Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Refugee policy, here is a new project: Burnside

Julian Burnside: Here is a new project, if you have the energy...

The idea is to have thousands of Australian citizens writing to federal parliamentarians asking very simple, but hard, questions about the key aspects of refugee policy. I have devised a letter writing kit for this purpose. I attach a copy. It contains instructions which, are, I hope, fairly clear.

Please consider writing letters following the form suggested. The form is carefully designed, and based on many years of experience in asking questions: the key is to keep the questions simple and force a clear answer (hence the follow-up letters suggested in the kit).

Please feel free to pass the kit to all your friends who might be interested in taking part. The kit includes a page on which responses can be summarised. If the summary is returned to me, I will be able to collate the responses of various MPs to see what they truly know and believe about the government's policy.

Julian Burnside

The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws. Cornelius Tacitus

Letter writing project: forcing politicians to be honest about Australia's refugee policy and human rights Mr Howard and Mr Ruddock take the praise and criticism for Australia's refugee policy. However all Federal politicians are responsible for it, unless they actively oppose it.

Many Federal politicians do not know the facts about our refugee policy, and most have not confronted the moral issues it raises. One way to force them into the open is to write to them, asking very simple, focussed questions and then pressing for an answer. Pressing for an answer is important: they will not want to answer: rather, they will respond with bureaucratic fog in the hope that you will go away.

Tips for writing to federal politicians:

Ask just one question (two at the most): keep the letter short;do not make speeches or offer opinions.

A sample letter is attached. Just insert your chosen question. You are likely to get a wordy or evasive answer. Read it carefully. If it does not actually answer your question, write again pointing out politely that they have not answered the question. Repeat the question and ask for an answer. Repeat this process as often as necessary.

If you get an answer, write asking another question and repeat above process. A sample is attached.

Remain polite and keep letters brief. This makes the evasions all the more evident. Remember, repeated refusal to answer a simple question carries its own story. Write often enough to get you through the list of questions.

Keep copies of all letters: yours and theirs. Once you have completed correspondence on a question, feel free to send copies to Julian Burnside at 205 William St Melbourne, 3000. If you can make a list of responses and send that as well, it will simplify the task of collating responses.

Finding federal politicians addresses for correspondence

House of Representatives:
For information about refugee issues generally, see Chilout:


1. Do you believe it is right to imprison innocent children?
2. Do you believe it is right to imprison innocent women?
3. Do you believe it is right to imprison innocent people?
4. Should asylum seekers in Australia be treated:
a) humanely?
b) decently?
c) fairly?

5. In your opinion, are asylum seekers in Australia treated:
a) humanely?
b) decently?
c) fairly?

6. Do you consider that people who arrive in Australia informally and seek asylum should be called "illegals"?

7. Do you believe that people commit an offence by arriving in Australia without permission and seeking asylum? If Yes, what offence do they commit?

8. Do you believe that people who arrive in Australia informally and seek asylum should be detained?

9. Do you believe that people who arrive in Australia informally and seek asylum should be detained indefinitely?

10.Do you believe that Courts should be denied the power to order the release on bail of people who arrive in Australia informally and seek asylum and who are detained?

11.Do you believe the Refugee Review Tribunal should be legally required to determine cases fairly?

12.Do you believe Courts should be prevented from overturning unfair decisions of the Refugee Review Tribunal?

13.Do you believe Australia's policy of indefinite mandatory detention of asylum seekers is:


Initial letter:


I am concerned about Australia's refugee policy and human rights record.
I am a voter in the electorate of _____________.
I have a question: {insert chosen question}
I would be grateful for your response.
Yours faithfully,

Then, unless you get a clear answer to the question, a follow up letter:

Thank you for your letter of ________________ [date].
Unfortunately, it did not answer my question.
My question was: {insert original question}
I would be grateful if you could answer it.
Yours faithfully,

Summarising responses:
Summary of responses received by ________________________________ [your name]
Question No.
Parliamentarian name
Answered Yes
Answered No
Did not answer question
Did not respond to letter

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed it's the only thing that ever does." Margaret Mead

The best part of being a pacifist is that success does not depend on 'winning'; it depends only on our willingness to take a stand for what is right. Dave McKay

Visit our website: Jesus Christians

By Julian Burnside QC posted 21 Oct 03 jb@julianburnside.com


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