UN Refugee Convention questioned | Connect Asia

UN Refugee Convention questioned

UN Refugee Convention questioned

Updated 18 July 2013, 16:52 AEST

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is expected to announce changes to Australia's asylum seeker policy within days.

The government's looking to tighten processing requirements for so called "economic refugees" wants greater cooperation with Papua New Guinea.

Mr Rudd has also revealed he's not happy with the 1951 United Nations Refugee Covention to which Australia is a signatory.

There's no suggestion the Labor Party would abandon the convention, but Kevin Rudd wants it reconsidered, and the ABC understands the United Nations refugee agency has been consulted.

The ABC understands there's no suggestion Labor would abandon the convention but Kevin Rudd wants it reconsidered.

From Canberra, Samantha Hawley reports.

Presenter: Samantha Hawley

Speakers: Gareth Evans, Chancellor of the Australian National University and former Labor foreign minister; Adrienne Millbank, former senior researcher on immigration at the Federal Parliamentary Library

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: It's vital to his election chances and in the days ahead Kevin Rudd is expected to reveal a new look asylum seeker policy.

For now the details are a tightly guarded secret and not subject to wide consultation, although AM has been told the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has been involved in discussions.

What we do know is the change will be three-pronged.

It will include a tightening of processing rules for economic migrants and greater cooperation in the region, particularly with Papua New Guinea. And there'll be a pledge to address the effectiveness of the 60 year old United Nations Refugee Convention.

Gareth Evans is the chancellor of the Australian National University and a former Labor foreign minister.

GARETH EVANS: I can't believe that Australia would ever walk away from our obligations under the convention, but at the same time I think we have to recognise that for decades actually there have been concerns about the applicability of the convention to the circumstances of the 21st century as compared with the post World War II years when it was first created.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Gareth Evans has told ABC 24 that's a long term fix.

GARETH EVANS: I think it's perfectly sensible to open up an international conversation about the scope of the convention. But the truth of the matter in the short term, the medium term, the solution has to lie both in domestic measures and more particularly regional measures.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Adrienne Millbank is a former senior researcher on immigration at the Federal Parliamentary Library and is now at Monash University. She's a staunch opponent of the Refugee Convention and says Australia would be well placed to open an international dialogue for change.

ADRIENNE MILLBANK: We have such a good solid reputation as a refugee receiving country and as a country of migration.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But she says tightening refugee processing requirements domestically will be even harder.

She says the former Howard government immigration minister Philip Ruddock tried but failed to do that on numerous occasions.

ADRIENNE MILLBANK: He tried very much to tighten up the criteria, the sort of thing I think that Bob Carr is talking about. It's very difficult because you've got a whole body of case law and appeals system.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Once Kevin Rudd announces his suite of asylum policy changes in the days ahead it's thought he'll then switch his focus to an election date.

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