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Tag Archives: asylum seeker policy

Now is the Time for All Good Men and Women to Come to the Aid of the Party

By Allan Patience

This article has been re-blogged from ‘Pearls and Irritations’ with the author’s permission.

Richard Di Natale has called on the Greens to get ready for government. Well and good. The direction in which he is prodding his party is a rare glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak Australian political landscape.

Whether in a coalition (likely with Labor), or in its own right (unlikely), what sort of public policy agenda would a Greens government pursue? It is time for it to come up with a broad and innovative policy agenda; otherwise a completely new political party will have to be created.

The other major parties, Labor and Liberal, have become ossified under the thumb of ideologically blinkered, self-perpetuating elites, the consequence of what Robert Michels once called the “iron law of oligarchy.” The Nationals are mostly irrelevant to mainstream policy debates, but they too suffer from the same organisational malaise as the ALP and the Liberals.

For over three decades now Labor and the Coalition parties have been in obsessive thrall to a neoliberal mindset, utterly insensitive to the havoc that neoliberalism has been wreaking on our economy. However, what they are clearly incapable of comprehending today is that the whole neoliberal (or “economic rationalist”) project is about to come crashing down.

Some of the catastrophes that neoliberalism has unleashed on us in Australia include: stagnating economic growth rates; sharply increasing socio-economic inequalities that are undermining capitalism itself (though, as with most subtleties, this irony escapes most neoliberals); the running-down of vital public services and the devaluing of public goods (for example, hospitals, schools, public transport); the appalling expansion of what were once termed “repressive state apparatuses” (increased powers for police and border protection authorities, state-sanctioned human rights abuses on Manus Island and Nauru, draconian meta-data gathering laws, the use of legally prescribed secrecy by governments to hide what they are really up to); and a society in which a range of social pathologies (family violence, depression, narcissism, drugs, begging, violent crime) are becoming thesine qua non of everyday life.

The licence that big private sector corporations have been granted by successive neoliberal regimes has not resulted in better services, cheaper credit, or widely shared prosperity across the community. As Milton once observed, licence is not the same thing as liberty. Markets are now being crowded out by start-up ingénues and fraudsters while being bullied by big local and overseas corporations intent on feathering their own profitability nests and with little interest in the needs or rights of their employees and consumers.

For example, the billion dollar profits that the big four banks are presently announcing (even as they increase their lending rates) point to the abject failure of the principles of deregulation and privatisation – that neoliberals have boasted endlessly will free up a shackled market, to benefit everybody. In the case of the banks, the only beneficiaries have been their obscenely overpaid executives and a narrow grouping of major shareholders. And, remember, many of those shareholders are offshore corporations.

Consider, too, the myriad private providers of electricity that have exploded on to the scene since the privatisation of energy generation. Neoliberals promised that privatising the delivery of electricity would bring vigorous competition into a previously lazy and cosseted industry, driving down the price of electricity in household budgets. But, as every household knows only too well, this simply isn’t happening. In fact there are now far too may competitors in the market devising all sorts of byzantine schemes to woo customers, while investing in costly advertising and hustling campaigns to cajole bemused and confused customers into signing up with one or other of them. The result has been a shocking escalation in the costs of a fundamental public good – affordable electricity. The privatisation of electricity has been one of the most spectacular of neoliberalism’s disasters.

These are only two examples of many failures by neoliberalism to progress our economy and enhance people’s lives.

So what sort of agenda should the Greens espouse?

Their first priority must be to counter-attack in neoliberalism’s war on public goods and services. Reimposing regulatory constraints on a private sector that is out of control is an impossible task. That horse has well and truly bolted. However, neoliberals love to extol the virtue of competition in the economy. So why not give them some real competition?

This is where Greens should enter the policy debates. They should can mount a political campaign explaining that there is no competing mechanism in the neoliberal quiver to challenge the social destructiveness and economic vandalising that neoliberalism’s privatising and deregulating have unleashed. They need to explain that the only achievement of neoliberal policies has been to oversee capital roaring up the system, not trickling down.

This should be the prelude for advocating a policy of strategically targeted public competition into the so-called “free market.”

