School of Social Sciences

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Kate Bretherton

Start date

Aug 2012

Submission date

Aug 2016

Kate Bretherton

Kate Bretherton  profile photo


Enhancing the human rights protections of asylum seekers in Australia's jurisdiction.


My Doctor of Philosophy degree specialisation is Political Science and International Relations. The thesis is multidisciplinary because it involves issues of a political science, international relations, policy, and legal nature. More specifically, it combines the following areas: Australian constitutional law and comparative constitutional systems; bills of rights; constitutional politics and reform; immigration law; international human rights law; refugee protection. The States of particular interest for comparative study are New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Sweden is also of interest because of its protection of human rights of an economic nature.

The research involves interviewing barristers, including Queen's Counsel, solicitors, judges and former judges, legal academics, and politicians in Australia and New Zealand.

Why my research is important

Australia is an advanced and highly developed State in the international system with a firm commitment to the fundamental principles that the United Nations system is predicated on, namely democracy and transparent voting systems, respect for and the upholding of international law, a commitment to the promotion and maintenance of international peace and security, sustainable development, respect for human rights, and a commitment to humanitarian aid. Neither any individual, nor any State is perfect, and the area in particular where Australia has experienced sustained criticism is human rights. Australia has a very strong human rights record compared with many or most other States in the international system and the scope of the criticism is narrow or limited, but there is room for improvement of Australia's human rights record. The criticism of Australia's human rights record is now typically limited to two areas: first, the treatment of Aborigines; second, the treatment of asylum seekers. My research focuses on the latter, Australia's policy and human rights record on asylum seekers, with a view to exploring whether a non-constitutionally entrenched federal bill or charter of rights would potentially enhance the protection of asylum seekers’ human rights in Australia’s jurisdiction. The operation of the New Zealand's Bill of Rights Act 1990 and Human Rights Act 1993 are examined to ascertain whether, for example, similar legislation might be effective in the Australian constitutional context.

The protection of asylum seekers in Australia is a divisive and challenging area because a balanced approach requires consideration of a range of issues, such as the national interest and national security, the State's immigration regime in a broader sense, and consideration of international refugee and human rights law. I am particularly interested in exploring how Australian policy may best balance concerns about the national interest with human rights. The history or development of Australia’s immigration regime is relevant background information, as are current migration trends throughout the world, and issues commonly associated with mass migratory movements of people such as human trafficking and integration.


  • Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) recipient.
  • University of Western Australia Safety Net Top-Up Scholarship recipient.
  • Conference Travel Grant from the University of Western Australia's School of Social Sciences.
  • PhD funding for travel from the University of Western Australia's School of Social Sciences.
  • PhD funding for travel from the University of Western Australia's Graduate School of Research (GRS).
  • I have also benefited from funding from the University of Western Australia's Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL) as a Teaching Intern in 2015.