04 January 2014

Jane McAdam: Leading on protection

Below are the biographical note, and abstract and introductory paragraphs of Professor Jane McAdam’s contribution to the Australia21 publication Refugees and asylum seekers: finding a better way.

Leading on protection.

Jane McAdam is Scientia Professor of Law and the Founding Director of the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales. She holds an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, and is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brooking Institution in Washington DC and a Research Associate at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre. Professor McAdam serves on a number of international committees and has undertaken consultancies for UNHCR and various Governments on issues relating to forced migration and international law.


How do we create an asylum policy that reflects Australia’s international legal obligations and is acceptable to the general public? This essay argues that strong, ethical leadership can shape and shift ideas by educating the community about the complexities of forced migration, and appealing to the Australian ideal of a ‘fair go for all’. International law provides both a legal and a moral compass – for our leaders to respect the protection commitments that previous Governments assumed in good faith, and for the rest of us to call our leaders to account.

Essay begins

In a country as large, wealthy and multicultural as Australia, it is incongruous that the treatment of asylum seekers has become a national preoccupation. The discussion centres not on rights or responsibilities, but on ‘stopping the boats’ and ‘smashing the people smugglers’ business model’.

As in many countries, asylum seekers are an easy target for anxieties about national security, unemployment and demographic composition. They cannot vote, so their voices are marginalised in political debate, and as they are increasingly moved outside the Australian community into immigration detention in remote offshore processing centres, the divide between ‘them’ and ‘us’ is reinforced.

At the heart of Australia’s hardline approach to asylum seekers is a fundamental misconception – the assumption that draconian measure will deter desperate people. And on top of such flawed logic, many expedient myths have been built.

To read the full essay

The full essay can be obtained by accessing the complete publication which can be downloaded as a PDF file at no charge from the Australia21 website here.

If you would like to buy a hard copy for $25 including postage you may do so from here.

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