The first item on the post-neoliberal policy agenda should be the setting up of a publicly owned bank, to provide genuine competition in the banking industry. Of course the neoliberal beneficiaries of the current banking order will scream like stuck pigs about the unfairness of a publicly owned competitor in their midst, insisting that only they be allowed to compete on that most sacred of neoliberal cows – the fabled level playing field.

Anyway, why must a publicly owned bank be seen as unfairly tilting the economic arena? Its establishment would simply provide more competition to bring the banking field back to an even keel, while returning profits to the community either though cheaper, more consumer-respectful services, and/or profits being invested in public goods (for example, better schools, railways, medical services).

Another strategic area in the contemporary economy is legal services. Thousands of Australians are locked out of the justice system because of prohibitive fees charged by the big law companies that as greedy as the banks. A publicly owned law firm providing cheap and friendly (dare one say compassionate) legal advice would help address the unjust over-representation of social minorities and the poor who are routinely and unjustly the majority victims of the pointy end of the country’s legal system. When did you last hear of a senior partner in a law firm, or a distinguished surgeon, or a bank CEO going to jail?

Other strategic areas in the Australian economy in urgent need of tough public competition include the real estate industry (agents’ costs and fees are a significant factor in pushing up already escalating house prices), medical (including psychiatric) and dental clinics, a publicly owned pharmaceutical corporation (once a dream of the Whitlam government), childcare centres, a government airline, and a comprehensive news and entertainment media agency (an expanded and properly resourced ABC and SBS).

A cautiously progressive introduction of public competition into strategic sectors of the economy would certainly contribute to improving the barrenness of our contemporary public policy environment. As each new public competition agency is settled in, further competition could be contemplated – for example a publicly owned supermarket chain.

And once people realise that this kind of state intervention doesn’t cause the sky to fall in, then even the nationalisation of certain crucial industries could be considered – an obvious example is urban rail networks and road tollways.

Indeed with the institutionalisation of a healthy culture of public competition in the post-neoliberal economy, further private competition could even be encouraged. But any new private enterprises will have to operate on a truly level playing field. Regulators will require them to demonstrate that their services are consumer-respectful and that the efficiencies they promise are genuine, not bogus as so many are right now.

If the Greens are unable to mount a public policy program for the coming post-neoliberal era, then a new political party will be necessary. That will be the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party.

Allan Patience is a political scientist at the Asia Institute in the University of Melbourne.

 

Bill Shorten’s Address at ALP National Conference on Asylum Seeker Policy – Key points

Below is the video of Bill Shorten’s address at the Labor Conference, regarding Asylum Seeker and immigration policies. Key points from the address are listed below:

Key Points:

