Thursday, 6 March 2014

Dear Prime Minister, do you mind if I respectfully call you Tony?

A letter to our PM, Hon Tony Abbott MP --- the original will follow by post

Dear Prime Minister,

Re: I am not proud to be Australian today
the rule of law, the UDHR and refugees


I would like to address you personally in this correspondence. Do you mind if I respectfully call you ‘Tony’?

My name is Mary Ryan. I am a solicitor practicing property law in the State of Victoria.

I recently moved for the admission for my friend to become a Legal Practitioner in Supreme Court of Victoria. During the admission ceremony the Honourable Chief Justice Warren gave a speech welcoming the new lawyers. She spoke about the rule of law[1] and our legal system and she spoke of the ideals that make our country great. It was a moving speech. It reminded me of the reasons I became a lawyer to begin with and during her delivery I choked up a little. In that moment I felt proud to be an Australian.

Tony, I’m sorry to report those feelings of pride did not last long. I left the courtroom that day in my robes and my wig and contemplated how, in theory, the rule of law is such a magnificent ideal, but in reality its application has less and less meaning to me as I continue to follow the news.

Tony, I’m talking about the current asylum seeker situation, specifically in relation to Nauru, and also Manus Island. It’s the reason I write to you.

I feel our current Government is not honouring the rule of law. I feel our current Government is not acting consistently with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR).

I request some of your time, your patience and I implore you (with wide eyed sincerity) to read on.

On 10 December 1948 the Australian Government by General Assembly ratified the UDHR. I acknowledge the UDHR may not create legally binding laws on you personally, but it does ratify the values upon which this country was founded and the values upon how this country bumbles along. It influences the baseline for the types of laws your Government passes.

When was the last time you sat down and read the UDHR, Tony?

I draw your attention to, in particular, Articles 1, 9 and 14(1).

Article 1
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

-and-

Article 9
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

-and-

Article 14(1)
“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

For context, I am gently imploring you with utmost respect here. I’m not out for your blood. Please take a moment to reflect on those ideals, Tony.

Now consider some of the issues in the current spotlight:

- Your election campaign focussed a great deal of attention on “sending the boats home”,

- Multiple reports coming out of Manus Island and Nauru reporting inadequate conditions,

- Multiple whistleblowers coming out of Manus Island and Nauru reporting that the processing for refugees is a sham, that processing is not really being undertaken to properly assess their refugee status,

Do you consider these to be consistent with Article 14(1) UDHR?

- Statistics published by our own Australian Human Rights Commission that as at 31 October 2013 there were “6,401 people in immigration detention facilities, and 3,290 people in community detention in Australia” and “22,873 asylum seekers who had arrived by boat”

22 thousand people is not very many, Tony – when you consider how large our nation is and even if there is an economic crisis on our hands this crisis is global and I believe we could be doing more than we are in the spirit of brotherhood for people in need. Heaven forbid we ever require compassion from our neighbouring countries, Tony. I do not believe they would not see our current actions as very compassionate.

Do you see why I am concerned, Tony? Do you understand why I have ventured my waning convictions in the application of the rule of law?

I acknowledge that immigration and refugee issues are really big and complex issues.

I understand Australia already has processes in place for persons seeking residency in Australia. But please consider that perhaps the people coming by boat are coming that way for their own reasons. It is possible that:

- The Immigration Department VISA application process is too rigid,

- For some it might be too expensive, or completely inaccessible,

- The people coming by boat actually have no other options (financially, for security or safety reasons, and maybe they’re not even educated enough to be aware of the system to begin with), and

- Most importantly, some of those people are facing actual persecution and genuinely need asylum.

And shouldn’t we have compassion for people in all of those categories? Shouldn’t we act towards those people in the spirit of brotherhood, as set out in the UDHR? Those Articles apply to every person Tony. They apply to the current Government too.

I acknowledge not everyone seeking asylum will have genuine asylum status. But all of the people seeking asylum should be entitled to genuine processing to determine whether they are, and during that process they should be treated well. Yes. Some asylum seekers may be less than ideal for this country. Just as there are dole bludgers, there will always be some people who take advantage. Would it not be worth taking our time to treat refugees with compassion – for the sake of those who genuinely and desperately need our help? Should we not process these desperate people properly to find out which category they are in?

I am not suggesting you throw all immigration and asylum seeking laws out the window and let just anybody in.

