My Daily Advertiser Op Ed for Tuesday 18 December 2018

by ray goodlass

Our government refuses to sign UN Migration Agreement

Last week over 150 countries signed a United Nations agreement in Morocco to help improve the way the world copes with mass migration, but without Australia as a signatory (ABC News 11th December).

The Morrison government parroted its usual claptrap that the global deal risks reversing ‘hard-won successes in combating the people-smuggling trade.

The Refugee Council of Australia and advocates have strongly rejected the government’s claim, citing the fact the compact is non-binding and has a provision stating that countries retain sovereignty over their migration programs.

Labor offered a mixed reaction to the announcement, with defence spokesman Richard Marles suggesting Labor would “work with the global community” on “migration”.

Speaking on an earlier occasion Senator Richard Di Natale, Australian Greens Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said “It has always been my belief and always will be my belief that we as a rich, prosperous, generous, compassionate nation have an obligation never to turn away people who seek our help and our protection and who seek to make their lives a little bit better”.

The Coalition refused to sign the agreement because of its stance that migration detention should only be used “as a measure of last resort” and that states should work towards alternatives, and so joining the United States, Israel and a group of Eastern European countries that have also refused.

The announcement comes after Scott Morrison signalled that Australia will reduce its migration cap from 190,000. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has also harped on about how Sydney is full and so NSW should reduce its migrant intake, a disguised admission that her government has failed to provide the infrastructure that this state needs.

The global compact aims to address migration issues in a “safe, orderly and regular” way through a “collective commitment to improving cooperation on international migration”.

The final draft includes a commitment to review legislation and policies to ensure “migrants are not detained arbitrarily, that decisions to detain are based on law, are proportionate, have a legitimate purpose, and are taken on an individual basis, in full compliance with due process and procedural safeguards, and that immigration detention is not promoted as a deterrent or used as a form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment to migrants, in accordance with international human rights law”.

It states that refugees and migrants “are entitled to the same universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, which must be respected, protected and fulfilled at all times”.

The compact nevertheless “reaffirms the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policy … in conformity with international law”.

Australia runs offshore detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru designed to deter people from coming to Australia by boat to claim asylum and turns back boats at sea, a practice the UN has said is illegal under international law and “may intentionally put lives at risk”.

In a joint statement PM Scott Morrison, home affairs minister Peter Dutton and foreign affairs minister Marise Payne said the government believed the compact is “inconsistent with our well-established policies and not in Australia’s interest”.

Predictably but without any evidence they warned the compact would “risk encouraging illegal entry to Australia and reverse Australia’s hard-won successes in combating the people-smuggling trade”.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power said the compact recognised both the rights of migrants and the right of sovereign states to set their own policy.

“In refusing to sign the compact, Australia will join a small group of governments which are each trying to appeal to or appease minority far-right political movements within their countries,” Power said.

“It is hard to see the Australian government’s decision as anything other than posturing for some political gain, as the facts do not align with the prime minister’s claims.”

Carolina Gottardo, the director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia accused the Morrison government of “misinformation” and a “political game” for having argued for stronger protections of sovereignty, only to refuse to sign the non-binding compact on the grounds it harmed sovereignty.

“The final compact is a major achievement, it is measured and constructive.

“It’s a non-binding agreement of great normative importance that does not threaten border protection or efforts to stop people smuggling.” Well put Ms Gottardo.