  • Immigration has been one of the secrets of Australia’s success.
  • Shorten believes in a new direction for Australia’s immigration policies
  • Accept more refugees and ensure we treat refugees more humanely
  • Shorten guarantees to keep closed the lethal journey between Java and Christmas Island, which claims lives.
  • Australia can be the greater, kinder nation, we want our children to see.
  • A Labor Govt will keep more people safe in a more humane way
    • Safe from persecution by dictatorial regimes
    • Safe from the exploitation of criminal people smugglers who prey upon the vulnerable.
    • Safe from abuse in facilities which even fail to meet the basic standard of decency
    • Safe from losing people they love from having families torn apart from drownings at sea
  • In addressing this, unlike the Liberal National Coalition, we do not play to the politics of fear
  • Labor will never use labels to denigrate desperate people
  • Fleeing persecution is not a crime
  • We will not pander to a noisy tiny minority who will never embrace multi-cultural Australia
  • Shorten acknowledges the history of Asylum seeker policy
  • We must ensure Navy, customs officials and border force people never again pull bodies from waters
  • We must maintain regional settlement agreements Labor introduced. Safest deterrent to people smugglers
  • Under Labor’s policies people smugglers cannot falsely advertise settlement in Australia
  • There are now over 60 million displaced people in the world through no fault of their own and this will only increase
  • Risking lives in unsafe vessels will only increase and desperation will become more intense.
  • We should never tolerate the exploitation of vulnerable people.
  • We cannot allow people smugglers to take advantage of perceived weakness.
  • We need to ensure people smugglers cannot traffic vulnerable people.
  • We need to ensure Australia provides safe haven to a greater share of refugees
  • Displaced people will arrive here more safely.
  • We must have the option of turning boats around provided it is safe to do so.
  • By 2025, a Labor Govt will double Australia’s annual refugee intake to 27,000 people.
  • Labor will dedicate a portion of our program to resettling refugees from our region.
  • Labor will abolish temporary protection visas
  • Labor will reinstate the United Nations Refugee Convention in the Migration Act.
  • Labor will reverse the Abbott Govt’s retrograde efforts to undermine international law
  • Labor will deliver historic 450 million dollars to the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees
  • Labor will take up overdue leadership role to work and engage with our neighbours, including Indonesia
  • Labor supports regional processing.
  • Processing offshore does not mean we can offshore or outsource our humanity
  • Vulnerable people should never be subject to degrading violence in Australia’s name.
  • To guarantee safety Labor will implement Independent oversight of every Australian funded facility
  • Labor will ensure refugee claims are processed as quickly as possible.
  • Labor will restore access to the refugee review tribunal
  • Labor will ensure increased transparency for processing times.
  • Labor will fulfil the solemn duty we owe to children.
  • Labor will end the moral shame of children in detention as quickly as possible.
  • Labor will establish an Independent Children’s Advocate
  • Independent Children’s advocate will be separate from Department, Minister & Government, serving only the interests of children.
  • In addition to Whistle Blower safeguards, Labor will legislate to impose mandatory reporting of any child abuse in all facilities.
  • Labor’s plan ensures Australia takes a fair share of refugees
  • Labor’s plan ensures refugees in our care are treated with humanity and dignity
  • Labor’s plan ensures that Australia steps up and fulfils a greater responsibility as a global citizen
  • Shorten says he did not enter politics to shirk hard decisions and hard issues
  • Shorten is determined for our country to be responsible in the world and secure at home
  • Shorten is determined for us to be a welcoming, kind, compassionate and safe destination
  • Shorten is determined Labor will achieve this for Australia.

*Video sourced from Bill Shorten’s Facebook page.

Originally published on Polyfeministix

Labor’s Asylum Seeker Policy Should Be A Seven Point Star!

“I’m not in favour of changing the flag, I’ve got to say. Although I have to say that if the Commonwealth star was to be a 7-pointed star rather than a 6-pointed star, that’s hardly a massive change. I would say that that is an evolution rather than a revolution.”

Tony Abbott on the Northern Territory becoming a state.

OK, as I’m sure most of you know – and if you didn’t it’s probably been pointed out by several of those lefties who just pounce on every mistake that Tony makes – our flag already has a seven point star. Honestly, you’d think that people had better things to do than laugh at the Liberals every time one of them puts their foot in their mouth, then shoots themselves in the foot, luckily missing their brain. At the very least, you would have thought that those commenting on Tony’s mistakes would have given up through sheer exhaustion.

Personally, I think that there’s something in Tony’s “star” comment for Labor. They need to stop presenting alternatives and just argue that what they’re doing is hardly a radical change. After all, Tony Abbott is so unpopular – thanks to all those who laugh at him just because he’s reality challenged – that if the Labor Party can just keep Bill Shorten out of sight apart from when he makes an announcement like a fifty percent renewable target, they should romp in the next election by about thirty seats.

In practice, this would mean instead of talking about an emissions trading scheme, which the Liberals would argue is a carbon tax by another name, Labor should just announce that it’s increasing the GST, but only on carbon, which is really “an evolution rather than a revolution” and don’t we already have a GST, which John Howard said was his star achievement, apart from his daughter marrying his doppelganger? So it’s hardly a “big new tax” it’s just an extra point on the star of the GST.

As for as an asylum seeker policy goes, well, rather than having a big public argument, Labor should just announce that they’ll be doing all they can to stop boats arriving and people drowning at sea, and when asked whether that includes boat turn-backs, the response should simply be: “It’s been a long-standing bipartisan policy not to comment on operation matters.” Then, when in government, they could do what they like with boat arrivals. Turn them back, send them to Malaysia, create a regional processing centre for new arrivals in some undisclosed location, give them all helicopter rides back and forth to Geelong, whatever. They simply needn’t tell us!

