Thursday, 4 February 2016

There was a 3:2 decision brought down by the High Court

yesterday dealing with the issue of the right or otherwise of the government to hold asylum-seekers in off-short detention.  That sort of decision won't be considered "strong" but it is significant. 
The decision was in favour of the government holding people in off-shore detention while their claims are being processed - although not "indefinitely". This is interesting in itself because it would seem to fly in the face of media claims about Australia's obligations under international law. 
I have not (yet) read the judgments but rumour has it that even the two dissenting judges did not come out strongly against the policy.
I imagine that all five judges are concerned for the welfare of asylum seekers in places like Nauru and Manus Island. That said, they will still have written their judgments in accordance with the law as they see it. 
And of course refugee advocates are going to criticise the decision. They see it as their role to criticise such decisions. Opinions will also be sought from those who teach the law about such issues. Most of those who teach will choose their words carefully but some of the advocates will be much more forthright. They will use the 3:2 decision as "evidence that some of the High Court is out of touch". They will refuse to acknowledge that the role of the court is not to change the law but to state whether the law is permitted under the Constitution and, if it is, whether it has been correctly applied. 
It is interesting to note however that the response in this morning's press has been muted. It was not made front page news in our state newspaper - even though the most outspoken refugee-advocate-Senator comes from this state.
I am wondering about this. There were some serious allegations made in the media not so long ago. There were serious allegations about abuse and, even worse,  the alleged rape of asylum seekers on Nauru. One case received a lot of media attention. There were some discrepancies in the story but it was taken up with enthusiasm. Nobody seems to know the outcome. Another claim about the rate of rape has no further details available. The Immigration Minister is apparently still waiting for a report to be made to him. Yes, it went to the media but it has apparently not been reported to police or any other official.  If that is so then I find it very odd.
I also find it extremely disturbing. Does it mean that people have so little trust in officials that they won't report the most serious sort of crime? Does it mean they are so afraid of what it might mean for their own safety, their own hopes of asylum, that they won't go to officials? Why on earth do they believe it is safer to go to the media?
Or is there something else going on? I am not, I hope, a believer in conspiracy theories. I do however have first hand experience of media "censorship".  Some years ago now I wrote a "letter to the editor" because a front-page story had left out an important fact in a story - a fact which changed the story altogether. It wasn't printed. One of the staff phoned me and said, "It was a brilliant letter Cat - but we won't be printing it." I asked "Why?" and the response was, "We can't." 
So would someone care to tell me if they "can't" here as well?

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