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Kirby, Triggs damn Kafkaesque refugee laws

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October 11, 2017

Legal heavyweights Michael Kirby and Gillian Triggs have slammed Australia's asylum seekers policy.

Prominent legal figures Michael Kirby and Gillian Triggs have rallied against the nation's offshore detention of refugees, describing the policy is illegal and Kafkaesque.

Former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Professor Triggs and former High Court judge Mr Kirby also hit back at immigration minister Peter Dutton's comments that lawyers who represent asylum seekers are "un-Australian".

The comments came as the pair were announced as patrons for the Refugee Advice and Casework Service at a fundraising event in Sydney on Wednesday night.

Mr Kirby took aim at both major parties' roles in creating the response to illegal boat arrivals and said 2015 marked a time when "we, a good nation, turned our back on many refugees and outsourced their handling".

"It's a story from Kafka, it makes your blood go cold," he said.

"That in this country, a government, officials can symbolise and a judiciary can authorise and allow such injustice to happen."

Professor Triggs echoed his words.

"We will look back on these days and say how did this ever happen?" she said.

"How did we do this to people to came to ask us for protection and support."

Mr Dutton accused lawyers representing asylum seekers of fighting against the national interest earlier this year, but on Wednesday he doubled down on the comments.

"I just say to any of the advocates and people running these political campaigns, you are prolonging the difficulties for people on Manus Island," he told the ABC.

Professor Triggs disagreed, describing the policy of off-shore detention as illegal and unconscionable.

"We will get through this phase of our political and legal history, we will move on," she said.

"It's un-Australian to deny (asylum seekers) the rights of protection when they meet the legal standards."

The two described Australia's approach to asylum seekers as akin to the treatment of Aboriginal people in decades past and urged fellow lawyers to lend their skills to RACS in the fight against the policies.

Mr Kirby recalled representing a group of law students - the Freedom Riders - who, in 1965, filed a case against a cinema in Walgett that refused Aboriginal patrons from sitting in the upstairs section.

"That's a sort of totem of why we're here, why we bother, why we engage with this issue," he said.

"(RACS lawyers) are the modern equivalent."

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