“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
It’s the Golden Rule that is at the core of all the main religions and it is what sets the premise of the new documentary Border Politics. Leading Australian human rights barrister, Julian Burnside, travels cross-country through Scotland, Jordan, France and Greece, to name a few, showcasing the vastly different approaches of how these countries treat people seeking asylum compared to Australia.
Spoiler: it’s not a comfortable ride.
Border Politics daringly holds up the mirror to us, Australians, on how our government policies are responding to refugees and asylum seekers and how that is affecting the overall public morality.
“The [Australian] government’s dishonest rhetoric calling “boatpeople” illegal and calling the whole exercise of pushing them away as border protection continues.
“And bit by bit Australian standards are degraded as we are persuaded to tolerate increasingly intolerable conduct towards other human beings,” said Julian.
Directed by award-winning director and producer Judy Rymer (I Will Not Be Silenced) and co-produced with Lois Harris, Border Politics is an appeal to the audiences’ humanity.
“As filmmakers we simply could not stand by and say nothing about a matter that was changing the character of our country,” said Judy.
“Australia is losing its moral compass in the way that it is treating refugees and asylum seekers and that has a profound effect, I believe, on the human rights of all of us.”
To help tell that story Judy and Lois approached the one person they felt would be able to speak about individuals who are seeking asylum in human terms, something that is often disregarded in political discourse.
“We have always regarded Julian Burnside as a guiding light in the whole matter of asylum,” said Judy.
A vocal advocate
First involved in the Tampa case in 2001, Julian Burnside has continued to be a vocal advocate for the protection of the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
On the Border Politics trail, Julian interviews international and community leaders and thinkers including former president of the Australian Human Rights commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs, politicians and refugee camp volunteers.
Of the countries Julian examined, the one that he found had the most human approach to this issue was a country that wasn’t even a signatory to the refugee convention and that was Jordan. There are over one million refugees living in Jordan and to the north of the country the Zaatari refugee camp enables refugees to continue living their lives. The camp holds a number of shops created and run by refugees.
“There is even a place where you can hire bridal gowns, that is the most wonderful mark of optimism.
“I don’t think any asylum seekers who fall into the jaws of Australia feel optimistic enough to think that marriage is a good idea,” said Julian.
Scotland was another standout identified by both Judy and Julian for the country’s strong leadership and human rights framework used to respond to the needs of refugees integrating into local communities.
So does Australia have the leaders to make this shift to a more human rights approach towards refugees?
“The problem with the way the Australian political system works, you don’t know what anyone genuinely thinks.
“I’m sure both parties that have decent people in them, who are horrified with what we’re doing but who don’t speak out because the party would crush them,” said Julian.
Complacency not allowed
Julian recalls moderating a panel discussing asylum seekers, with one of the panel members, an Australian politician who identified as a practising Christian. After the panel slowly agreed that asylum seekers don’t in fact break any laws trying to come here (90% are accessed by Australia as genuine refugees) Julian turned to the same politician.
“I said to this guy ‘look you’re a practising Christian, how do you square with your religious beliefs that we are mistreating innocent human beings and his jaw hit the table.’
“He absolutely aghast he never actually put those two things together in his mind,” said Julian.
“I think that there is some good people, I would regard him as a good person, in parliament who either haven’t figured out what they are doing is wrong or have been misled about the facts. Or they just haven’t put it all together.”
This is where Border Politics comes in, it’s documentary to reacquaint people with the facts, not allowing complacency but encouraging everyday people and leaders to look at what we are allowing to happen in places like Nauru.
“I really hope that a lot of people go along and see this film, because that would be a public expression of support for the general idea that what we’re doing to refugees is bad.
“It will give them (the audience) a sense that maybe we could behave better, because I think Australia is a much better country than the way we are behaving,” said Julian.
Border Politics will be premiering at the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival in Melbourne 12th May. Followed by a national release at select cinemas. Click here to find a screening near you.