Australians have become used to relatively simple and convenient overseas travel. Even before affordable long-distance air travel, many went to Europe and elsewhere by sea.
But it has not always been so and, for many, it is not so now. The most recent of my forbears to immigrate to Australia, for example, arrived in 1921 after a long, though comfortable, sea voyage. Other ancestors withstood much tougher nineteenth-century voyages by sail. None entertained the idea of ever seeing their homeland again. The journey was too far, too long, and too expensive. Letters took months. Later there were telegrams and telephones, but they were extraordinarily expensive. Emigration was for life.
Even today, many leave troubled or impoverished countries as migrants or refugees with little hope of a return visit to family or homeplace.
We forget how privileged many of us are. Today we have cheap video calls, email, air-mail and more to connect us with distant loved ones, colleagues and associates. Yes, it would be good for James and me to visit family in Korea (and in Queensland and Tasmania!). But the tyranny of distance is less than it was. Let’s be thankful.
“Australians need to grapple with the idea that the government doesn’t have to ‘get them back’ if they travel overseas (even if it wants to). And under Australian law, we don’t have a ‘right’ to leave the country.”
Travel is not a right or entitlement for Australians or anyone else for that matter. Nor does an Australian have a legal “right” to a passport or to consular assistance when overseas. Australian passports are granted at the discretion of the Crown.
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says that says that:
“12.1 Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.
“12.2 Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.
“12.3 The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.
“12.4 No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”
Professor Susan Harris Rimmer explains in The Conversation that Australia ratified the covenant in 1980, but there is no Commonwealth legislation enshrining the right of freedom of movement. In particular, legitimate public health concerns overrule any apparent right of movement.
In March, the Morrison government advised Australians overseas to return home. Hundreds of thousands have done so. But more than 18,000 who wish to return are still stuck overseas — some in desperate straits.
Especially concerning from a rights perspective is the inability of Australians to leave. There are bans on people leaving Australia during the coronavirus pandemic, with a few exemptions. But there is no actual “right” under domestic law to leave Australia. Professor Rimmer reports that between March 25 and August 16, Australian Border Force received 104,785 travel exemption requests, of which only 34,379 were granted.
For citizens, travel must be:
— part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid;
— essential for the conduct of critical industries and business;
— to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia;
— on urgent and unavoidable personal business;
— on compassionate or humanitarian grounds; and/or
— in the national interest.
Some of this is quite deliberately vague. I am not complaining. We need to suck it up. But it is hard.
I have been curious as to how Australia’s universities have been excluded from the JobKeeper Program, designed to keep people in work despite COVID 19. As a note on the university’s website explains, the threshold for businesses the size of the university was that their income had declined by 30% compared to the same time last year. For normal businesses, this was done on a month-to-month basis. But, universities were required to assess income changes over a consecutive six-month period. They were also to include government grants as part of the calculation (a factor not applied to other entities). Based on these criteria, the University was not entitled.
I have been curious as to how Australia’s universities have been excluded from the JobKeeper Program, designed to keep people in work despite COVID 19. As a note on the university’s website explains, the threshold for businesses the size of the university was that their income had declined by 30% compared to the same time last year. For normal businesses, this was done on a month-to-month basis. But, universities were required to assess income changes in over a consecutive six-month period. They were also to include government grants as part of the calculation (a factor not applied to other entities). Based on these criteria, the University was not entitled.
The University is careful not to say so, but blind Freddie can see that tertiary education has been singled out by the government not to receive COVID-19 assistance—perhaps because the government thinks that education is already using too much money? That is short sighted at best.
If the government wishes to screw Universities, let it do so directly, not by making special exceptions in programs that apply society generally.
Senior Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders have recently condemned the persecution and genocide of the Uyghurs in China in a powerful open statement. (August 2020).
As religious leaders and leaders of belief-based communities, we come together to affirm human dignity for all by highlighting one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust: the potential genocide of the Uyghurs and other Muslims in China.
We have seen many persecutions and mass atrocities. These need our attention. But there is one that, if allowed to continue with impunity, calls into question most seriously the willingness of the international community to defend universal human rights for everyone – the plight of the Uyghurs.
At least one million Uyghur and other Muslims in China are incarcerated in prison camps facing starvation, torture, murder, sexual violence, slave labour and forced organ extraction.
Outside the camps, basic religious freedom is denied. Mosques are destroyed, children are separated from their families, and acts as simple as owning a Holy Quran, praying or fasting can result in arrest.
The world’s most intrusive surveillance state invades every aspect of life in Xinjiang.
Recent research reveals a campaign of forced sterilization and birth prevention targeting at least 80% of Uyghur women of childbearing age in the four Uyghur-populated prefectures – an action which, according to the 1948 Genocide Convention, could elevate this to the level of genocide.
The clear aim of the Chinese authorities is to eradicate the Uyghur identity. China’s state media has stated that the goal is to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.” As the Washington Post put it, “It’s hard to read that as anything other than a declaration of genocidal intent.” High-level Chinese government documents speak of .
Parliamentarians, governments and jurists have a responsibility to investigate.
As faith leaders we are neither activists nor policy-makers. But we have a duty to call our communities to their responsibilities to look after their fellow human beings and act when they are in danger.
In the Holocaust some Christians rescued Jews. Some spoke out. To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil … Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”. After the Holocaust, the world said “Never Again.”
Today, we repeat those words “Never Again”, all over again. We stand with the Uyghurs. We also stand with Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians throughout China who face the worst crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution.
