Julian Burnside AO QC presented the 2017 Southgate Oration on October 26th on the topic ‘How we are harming refugees. But why?’ Julian Burnside is an Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, author, and recipient of the Human Rights Law Award, Australian Peace Prize, and Sydney Peace Prize.
The very well attended oration was opened by Prof. Rob Saint as acting Vice Chancellor, Flinders University, Uncle Lewis O’Brien AO gave the Kaurna Welcome to Country, and David Pearson from the Don Dunstan Foundation gave the vote of thanks.
Julian Burnside described the harm done by the offshore detention policies of successive governments, and how indefinite detention and processes such as stripping asylum seekers of their medications severely undermined their health and wellbeing. He countered arguments on the need to prevent drownings, and that people who arrive by boat are terrorism risks, and criticised the role of high court decisions in allowing indefinite detention of “people who have done nothing wrong.”
He noted other nations and regions that were much more welcoming recipients of refugees, such as Lesbos and Jordan, and queried why the Australian political environment prevented the potential to view asylum seekers as human beings needing our help, citing a politician who remarked to him that “it would be political suicide to take a soft line on boat people.”
After a question from the audience about how Australia’s approach to refugee and asylum seeker policy could be changed and what they could do to contribute to this, Julian acknowledged the complexity and difficulty of this task, but finished with a Winston Churchill quote to “Never, never, never give up”.
After the oration, Julian met with the Southgate Executive group, and Southgate researchers who, led by A/Prof. Anna Ziersch , are conducting research on the social determinants of health and wellbeing of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants. Click here to view this research page
The presentation was live streamed and could be viewed here.