Festivals, as a general rule, aim to fill as many seats as possible, but at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival this weekend one seat remained conspicuously empty.
The chair was in honour of Behrouz Boochani, an asylum seeker from Iran who has been detained by the Australian Government in offshore detention for six years.
Festival director Mary Machen said interest in Boochani’s book, written by texting it to allies from inside Manus Island, had skyrocketed at local bookshop Petrach’s since they made Boochani the guest in the empty chair.
QC Julian Burnside, who is speaking at the festival, said the empty chair was an appropriate gesture in support of refugees imprisoned by Australia, including 112 children.
“There are more than 100 children on Nauru, and they are quietly going mad,” he said.
“They are harming themselves and losing hope.
“And this is costing the Australian taxpayer $650,000 per refugee per year. It’s insane.”
In 2017, Mr Burnside referred to Scott Morrison as the second worst politician Australia has ever had, after Peter Dutton.
He said his view had not changed since he became Prime Minister.
“Scott Morrison in his maiden speech in Parliament quoted from the bible, articulating his principles as loving, kindness, and compassion,” he said.
“Well there’s no sign of that in the way he treated asylum seekers.
“If you really want to think about how badly we’re doing, think about the fact that Donald Trump is now copying what we do, by locking up families.”
Julian Burnside is speaking at the Tamar Valley Writer’s Festival event Who decides? Ending life or ending suffering at 10.45am Sunday at the Tamar Valley Resort.
Behrouz Boochani’s book is No Friend but the Mountain.
Since the 1980s PEN International has used the empty chair to symbolise a wirter who could not be present because they were imprisoned, detained, disappeared, threatened or killed.