Australia and the refugees who come by boat

Event status:

Looking down on a single boat on the sand Some of Australia’s most respected social justice fighters speak on the topic of 'Australia and the refugees who come by boat'.

Monday 08 July 2019 06:15 pm until Monday 08 July 2019 08:30 pm (Add to calendar)
University Events
Presented by:
Ideas & Society Program, Julian Burnside AO QC, Father Frank Brennan SJ AO, Behrouz Boochani and Madelaine Chiam
Type of Event:
Public Lecture
$25 General / $15 Alumni & Staff/ $10 Students

Please note, this event is now sold out. We will be live streaming the event, which will be available for viewing on this page on the night of the event.

During the course of 2013 the governments of Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott together created the harshest asylum seeker deterrence policy in the history of Australia. Those asylum seekers who had reached Australia by boat before July 2013 and found to be refugees would be granted only temporary protection. Those who arrived after July 2013 would be sent to offshore detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island. They were told that they would never be settled in Australia. All new asylum seeker boats were to be intercepted at sea and their passengers returned to their point of departure.

Since 2013 virtually no asylum seeker boats have reached Australia. In the six years since 2013, some of those sent to offshore detention have returned to the countries from which they fled; others have been settled in the US under a deal struck between Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama; still others have been brought to Australia temporarily for medical reasons. Nine hundred remain on Nauru or Manus Island. Reports tell us that after six years without hope their spirits have been broken.

Two of Australia’s most respected social justice fighters, Julian Burnside QC and Professor Frank Brennan SJ have been following Australia’s asylum seeker policy for decades. On many questions connected to asylum seekers who come by boat their viewpoints differ.

They will be speaking to the following questions:

  • What should be Australia’s asylum seeker/refugee policy?
  • What ought to be done to help those refugees living in Australia on temporary protection visas?
  • How can the lives of the nine hundred still on Nauru and Manus Island be saved?
  • And most deeply, how can the cruelty of Australia’s asylum seeker policy be explained?

We are extremely grateful that one of the Manus Island detainees, the great Kurdish writer Behrouz Boochani, author of No Friend But the Mountains, has agreed to speak to us by skype about the six year ordeal faced by those still marooned on Nauru or Manus Island. Behrouz believes very strongly that the voice of the refugees has not been heard in this debate. He will therefore participate in the discussion of the policy options and the moral imperatives in Australia’s discussions of refugee policy in general and in particular on the fate of those who have been detained on Manus Island and Nauru over the past six years.

The debate will be moderated by Dr Madelaine Chiam, a scholar from La Trobe University’s Law School, and introduced by La Trobe University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar.


Speaker Bios:

Julian Burnside AO QC

Julian Burnside

Julian Burnside AO QC is a barrister based in Melbourne. He specialises in commercial litigation. He joined the Bar in 1976 and took silk in 1989. He is a former President of Liberty Victoria, and has acted pro bono in many human rights cases, in particular concerning the treatment of refugees.

Julian Burnside is the author of a book of essays on language and etymology, including Wordwatching and Watching Brief. His latest book is Watching Out: Reflections on Justice and Injustice. In 2004 he was elected as a Living National Treasure; in 2009 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia; and in 2014 he was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.

Julian was also a Greens candidate for the seat of Kooyong in the May 2019 federal election.

Father Frank Brennan SJ AO

Frank Brennan sitting at a deskFather Frank Brennan SJ AO is a Jesuit priest and CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia. He is superior of the Jesuit community at Xavier House in Canberra.

He is professor at the P M Glynn Institute at the Australian Catholic University and research professor at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. He chaired the National Human Rights Consultation for the Rudd Government and more recently has been a member of the Turnbull Government’s expert panel conducting the Religious Freedom Review.

His latest books are No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia, Amplifying That Still, Small Voice, The People’s Quest for Leadership in Church and State and The 2015 Gasson Lectures: Maintaining a Convinced and Pondered Trust.

An Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for services to Aboriginal Australians, particularly as an advocate in the areas of law, social justice and reconciliation, he was the recipient of the Migration Institute of Australia’s 2013 Distinguished Service to Immigration Award and of the 2015 Eureka Democracy Award in recognition of his endeavours which have contributed to strengthening democratic traditions in Australia.

When launching Frank’s book Acting on Conscience on the place of religion in Australian politics and law, Kevin Rudd described Frank as ‘an ethical burr in the nation’s saddle’. Earlier during the 1998 Wik debate, Paul Keating labelled him ‘the meddling priest’. The National Trust has classified him as a Living National Treasure.

Frank serves on the board of the National Apology Foundation and on the Advisory Council of the Global Foundation. His research interests include conscience and faith, human rights and the rule of law, and the rights of Indigenous peoples and asylum seekers.

Dr Madelaine Chiam

Madelaine Chiam in her office smilingDr Madelaine Chiam is a Lecturer at the La Trobe Law School and a founding member of the La Trobe International Legal Studies Research Group. Her research examines the relationships between the global and the local, the language and the histories of international law. She has a particular interest in the role of international law in Australian life.

Madelaine’s work is published in journals including the London Review of International Law, the Griffith Law Review, the Sydney Law Review and the Public Law Review. Her monograph, International Law in Public Debate, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2020.

Behrouz Boochani

Portrait of Behrouz BoochaniBehrouz Boochani graduated from Tarbiat Moallem University and Tarbiat Modares University, both in Tehran; he holds a Masters degree in political science, political geography and geopolitics.

He is a Kurdish-Iranian writer, journalist, scholar, cultural advocate and filmmaker. Boochani was writer for the Kurdish language magazine Werya; is Honorary Member of PEN International; winner of an Amnesty International Australia 2017 Media Award, the Diaspora Symposium Social Justice Award, the Liberty Victoria 2018 Empty Chair Award, and the Anna Politkovskaya Award for journalism; and he is non-resident Visiting Scholar at the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre (SAPMiC), University of Sydney.

He publishes regularly with The Guardian, and his writing also features in The Saturday Paper, Huffington Post, New Matilda, The Financial Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. Boochani is also co-director (with Arash Kamali Sarvestani) of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time; collaborator on Nazanin Sahamizadeh's play Manus; and author of No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (Picador 2018).

Venue Accessibility

Wheelchair access is available - please enter via the North Entrance at 180 St Kilda Road. The NGV is also equipped with a hearing loop inside the Auditorium.


The Clemenger Auditorium, National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, VIC, 3000



5th Dec 2019 2:49pm

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