AUSTRALIA’S REPUTATION as a successful multicultural society is under threat, and it is well on the way to becoming one that diminishes the rights of its minority groups through badly designed laws, according to former Prime
Minister, the Right Hon Malcolm Fraser.
In a speech to the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales at the 2006 Justice Awards held at Parliament House, Fraser offered in some detail his version of where Australia had gone wrong on its ethical responsibilities to minority groups, via the law and politics.
As Australia’s indigenous population appears low on the Government’s agenda, said Fraser, increasingly so too are refugees and potential refugees.
“We know the Government sought to excise all of Australia from our migration zone. In the process, the Government would have broken a promise made only last year to keep children out of detention. This time it was going to be detention in some off shore prison. Out of sight, and the Government would have hoped, quite out of mind.
“Because some member of the Liberal Party would not accept these changes and the Labor Party was prepared to oppose them, for which they must have credit, this particular legislation was withdrawn. But we know the Government’s intention. We know what the Government was prepared to do,” Fraser said.
Fraser covered much of the current Government’s intentions for Australia’s minority groups, where it had gone wrong, and continues to go wrong, on policy making and its version of ethics.
He argued that under current policies minority groups in Australia have no adequate protection under the law. “The administration has avowedly pursued policies designed to deny access to the law to increasingly large groups of people,” he said.
“A civilised society is judged by its adherence to the rule of law, to due process and the ease with which all people would have access to the law. And nobody knows that better than all of you who are here tonight.”
Noting that the new security laws diminish the rights of all Australians, Fraser said he did not know any other democracy that has legislated for the secret detention of people the authorities know to be innocent.
“You are not allowed to make a phone call. You cannot ring your wife or husband to say where you are, that you’re alright. You just disappear. Your spouse goes home at night. You’re not there. You are not allowed to ring a lawyer unless that is specifically conceded in the warrant for your detention.”
In his own experiences, migrant groups in Australia have always understood the necessity to abide by Australian laws and customs, Fraser said, while appreciating the openness with which their old customs can still be celebrated.
“We really believed in strength through diversity and that the acceptance of diversity would bring Australians closer together.”