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IQ2 Debate: The Refugee Convention is out of date

On Tuesday 6 June, we came at Sydney Town Hall to achieve an ambitious goal  to present a program on refugee policy that went beyond the polarised positions that are creating political stalemate. We believed we achieved this goal.

With the number of people now displaced from their homes the highest it’s ever been at 60 million, there's never been a better time to ask how relevant the UN Refugee Convention is. It’s the global agreement that comes up every time we talk about migrants and immigration.

Our speakers addressed the motion from both sides with intelligence, facts and reason. The debate was impassioned, yet respectful, informative, and, evidently, persuasive. At the start of the evening, 35% of the audience agreed that the Refugee Convention was out of date, 21% disagreed and 44% were undecided.


By the end of the debate there had been a massive shift in opinion  just 19% were for the motion, 10% remained undecided, while a massive 71% agreed that the Refugee Convention was still relevant. 

Thanks to everyone who joined us on the night. You can watch the video on YouTube below. 




Anna Boucher
Migration expert
Dr Anna Boucher is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney specialising in migration, population politics and human rights. She has degrees in law and political science and created the Migration Studies Unit at the London School of Economics. Anna thinks the Convention needs to be updated to cater to the pressures driving migration in today’s world.
Lord Fusitu’aTongan politician 
Lord Fusitu’a is an elected member and nobleman of the Tongan parliament. He is officially titled, His Majesty's Lord of the Realm of the Kingdom of Tonga. Lord Fusitu’a’s constituency is the Niuas, three of the northern most group of islands. The barrister and solicitor wants the Convention updated so it can act as safety net for people displaced by climate change.
Greg SheridanForeign affairs editor
Greg Sheridan is foreign editor of The Australian. He has published several books on the Asia Pacific region and accumulated decades of expertise in international politics as a foreign correspondent. Greg argues the Convention is no longer suitable for today’s world. He says Australia does better catering for people in need when it delivers humanitarian programs on its own terms.
Paris AristotleTrauma expert
Paris Aristotle AM is the director of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture and 2017 Victorian Australian of the Year. He says we should not seek to make the Refugee Convention a catch-all for all human displacement areas because if we do, it will become impossible to implement effectively. He believes progress is best achieved through improved regional responses.

Erika FellerFormer UNHCR commissioner 
Erika Feller is the former Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She is currently the Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Erika believes the Convention should stay as it is. She says there are other international agreements providing protection from natural disaster, war and poverty.
Jane McAdamProfessor of refugee law
Professor Jane McAdam is director of UNSW’s Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. She is an associate or fellow at several international institutes dedicated to foreign policy. Jane says there is nothing wrong with the Convention except for the way it is applied. She thinks it would be a diplomatic and legal error for Australia to abandon it.

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