Wednesday, January 16, 2013


The short summary: Ranjini is a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee - she has been assessed as a refugee by Australia. She has also been assessed by Australia as a security risk. Because of these two interlocking assessments she can neither be returned to her home nor released into the Australian community. She, and her 3 children - a baby boy was born last night, are detained indefinitely. You can see more about Ranjini's story here.
The Australian legislation has ASIO making security assessments of asylum applicants. However neither the applicant nor anyone else (with some limits around a new review process) is allowed to see the assessment or know the reasons for it.
This is the crux of the matter. We have a government and a minister who have so badly botched the issue of asylum that the public no longer trust anything they say on the matter. Yet at the same time the public is expected to believe them when they, in a legislated framework, essentially say "trust us this woman is a risk to the community at large". This is the core issue of secrecy in government. It is also the reason that there must always, in a democracy, be a tension around secrecy.
I have not yet reached the point where I can say "there is never a reason for government secrecy'. What I do believe is that secrecy, in and of itself, is a danger to democracy. In the hands of the inept - and that's where I place this government - or the despotic, it is truly dangerous.
When we do not have trust in the sound administration of government why would we trust the executive when it says to us, in effect, "trust us this woman is such a danger to all of us that she must be locked up indefinitely without trial, without public scrutiny of the evidence and without capacity for appeal". That seems neither acceptable, reasonable, democratic nor humane.
So will Ranjini ever be deemed able to be released? Will successive governments continue to incarcerate her without trial or procedural fairness until she is so old and feeble as to be deemed a risk by nobody? What will happen to Ranjini? Will she ever be released? Will this or successive governments ever accept that they have an obligation to disclose to the public and to the affected person the matters that they say are enough to indefinitely detain them?
We release bombers, rapists, murderers and paedophiles into the community at the end of their sentence. Some at least of those people have been shown by research to be a high risk of re-offending. Yet we, rightly, say that they have served their time and we release them.
Ranjini has never been convicted of anything. Ranjini has never seen the evidence that purportedly shows her to be a risk, Ranjini has never seen the negative security assessment. No fairness, no natural justice and no scrutiny of the actions of secret government.
In the absence of the capacity to review, debate and scrutinise these matters in a competent court, we are left with only one way of viewing this: The decision to indefinitely detain Ranjini, and many others in her position, must simply represent complete paranoia on the part of the secret arms of the government and on the part of the executive. Why else would appropriate scrutiny of the assessment be barred? Why else would there be no basis for appeal?
We as a country should be scared for Ranjini and others like her. We should also be scared for the implications for legal fairness and democracy for the rest of us.
A brief addition to provide some more articles to help understanding of the situation Ranjini finds herself in.
Julian Burnside
Michael Gordon

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