Marcus Einfeld has four children; his father was the well-respected NSW Labor MP, Syd Einfeld. He attended Sydney Boys High School (1951-1955), and later obtained a law degree from the University of Sydney and a Ph. D from the USA. He is a former justice of the Federal Court of Australia. Outside the field of the law, Marcus has been a social activist in Australia and elsewhere, including service as Austcare’s Ambassador for Refugees. He has led delegations to many war zones, and to China.
From 1986-1990 Marcus was the Foundation President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC). In this role, he is perhaps best remembered for ordering the 1987 inquiry into the living conditions of indigenous people in Toomelah, northern NSW. To this day its residents speak highly of his advocacy on their behalf: ‘It was just so overwhelming for us as Aboriginal people living in despair and poverty all our lives, and to suddenly have this man walk into our community. It was just unbelievable. Like I said, you know, to us at that time he was like, South Africa had a Mandela. We had Justice Einfeld come into our community. And that’s exactly the way we felt about it.’ (ABC Four Corners, 2009).
Marcus has served as an executive member of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and as a Councillor on the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He also founded and served as the first chairman of the Australian Campaign for the Rescue of Soviet Jewry; later he established and also led the London-based National Campaign for Soviet Jewry of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Marcus has been a spokesperson for Israeli and Jewish causes and has often contributed to public debate on Palestine, the media, the United Nations, and other institutions. He has spoken at United Israel Appeal (UIA) functions in the UK, the USA, Europe, Canada and Australia. He has also been patron of the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, and of the Sydney Jewish Museum.
In 2002, he was presented with a United Nations Association of Australia Founder’s Award for his contribution to justice and human rights.
In March 2006 Marcus delivered an address at the University of Western Sydney on civil liberties and the war on terror, stating that Western powers, including Australia, had supported terrorist regimes financially, and that new sedition laws showed that Australia was ‘leaning towards an autocratic framework’.
Marcus is also involved in charity work, which has included the Salvation Army, where for some years he was its only Jewish Santa. He has often volunteered at the Exodus Foundation, Matthew Talbot Hostel and with the St Vinnies night patrol. At present he is setting up a foundation that is designed to reduce the recidivism rate (74%) of ex-prisoners who serve time in NSW jails.
He is a forceful critic of Canberra’s policies regarding asylum-seekers who reach our shores. What follows is a recent contribution to the current debate.
Asylum Seeker Saga Continues. Guest Blogger: Marcus Einfeld
Posted 26.07.2013 John
The saga proceeds in relation to people seeking refugee asylum in our country. The latest contribution in these last few days is that we should seek changes in the UN Refugee Convention because circumstances have changed since it was introduced after WWII. The label ‘economic migrants’ is being resurrected as a reason for refusing refugee asylum to thousands of people protected by the Convention.
The idea that this situation can be dealt with by negotiating amendments to the Refugee Convention is fatuous. The chances of serious changes being achieved in the lifetimes of the currently displaced asylum seekers and their children, if ever, are non-existent. So is a new Convention. Many years of discussions in Geneva and elsewhere about the possible need to review the Convention in certain respects, in which I played a small part, actually produced proposals for its strengthening, not its weakening, to relieve countries like Australia from its humanitarian obligations to provide rescue and relief of people fleeing terror and persecution, and yes, the consequent economic hardship that physical displacement always causes.
Have circumstances changed in fact since WWII? Once again people are being compelled to flee their homes by brutal, indiscriminate, often racially based armed force. Because of the immense dangers of not fleeing, they have to leave behind virtually everything they own thus placing them of course at economic peril.
In western societies, people forced out of their homes by natural or even manmade disasters suffer danger and economic hardship but are supported by governments and public subscription until they can safely return and rebuild. Why should people in other countries fearing death or torture at the hands of armed gangs be any less worthy of support?
In many decades of assisting refugees and displaced people in some truly awful camps in Malawi, Bosnia, Palestine, Bangladesh and other places, I have hardly met one whose first choice was not returning to their own countries. Home is what they know and love. The request they invariably make is not transportation to Australia or Canada but for help to go home, and support in the meantime so they can keep their kids alive and safe. Many sit and wait for years in terrible conditions. Some cannot wait any longer, as is entirely understandable. In the same situation, would we not move to save our kids from persecution and penury, even death on unseaworthy boats over vast expanses of dangerous oceans? Demonise them if you must but some people smugglers in history have been heroes, like Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and the European priests and nuns and other ordinary citizens who hid Jews from the Nazis.
Our recent and current leaders know this story very well. Historically we have a proud record in refugee rescue and relief. They, like we, know that refugees have made towering contributions to Australia’s progress and achievements in many fields. Unfortunately too few are cricketers or footballers or this discussion might not even be necessary. But in recent years our leaders have consistently failed us, and those who suffer, by failing to explain publicly why we as a decent people must help people in need. As a wealthy country of 25 million people, we are simply not going to be adversely affected by taking 25,000 (0.1%) more people over five years or more (a tiny number in world terms) who have nowhere to go back to and will, as did their predecessors, make eminently successful migrants and contribute to the growth and success of our country.
No tidal wave is approaching, merely drips that can seamlessly be woven into our proud cultural tapestry. While ever the world is beset by violence, we cannot stop the boats, still less turn them around. Other solutions can and must be found. But that is another article.