What I am imploring you to consider is:

- The treatment of humans seeking refugee status in Australia. For example have you been to Nauru, Tony? Have you seen the conditions there?

- Perhaps a review of the immigration laws and the VISA application process in Australia. Have you spoken to an actual person who has been through the VISA application process, Tony, from a developing country? It is a long and expensive endless process of forms and paperwork that I am certain many, many people in developing countries could not afford nor would have the capacity to complete without help.

I feel our current Government is blowing a miniscule issue out of proportion as a fear mongering technique for votes. I feel the Government is getting lost in the semantics of words and boundaries that lie in international waters, and for what? To keep 22 thousand people who may need our help at bay? It might help to take a step back, look at the bigger picture of what we want to achieve. Not only set out to serve one or two classes of Australians, but do all things to mark our nation as the great one I know it could be.

Would it not be better to set ourselves apart, stand up for humanity and for what is right, for compassion, and for brotherhood. To honour the rule of law and to honour the commitments this country made to the UDHR?

Perhaps it is too big a responsibility. Perhaps it is difficult for one person, such as yourself Tony, to implement such a change. I will gently remind you the Berlin Wall only came down because someone broke the first brick.

By now I wouldn't blame you for writing me off as an idealist perhaps even a romanticist. It’s okay, I am. There is one reality to bear in mind though. You will be remembered for the big things you've done for this country, Prime Minister. That's a realistic thing. You won't be remembered for the surplus you deliver. Only a handful of people will remember if you deliver better maternity leave for women.

The fear mongering doesn’t do you any favours. Turning boats away and fake processing Deterrence Centres (is what I now refer to them as) makes it seem the Government has no compassion or heart at all. And it reflects badly on all of us Tony. It reflects badly on me.

I do not presume to understand the weight of the decisions you face each day. But Tony, this is your chance to do prove them all wrong, to prove me wrong. This is your chance to do something great for this country, to do something great for humanity. You might only get one shot at this, Tony. Do you really want to be remembered as the PM who starred in the Tony Abbot - Wrecking Ball clip on YouTube? Have you seen it Tony? I have attached instructions for you so that you can view it if you so desire. It’s had almost a million hits, Tony. Almost a million hits.

I do gently remind you of the reasons that I am proud of our system (perhaps only in principle at the present moment but I have faith things can improve). And hope that you take some thought to steering this country back towards the magnificent intentions created for it.

I encourage you to find practical ways to approach the magnitude of this issue with compassion and with heart – and with a view to honouring the incredible principles set out in the UDHR and our very own Constitution.

Everyone makes mistakes. It's human. It takes courage to own them and say you’ll do better. It would take courage to ask the nation how to approach this as a whole, having informed them (openly and honestly) of the actual implications.

The actual consequence of refugees seeking legitimate asylum in Australia has been disproportionately blown out of proportion by the current Government. Not many question it. Not many remember that most of us came by boat (okay, ship) only a few generations ago. Are you indigenous to this country, Tony? Did your grandparents migrate here?

Finally, I have enclosed a book for you[2], Anh Do’s The Happiest Refugee. It is a gift for you Tony, simply because it’s a great read and I think you would benefit from reading it (if you haven’t already) – to hear Anh’s story of hardship and how his family arrived in this country, by boat, from a desperate situation they faced in Vietnam.

If you don't have time to read the whole thing please just read the first 2 chapters (I flagged them for you), and if you don’t have time to read two chapters, please (please, pretty please) just read the first page in the front of the book, Tony, just one page (it is also flagged).

Don't be the wrecking ball, Tony. Do something great. Make me proud to be an Australian again. Make us all proud.

Sincerely,


Mary Ryan
LLB (Hons), GDLP, JP (Qual)


[1] The rule of law is summarised in Article 7 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights attached for your reference in Attachment 2 (also see section 5 of the Preamble to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, refer Attachment 3).

[2] This original correspondence will be posted to you at Kirribilli House, Tony

[Attachments]

Attachment 1

Instructions on how to watch your Wrecking Ball YouTube clip

Step 1 Open an internet browser on your laptop or on your smart phone

Step 2 Go to YouTube (web address www.youtube.com)

Step 3 In the search dialogue box type in “Tony Abbott - Wrecking Ball” (or simply click on the link here)

Step 4 The clip I speak of is by a user named “smallpoppy”, it should be the first one that comes up

Step 5 Watch the clip

Step 6 (Optional) Ponder if you would like this to form part of your legacy

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