A prominent Jewish human rights lawyer has been labeled a “puke sucking homo, kike, white genocidal pervert” on a white supremacist website after the federal Immigration Minister ‘named and shamed’ him in a press conference for filing a lawsuit on behalf of survivors and families of those killed in the 2010 Christmas Island asylum seeker disaster.
Last week, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison staged a doorstop interview outside Parliament House, telling journalists he wanted to comment on a lawsuit filed on behalf of seven survivors of the December 15, 2010 tragedy, which claimed the lives of 49 asylum seekers, including 15 children.
Morrison’s opening statement in his broadside twice named human rights lawyer George Newhouse, and his firm, who are acting on behalf of some of the survivors and the families of those who died.
“This claim brought by… George Newhouse on behalf of seven plaintiffs who were rescued by the brave men and women of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Navy under the command of the Border Protection Command, they are the seven people who are bringing this claim with George Newhouse…” Morrison told journalists.
It appeared to have the desired affect. By day’s end, Newhouse was being targeted on an Australian white supremacist website, with asylum seekers branded “scumbag parasites” who should be “blown out of the water”.
“For a start, these ‘people’ come here to do nothing but sponge off the government. Then when Mother Nature throws them a bad deal, they still have an option to sue the Government and rake in the money which they certainly don’t deserve,” the website claimed.
“This is what happens when your laws/legal system are at the mercy of Jewish manipulation. Not only are these so-called “asylum seekers” scumbag parasites, but they are also ungrateful as hell!
“They should all have been sent back to the country they came from, or blown out of the water for daring to come here. That would “stop the boats” with no degree of uncertainty!”
It’s the latest in a series of ‘dog whistling’ claims against the Abbott Government on asylum seeker issues, including by members of its own party. Yesterday, Fairfax reported that retiring Liberal Senator Sue Boyce accused her party of ‘dog whistling’ on refugee issues.
For his part, Newhouse told New Matilda he was untroubled by the labels, and that he expected worse as a consequence of the government “dog whistling” to “rednecks and racists”.
“This is the kind of hate speech that George Brandis wants to legitimise with amendments to 18c (of the Racial Discrimination Act),” Newhouse said.
Greg Barnes from the Australian Lawyers Alliance defended Newhouse’s actions and slammed Morrison’s comments, describing them as a clear attempt at dog whistling.
“It’s an extension of dog whistling politics, but this time with a very thuggish and sinister twist,” Barnes told New Matilda.
“The problem when you get government ministers dog whistling in a particularly sinister fashion is it unleashes the nasty elements in our community.
“Morrison was giving permission to those people who want to racially attack George Newhouse or any other lawyer in some way. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Barnes said he was at a loss to recall another occasion when a government minister targeted a lawyer simply for bringing a legal action.
“It was an extraordinary comment. What is also extraordinary is [Morrison] is a potential defendant in that action, and no doubt the courts would take a very, very dim of his comments,” he said.
“I can’t think of another example of a government minister undermining the professionalism of a lawyer in this way, who is acting for individuals or a group which is taking on the government.
“In terms of his ministerial role his comments were unprofessional. They were also an attempt to bully those for whom Newhouse is acting, and they’re unbecoming of someone who is a minister and a legislator.
“You’ve got a government minister effectively beating up on the right of individuals to exercise their fundamental human right to access to the courts to seek legal redress.
“This is a minister who fundamentally fails to understand the rule of law and procedural fairness.”
The lawsuit focuses on the fact that the federal government allowed the volunteer fleet of rescue vessels stationed on Christmas Island to fall into disrepair. None were available to launch after SIEV 221 was spotted by islanders floundering off the coast at least an hour before the boat crashed into rocks.
The survivors say that SIEV 221 would not have foundered off Christmas Island if any of those rescue vessels was seaworthy, and that almost 50 lives were lost unnecessarily.
They also say that Navy personnel were unnecessarily put in harm’s way by the negligence of the Commonwealth Government.
The coroner who investigated the deaths, Alastair Hope, laid the blame for the disaster at the feet of people smugglers, but was critical of the federal government’s preparedness for maritime disasters near Christmas Island.
Newhouse is a former Labor candidate for the seat of Wentworth, and came close to knocking off Liberal member Malcolm Turnbull in the 2007 federal election. However, Newhouse said his political past was now irrelevant.
“I haven’t been involved in politics since 2008. This government has got no basis on which to target me personally,” he said.
Morrison might not have a political basis on which to target Newhouse, but may feel he has a strategic one.
Newhouse has run a string of successful actions against the Commonwealth. He was involved in last week’s successful scuttling of the Muckaty waste dump in the Northern Territory, and he won an important case for the community of Mutitjulu after it was targeted by the government in the lead-up to the NT intervention.
He’s also led significant wins over asylum seeker policy, including the now infamous Vivian Solon and Cornelia Rau cases, two women who were illegally detained by the government during the early days of its political targeting of asylum seekers. In the case of Solon, an Australian citizen, she was also illegally deported.
“I wanted to hold the Commonwealth government accountable for intentionally harming some of the most vulnerable people in this country,” Newhouse said in relation to the Rau and Solon matters.
“The damage to those individuals and many others is entirely the product of a brutal asylum seeker deterrence system that is based on intentional cruelty.”
Newhouse’s latest suit will be heard later this year. New Matilda will bring you updates as it progresses.
Comment from Scott Morrison was unavailable at the time of press. New Matilda will update this story if comment is forthcoming.
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