Australian barrister, human rights advocate and author, Julian Burnside AO QC was awarded the 2014 Sydney Peace Prize on Wednesday 5th November 2014, at Sydney Town Hall. He delivered the 2014 City of Sydney Peace Prize Lecture, and Professor The Hon. Professor Dame Marie Bashir AC DVO presented him with the Prize.
Julian Burnside follows in a long line of some of the world’s most admirable and effective advocates for peace and justice. His story is one of transformation from corporate lawyer for ‘the big end of town’ to human rights advocate, spending a large portion of his time arguing the case for asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia seeking safety from conflict in their homelands.
Burnside was thrilled to receive the Prize, commenting “I am deeply honoured to be selected to receive this year’s prize, especially in a year when Australia’s reputation is being tarnished by its intentionally harsh treatment of asylum seekers. I have long admired the work of the Sydney Peace Foundation. It continues to advocate for human rights and promote peace. It helps keeps our focus on the importance of the rule of law, the need to treat all human beings with compassion and the need to ensure that human rights are respected.”
The Jury commented: “All nominations were remarkable people doing extraordinary things in a myriad of ways, but the Jury chose Julian Burnside for his unflinching advocacy and commitment. Australia is currently marooned at a moral and legal crossroads over policies towards asylum seekers and refugees.
Julian Burnside’s decades long advocacy of the human rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable people makes him an extremely worthy recipient.”
Burnside has been a persistent thorn in the side for governments on both sides. He reaches across the aisle to explain how existing policies against asylum seekers are not just cruel but represent an astonishingly expensive legal and moral failure.
Burnside acted for the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties against the Australian Government in the MV Tampa affair arguing that Howard government’s treatment of those asylum seekers denied them rights afforded under the Migration Act and international treaties. He is also a staunch opponent of indefinite, mandatory detention which current policy permits.
It has been an uphill battle all the way, but Burnside has been in the thick of it. He is an inspiration to those of us who believe that Australians are better than those policies make us out to be.