If pressed while still in Opposition, Labor could simply say that they’re refering all comment about “on-water matters” to the weekly press conference held by Scott Morrison to keep us informed. If a member of the press should dare to point out that Scott Morrison stopped holding weekly press conferences shortly after telling everybody that he’d only be making comments at his weekly press conference, and, besides, Morrison is no longer Minister for Immigration, Labor’d have the option of asking, “Are you suggesting that’s why that boat penetrated our immigration zone – because Dutton’s not up to the job?” Again, after the winning the election, when Dutton’s no longer Immigration Minister, they could suggest that it’s not policy to comment on who is, or who isn’t Immigration Minister as it’s an operational matter and revealing such information could be an even bigger help to people smugglers than paying them to not pollute.

Oh wait, that’s the Climate Change Directionless Act policy that the Liberals had; not the pay people smugglers to take the boats back policy which they may – or may not – have had…

Anyway, my advice to Labor is to adopt the seven point star strategy, and now that the Clifton Hill branch has taken my advice by asking Bronwyn Bishop to speak*, I’m hoping to be taken on as a paid strategist. Or at the very least, the Liberals could adopt their Direct Action Strategy and pay me to stop writing.

Yes, like Tony, sometimes I just don’t see the point!

*The other day I wrote:

Mm, I wonder if she’d be prepared to go and speak at a Labor Party fundraiser if she were asked. After all, she is meant to be non-partisan and she did say that she went to Geelong in her capacity as speaker. There ya go, Bill. Don’t move a motion of no confidence. Issue her with an invitation… See if that gets you thrown out of Parliament; I’m sure that she’s trying reach 400 Labor ejections before September.

Yes, while it’s only the Clifton Hill Branch that seems to have taken up my suggestion, I feel that Bishop’s office should be flooded with requests for her to speak at fundraisers, just to give her the chance to show that she certainly wasn’t playing favourites by only speaking a Liberal functions.

 

Immigration Detention: try living with the life changing effects

CartoonAIMSo many experts have warned the government about the effects of detention on asylum seekers. The experts have been publicly denouncing detention for years, yet we detain more and more people. Most sadly, we detain children, a situation the Human Rights Commission has reported on, in graphic and disturbing detail, this week in The Forgotten Children.

Here we are in 2015, incarcerating innocent children in conditions worse than those in which we jail convicted criminals. Julie Bishop cries tears of pain over the looming deaths of two convicted drug smugglers, yet Tony Abbott’s response when asked if he felt any guilt over the treatment of children in detention was “None whatsoever”. While I do not agree with the death penalty and I feel for the drug smugglers and their families at this tragic time, the contradiction evident in the two responses is nothing short of astonishing.

I left my country because there was a war and I wanted freedom. I left my country. I came to have a better future, not to sit in a prison. If I remain in this prison, I will not have a good future. I came to become a good man in the future to help poor people … I am tired of life. I cannot wait much longer. What will happen to us? What are we guilty of? What have we done to be imprisoned?87 I’m just a kid, I haven’t done anything wrong. They are putting me in a jail. We can’t talk with Australian people.

(13 year old child, Blaydin Detention Centre, Darwin, 12 April 2014)

Source: The Forgotten Children

Abbott launched a scathing attack on Gillian Triggs, Human Rights Commission President and it was reported today the government has sought her removal prior to the release of the report.

The Abbott government sought the resignation of the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs two weeks before it launched an extraordinary attack on the commission over its report on children in immigration detention.

While The Forgotten Children report is about children, it is also about detention. The effects of detention don’t disappear the moment a detainee is released. The experts have warned of this for years and I know from personal experience this is true. There may be some particularly resilient individuals that are released unscathed, but I suggest the vast majority do not find recovery instant or easy. Sometimes the effects are not immediately apparent. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often doesn’t appear until sometime later. A member of my family suffers PTSD as the result of a life experience totally unrelated to detention. The PTSD did not reach full expression until ten years after the event, although it could be argued with appropriate professional intervention her PTSD may have been detected earlier. There is considerable debate about delayed-onset PTSD and research continues: a good reference article is A Quarter of Cases of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Is With Delayed Onset. The article discusses patients suffering “subthreshold” symptoms after the event but before full expression of the PTSD condition.

