One of the nation's senior barristers, Julian Burnside, has started a campaign to convince the International Criminal Court to investigate Prime Minister Tony Abbott and former immigration minister Scott Morrison for crimes against humanity committed on refugees in offshore detention centres.
Mr Burnside, a Melbourne QC, told a Perth audience at the weekend he was trying to recruit high-profile international lawyers, including Amal Clooney, to conduct the investigation.
"If we got Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and a couple of others in the dock at The Hague, the Nuremberg Defence ("I was only following orders") wouldn't work," Mr Burnside told a sold-out auditorium at the University of WA.
"I'm working on a plan to persuade the ICC to investigate the things that we are concerned about.
"I think the fact that an investigation was happening would have a real, chilling effect on their conduct.
"I'm trying to recruit (leading British barrister) Geoffrey Robertson and Amal Clooney."
In his lecture We Are Better Than This, Mr Burnside outlined his concerns about what he described as Australia's failure to deal decently with vulnerable people fleeing persecution and torture and the moral failure of Labor and coalition governments over more than 15 years to deal humanely with refugees.
He paid tribute to former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, another outspoken critic of Australia's refugee policies, who died on Friday.
He said Australia would be better off redirecting some of its $4 billion to $5 billion spending on offshore processing and border protection to the UNHCR to quickly and humanely process claims for asylum in Indonesia and Malaysia.
In a post-lecture conversation with Janet Holmes a Court, Mr Burnside reiterated his view that the Federal Government bore a heavy responsibility for misleading Australians about asylum seekers.
"We have seen in history how otherwise civilised people can be persuaded to tolerate intolerable conduct on their behalf by their country," he said.
"We've been induced to think of boat people as criminals. A three-year-old child? Really? We are frightened of a three-year-old child? That's why children in detention has always been a weak spot. Once we see past our fear we are capable of very good things."