Julian Burnside puts human rights at top of agenda during Alumni reunion

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Winter 16-8-2010

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus

Publication Place



We have human rights not because we are nice or because we are white or because we are Christian but because we are human.” [Julian Burnside QC]

Over 100 graduates and staff attended The University of Notre Dame Australia’s annual Alumni reunion and listened to prominent lawyer and activist, Julian Burnside AO QC, talk about his views on Australia’s lack of legislation for human rights.

Mr Burnside, a member of the School of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board, is a human rights and refugee advocate and received an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2009 for his work.

Putting human rights to the forefront of the audience’s minds, he asked them to think about their perceptions of asylum seekers and to consider the action taken by government to protect minority groups subjected to inhumane actions.

“Broadly speaking, Australians have a fairly respectful attitude to human rights. If most Australians were asked what they thought of human rights they would say that human rights matter,” said Mr Burnside.

“The question then arises: how is it that they watched with disregard for years as innocent men, women and children were locked up indefinitely in desert jails merely because they were fleeing the Taliban or Saddam Hussein?

“How is it that we have managed such enduring complacency to the plight of the Aboriginal people whose land was taken and whose children were stolen?”

Mr Burnside warned against the tendency for people to think only of their immediate circumstances.

“Australians subconsciously divide human beings into two categories, us and others. We think, perhaps subconsciously, ‘my rights matter, and so do those of my family, friends and neighbours, but the human rights of others do not matter in quite the same way’,” he said.

“Without quite saying it, we think others are not human in the same way we are. It is dangerous thinking and profoundly wrong.”

Pro Vice Chancellor, Professor Margot Kearns, said it was great to see the graduates come together for an event that not only brought them back to Notre Dame, but gave them an insight into such an important issue leading up to the Federal election.

“To hear about the injustices they (asylum seekers) are experiencing and to learn there is no law to protect or compensate the victims is heartbreaking. I think for those of us who had the opportunity to listen to Mr Burnside, we were motivated to learn more and do something about these issues.”

Bachelor of Commerce/Arts 2009 Graduate, Ashley Reynolds, was impressed with the entire evening, saying it was not only entertaining and informative but that it also provided an opportunity to reconnect with friends.

“The night was a great way to catch up with past class mates and helped me to establish a lot of contacts that I didn't realise were now in a supporting industry to my own. I'm now able to network with my own Alumni.”

Media contact:

Moira Saunders
02 8204 4407