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Annual Conference: 'Between Principle and Pragmatism: Australia and Refugee Law, 60 Years On'

3 November 2014
9.00am – 5.00pm AEDT
Law Building Theatre G04 UNSW
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Annual Conference: 'Between Principle and Pragmatism: Australia and Refugee Law, 60 Years On'

The Kaldor Centre held its first annual conference on the 3 November 2014. 

60 years ago, Australia ratified the Refugee Convention.  It was, in fact, this act which brought the treaty into force.  Since that time, Australian governments have oscillated in their responses to the reception, treatment and protection of asylum seekers and refugees, ranging from generosity and understanding, through to intolerance and deterrence. 

The Kaldor Centre’s first annual conference provided an opportunity to consider how previous Australian governments have sought to balance Australia’s obligations under international law with anxieties about spontaneous arrivals of asylum seekers, and to consider how Australia might offer principled protection into the future.

Professor Guy S Goodwin-Gill from the University of Oxford presented the keynote address.  He argued that:

If Australia is seriously interested in a workable and long-lasting response to the challenges of refugee and forced migration, then, in my view, it will need to abandon unilateralism in favour of collaboration; to recognize the equal sovereign status of those partners in the region which have also to deal with those challenges; to recognize that exceptionalism where direct arrivals are concerned cannot be justified in law or on principle; to make protection and solutions the cornerstone of its asylum and resettlement policies; and to implement its international obligations in good faith, including its duty to ensure and to protect the human rights of everyone within its territory or subject to its jurisdiction, authority or control.  Above all, if it is to become serious about co-operation, then Australia will need to show its commitment to international law, to the principles which I have laid out, and to others too, such as transparency and accountability. 

Other speakers were: Allan Asher, Former Commonwealth Immigration Ombudsman and Chair of the Foundation for Effective Markets and Governance; Admiral (Ret’d) Chris Barrie AC, Former Chief of the Australian Defence Force and Visiting Fellow, ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre; Professor Mary Crock, Sydney Law School; Associate Professor Michelle Foster, Melbourne Law School; Professor Graeme Hugo, University of Adelaide; Dr Claire Higgins, Research Associate at the Kaldor Centre; Professor Walter Kälin, University of Berne and Former Member of the UN Human Rights Committee; Kelley Loper, Hong Kong University; and Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs President, Australian Human Rights Commission. 

Download the full program and speaker biographies.