We urge people of faith and conscience everywhere to join us: in prayer, solidarity and action to end these mass atrocities. We make a simple call for justice, to investigate these crimes, hold those responsible to account and establish a path towards the restoration of human dignity.
Imam Daayiee Abdoul, Executive Director for Mecca institute, Washington DC, USA
Mufti Shareef Ahmad, Imam Al Madni Center, Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA
The Reverend Jonathan Aitken, London, UK
Sheikh Rashad Ali, Institute for Strategic Dialogue, UK
Imam Shamsi Ali, New York, USA
Sayed Yousif Al-Khoei OBE, Director of Centre of Academic Shia Studies, UK
Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic-Orthodox Archbishop of London, UK
Dr Khalid Anis, Islamic Society of Britain, UK
Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen, Manchester Reform Synagogue, UK
Imam Qari Asim, MBE, Chair, Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, UK
Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Interim Director of Liberal Judaism, UK
Qari Zeshan Balooch, Imam, Ghousia Mosque, Leeds, UK
Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski, Senior Rabbi, Golders Green Synagogue, UK
The Reverend Dr Andrew Bennett, Director and Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute, and former Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Canada
Rabbi Miriam Berger, Finchley Reform Synagogue, UK
Desmond Biddulph CBE, President of the Buddhist Society, UK
Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, Myanmar
Imam Dr Mamadou Bocoum, Muslim Chaplain and Lecturer in Islamic Studies, UK
The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, UK
Imam Irfan Chishti MBE, Chashtiah Educational Trust, Rochdale, UK
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK
The Bishop of Coventry, UK
Sheikh Imtiyaz Damiel, CEO, Abu Hanifah Foundation, UK
Rabbi Joseph Dweck, Senior Rabbi, S&P Sephardi Community & Ecclesiastical Authority of The Board of Deputies of British Jews
The Reverend Dr Joel Edwards CBE, UK
Canon Dr Giles Fraser, Rector of St Mary Newington, UK
Sonam T Frasi, FCA, RAS, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for Northern Europe, Poland and Baltic States, London, UK
Rabbi Dr Moshe Freedman, Senior Rabbi, New West End Synagogue, UK
Rabbi Paul Freedman, Senior Rabbi, Radlett Reform Synagogue, UK
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Chair of Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors, UK
Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE, UK
Imam Dr Usama Hasan, London, UK
Sheikh Saeed Hashmi, Imam Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking, UK
Shaykh Sultan Niaz ul Hassan, Chairman, Bahu Trust, UK
The Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, MBE QHC, Bishop of Dover, UK
Imam Sheikh Mohammad Ismail DL, Lead Imam, Birmingham Central Mosque, UK
Imam Dr Abdul Jabbar, Atlanta, USA
Rabbi Richard Jacobi, East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue, UK
Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi, UK
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, UK
Rabbi Dr Elliott Karstadt, Alyth North Western Reform Synagogue, UK
Imam Adam Kelwick, Muslim Chaplain, UK
The Reverend Cindy Kent MBE, UK
Fr Nicholas King, SJ, Assistant Catholic Chaplain, University of Oxford, UK
Bishop Declan Lang, Catholic Bishop of Clifton, UK
Rabbi Josh Levy, Principal Rabbi, Alyth North Western Reform Synagogue, UK
Al-Haj U Aye Lwin, Chief Convenor, Islamic Centre of Myanmar
Ustadh Dawood Masood, Al-Hira Mosque, Luton, UK
Rabbi David Mason, Muswell Hill United Synagogue and Executive Member of the Rabbinical Council of United Synagogue, UK
Rabbi Monique Mayer, Liberal Judaism, UK
The Reverend Dr Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention in USA
The Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro, Chair of UK FoRB Forum and former Chair of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians, UK
Rabbi Lea Mühlstein, Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue, UK
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Washington, DC, USA
The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-ali, former Anglican Bishop of Rochester, UK
Rabbi Baroness (Julia) Neuberger, UK
Fr Uche Njoku, Parish Priest, St Joseph’s Church, New Malden, UK
Imam Yahya Pallavicini, President of COREIS Islamic Religious Community, Italy
The Rt Rev John Perry, former Bishop of Chelmsford, UK
Shaykh Umar Hayat Qadri, Chair, Suffah Foundation, UK
Mufti Abdul Rahman Qamar, Madni Masjid, LaGuardia, New York, USA
Fr Timothy Radcliffe, former Master of the Dominican Order, UK
Imam Nabel Rafi, Director of the International Centre for Tolerance UK
Dr Sheikh Ramzy, founder, Oxford Islamic Information Centre, UK
Imam Ghulam Rasool QTS, Trustee Bahu Trust UK network, UK
Imam Yusuf Rios, Three Puerto Rican Imams Project , Islamic Learning Foundation Chicago, USA
Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ, Parish Priest, Farm Street Church of the Immaculate Conception and Chair, Justice and Peace Commission, Diocese of Westminster, UK
Abdurahman Sayed, CEO, Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, London, UK
Imam Mustaqeem Shah, Abu Bakr Trust, Walsall, West Midlands, UK
Imam Zaid Shakir, California, USA
The Rt Revd Alan Smith, Bishop of St Alban’s, UK
Dr Muzammil Siddiqi: President Fiqh Council of North America and Religious Director, Islamic Society of Orange County, Garden Grove, California, USA
Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, Archbishop of Jakarta, Indonesia
Canon Dr Andrew White, Ambassador of Jerusalem MERIT, UK
The Rt Hon and Rt Rev Lord Williams of Oystermouth, former Archbishop of Canterbury, UK
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi for Masorti Judaism, UK.