Volume 4, Issue 1, (Originally Published on Monday 29TH July 2013)
The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law’s annual conference held in Federation Square received a surprise appearance from protestors last Friday night.
The protestors comprised members of the Victorian branch of the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), who were rallying against the ‘PNG agreement’ unveiled by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd the week prior. They were forcibly removed from the venue and surroundings by Victoria Police.
Barred from entering the Deakin Edge theatre, where federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus was giving the opening address, protestors lined the glass walls holding banners, reading ‘Stop Offshore Processing’ and ‘Refugees are Welcome: Close Nauru. Close Manus’.
Dreyfus continued speaking and embarked on a pottered history of Australia’s engagement with developments in international human rights law.
Nevertheless, the thump of angry hands upon the glass walls and cries of ‘Shame, Dreyfus, shame!’ echoed through the theatre.
Dreyfus paused to remark that such forms of peaceful protests were not conducive to constructive debate, and then proceeded to praise former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s increase in the intake of Vietnamese boat refugees in the 1970s, citing it as a welcome improvement upon Australia’s earlier regional engagement.
Somewhat paradoxically, Dreyfus followed up with a spirited defence of the PNG arrangement and its accordance with Australia’s international legal obligations.
Prior to Dreyfus’ summation and question and answers, police officers removed the protestors from the building surrounds.
The Castan Centre later released a statement through their official Twitter account, stating: “The Castan Centre did not request the removal of the protestors this morning. We believe in the right of peaceful protest.”
An RAC media correspondent said that the police would not give a definitive answer as to who had requested the protestors’ removal, and that his megaphone had been confiscated by police officers. No one was arrested.
The annual conference included many other respected academics and legal practitioners, such as the inimitable feminist Eva Cox, Pakistani lawyer and advocate for drone strike victims Shahzad Akbar and Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre director David Manne, who is well known as a human rights champion.
On the PNG arrangement, Manne posed the question: “Are we in the midst of the creation of a new ‘damaged generation’ – one that will occasion a prime ministerial apology in 25 years’ time?”
Manne was also highly critical of the federal government’s amendments to the Migration Act, which followed the ‘M70 Malaysia Solution’ case.
He stated that the ‘national interest’ discretionary power conferred upon the Immigration Minister constitutes a grave subversion of the rule of law.