia’s immigration system. This new policy was based on a rejection of the notion that dehumanising and punishing unauthorised arrivals with long-term detention acted as a deterrent. Henceforth the Immigration Ombudsman would be asked to review the cases of everyone in detention for more than six months. Children, including juvenile crew members of asylum boats would no longer be kept in detention centres, indefinite or arbitrary detention was ruled not acceptable, confinement to detention centres of anyone was to be used as a last resort and for the shortest practical time and people in detention were to be treated fairly and reasonably, ensuring the inherent dignity of the human person.
This paper sets out the experiences of an Immigration Ombudsman who mistakenly believed that the government was genuine in its commitment to the compassionate and tolerant treatment of asylum seekers and to the honouring of our international treaty obligations.
Mr Asher’s paper is available here.