Launched in July 2002, A Just Australia brings together over 120 non-governmental organisations, 70 prominent Australian Patrons and over 13,500 individual supporters.
The core mission of A Just Australia is to campaign for positive changes to government policy on refugee and asylum seekers. By working together with prominent Australians and community groups and thousands of concerned individuals, A Just Australia aims to achieve just and compassionate treatment of refugees, consistent with the human rights standards which Australia has developed and endorsed. The campaign incorporates a series of public awareness activities including public events, meetings, advertising, lobbying in Canberra, research, letter-writing and protest actions.
On 27 September 2001, a small group of citizens met in Kent Street in Sydney, to discuss whether there were more effective ways of challenging the treatment of asylum seekers. Similar meetings and discussions were occurring around the country. Our key concerns were the apparent ineffectiveness of the existing organisations to deal with the issues – as demonstrated most simply by the hundreds of people in desert detention centres with bi-partisan support. Following discussions with the Human Rights Council of Australia, consultations began with a wide range of long-standing organisations and new groups – including through an initiative of Malcolm Fraser to bring some of the major players together to see what more could be done. Phillip Adams had several thousand letters in response to a plea for action, and these letters were turned into a first mailing list. Australians for Just Refugee Programs was incorporated in Sydney in December 2001, and after further negotiations, it was agreed that this organisation would be broadened into a national campaign, with an expanded Board representing most of those brought together by Mr Fraser. Howard Glenn was appointed as National Director. In 2005, Kate Gauthier replaced Howard as National Director.
The campaign objective was adopted in mid 2002 – action by government to reform refugee and asylum seeker policies in line with AfJRP’s belief statement. Around that time a new title and theme for the campaign was launched – A Just Australia.
Through a series of Campaign Working Groups, consultation meetings in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and nationally, and discussions in all States and Territories, a national campaign strategy took shape. In essence, the strategy was to:
A Just Australia has worked together with many organisations and individuals in nationally coordinated actions. A Just Australia has also worked with politicians on all sides of the political spectrum who support the reform towards more humane refugee and asylum seeker policy. We were instrumental in pushing for changes to Government policy on removing children from immigration detention. The increase in the range and quality of the opposition to Government policy in the media and the community is a direct result of the campaign.
With early elections threatened from around November 2003, AJA did a lot of campaign preparation work, before it was finally on for October 9 2004. The resources produced were well received by a range of other organisations, but which generally followed their own campaign agenda – or did parts of what AJA were asking them to do, but in their own name. At AJA’s direct initiative, campaign groups were held in Gippsland/McMillan, Deakin and Richmond, and support was given to the Eden-Monaro group. The key state refugee alliances in Queensland and Western Australia decided not to participate in the election campaign, and the South Australian group ran its own successful race.
At a national level, the refugee issue surfaced only twice in the early part of the campaign – around Trish Worth in Adelaide, and then with Phillip Ruddock linking the Russian school tragedy with boat people as terrorists. AJA put out comment on both occasions, but overall maintained a watching brief - and emphasised the number of candidates who were supporting change to refugee policy.
The Election campaign highlights were:
From February 2005, Kate Gauthier took on the role of National Director. AJA collaboratively campaigned on:
1. A solution for long-term detainees. A new opening to raise this issue is provided by the public interest, including of entrepreneur Dick Smith, with the plight of Peter Qasim, who is stateless and in his 7th year in detention, as well as the public stand on reform by Petro Georgiou and other Liberal Party backbench supporters.
2. Movement of temporary protection visa holders to permanent visa status, and
3. Overall policy reform based on "case management" processing system with adequate care and sensible compliance without long-term mandatory, non-reviewable detention.
Key achievements during this period were:
After the election of the Rudd Labor government, AJA worked with the Refugee Council to bring the national sector together to agree on the high priority issues we wanted address as a matter of priority. These were:
The project to promote our high priority policy goals was successful in 2008, and was repeated in 2009. The goals for that year were:
There was success in some, but not all of these areas. During this preiod AJA worked closely with the Refugee Council of Australia. In late 2009, A Just Australia members voted to merge into the Refugee Council of Australia, with RCOA assuming management of the A Just Australia campaign and association.
Our members agreed that not only will the AJA campaign be best preserved under the direction of the Refugee Council, but it will in fact have a greater ongoing impact with the resources, staff and policy expertise that RCOA is able to provide. Equally, the work of the Refugee Council will now be strengthened by the active political advocacy, community education and financial support of existing AJA members and by the campaigning experience of the AJA staff.