Australia's treatment of refugees hadn't improved in the three years since journalist Ben Doherty won a Walkley Award for his feature about an Iranian man's death on Christmas Island.
"It's got worse," the former Bendigo Advertiser journalist said.
"I think we do live in a country that has draconian and punitive measures meted out against a small section of people seeking asylum in this country and it's done for political purposes."
"There is no justification for the ongoing detention, and it is detention, people are held on the islands of Nauru and Manus and they can't leave."
"Words make worlds," he said.
"The language we use around asylum seekers, around migrants is hugely influential in shaping people's understanding of what we're talking about and who these people are and moulding and shaping community attitudes."
Doherty pointed to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stating "They are us" about the victims of the Christchurch attacks.
"Reaching out to people from different backgrounds and seeking these common threads of humanity between us and looking for the things that unite us rather than divide us," he said.
"Language has a huge role to play in it."
Doherty began his newspaper career with The Bendigo Advertiser in 2001, also working at The Canberra Times and as a foreign correspondent for The Guardian and Fairfax.
A three-time Walkley winner, Doherty will speak join a Inclusion Zone panel discussion at Albury Library Museum on September 13, part of Write Around The Murray.
Recently returned to Australia after a sabbatical studying at Oxford, the journalist felt "to an extent we've lost the ability to disagree".
"I think there is a tendency in Australian public debate for people to dig themselves into ideological trenches, to take a position and to take any contrary position as sort of a personal attack on them," he said.
"All of a sudden the debates get very heated, very polemic and very personal very quickly.
"Democracies thrive on disagreement and we need to nurture it and cherish that people don't always hold the same views."