Erika Feller on mass migration and the risk to good democracy


Dr Erika Feller, former DFAT diplomat and most recently UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection, questions whether our democratic system has coped with the global rise of mass migration arguing Australia’s policies have abandoned the values on which it once prided itself.

Writing for DemocracyRenewal, Feller says the litmus test of the strength and resilience of democratic governments will be how global people movement will be managed:

“The autonomous, sovereign nation state is, still, the central feature of current political architecture, regardless of ethnicity, creed, religion or political philosophy.  Borders are what classically mark it out. It is becoming ever more apparent that political systems built around autonomy and sovereignty are increasingly out of kilter with the changes wrought by globalisation.”

“Australia has long and rightly prided itself on promoting, respecting internationally agreed human rights instruments. But it has put in place an arbitrary detention regime for boat people, doing some of them immeasurable physical and psychological damage. The country which has taken a strong stand internationally on fundamental civic rights like freedom of expression has put a cloak of secrecy over its contested boat policies and has even threatened legal retribution for release of information by health workers concerned about conditions in immigration detention centres.

“New thought about how democracy and government needs to be recast in Australia and beyond, to deal with the displacement in the context of globalisation is urgently called for. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum puts it well when she says: ‘We live in a world in which the destinies of nations are closely intertwined with respect to goods and survival itself … any intelligent deliberation about ecology – as also about food supply and population – requires global planning, global knowledge and the recognition of a shared future’.”

Feller will be joined by former Victorian premier John Brumby and former East Timor leader Xanana Gusmão at the ‘Democracy in Transition’ conference, taking place in Melbourne, December 6-8. Registrations are now open.

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