Of course PTSD is only one of the many mental health issues that can result from detention. Anxiety and depression are also common.

Not only are we risking the welfare of vulnerable children while in detention, we are risking their future welfare as well because there is a very high risk we are damaging the mental health of their parents (those children who are not unaccompanied minors). This means the parents will be less able to engage with their children as parents at a time when the child most needs their parents to support their recovery.

In 2012 Dr Belinda Liddell, as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at UNSW, wrote of the impact of immigration policies on the mental health of asylum seekers. Since then our treatment of asylum seekers has worsened, not improved.

In Nauru, where more than 380 asylum seekers are currently being detained, there have been reports of hunger strikes, self-harm, aggression and suicide attempts.

Unfortunately this isn’t new – these signs of psychological distress have been repeatedly witnessed in Australia’s immigration detention centres since the early 1990s.

For several decades now, mental health professionals have documented the psychological health of asylum seekers within mandatory detention facilities. Findings from multiple studies provide clear evidence of deteriorating mental health as a result of indefinite detention, with profound long-term consequences even after community resettlement.

I note “profound long-term consequences“. So should our government. This report isn’t just about children. It is about whole families. This report isn’t just about the conditions in detention. It is about the future of the children, the future of the families. The long-term effects will be different for each person. Many may end up unable to be gainfully employed or to study to build a life after detention. Society will, as society often does in many situations such as rape and domestic violence, blame the victim rather than accept responsibility for allowing the detention in the first place.

Abbott and his ministry should be considering the lives of these people, not some “Stop the boats” slogan that is well past its use-by date. The government need to deliver the “good government” promised on Monday and act responsibly. Persecuting innocent people is not responsible. More importantly, it is not humane and is in contravention of Australia’s responsibilities under international law. It has life-long effects on the imprisoned, long after release.

Robyn Oyeniyi lives with the effects from detention on a daily basis. Robyn writes on Love versus Goliath.

Image by Jen Bethune.

Let’s tell Bill Shorten a few cold, hard truths

Bill Shorten wants to hear from you (image from smh.com.au)

Bill Shorten wants to hear from you (image from smh.com.au)

Last May when Labor endeavoured to boast what they stood for, the following email was circulated en masse:

Some time ago I wrote to you asking you to complete a survey so I could see what you believed was Labor’s direction for the future.

Today our party – the oldest organised labour party in the world – is undergoing a process of grassroots reform and revitalisation. That’s why this was such a tremendous opportunity to hear from you.

I wanted to make sure all of you got a chance to see the results of this survey and what our community’s vision for the future of Labor was. Read our report and take your chance to share my favourite part of this job – listening to people about the things that matter most.

Thanks for your support,

George Wright
National Secretary

For whatever reason, I didn’t complete the survey. Nonetheless, I was interested to read the report.

Sadly, it told me little, but I was extremely disappointed with the summary. Here is a part of it:

The policy areas of importance to supporters, namely healthcare, climate change, the NBN & schools funding, were policy areas already championed by the Party.

So why was I disappointed? I was disappointed because Labor’s vision for the future doesn’t include on-shore processing of asylum seekers.

Now people have a chance to right that wrong, with an invitation to engage with Bill Shorten, who sent the following email:

The only thing standing in the way of Tony Abbott winning another term in 2016 is our ability to stand together.

We were built by the grassroots, for the benefit of the people. And that’s how we’ll win.

Brought together by the belief we can build a better, fairer country, we all share a common passion. I want to hear your ideas about how we can rebuild Labor for the better.

Join me in a video call next Tuesday 23 September to chat about how we need to rebuild and win.

I am honoured to lead Labor; but I recognise it is a privilege built on the hard work and passion of thousands of like-minded Australians who stand shoulder to shoulder with you.

We can only stop Tony Abbott if we all stand together, focused on what unites us — that’s why I want to hear from you about how we do that.

I’ll be taking your questions live on Twitter with your host ACT Senator Kate Lundy. Click here to RSVP and find out more.

Like me, you must find it hard to watch what Tony Abbott’s Government is doing to our country. But the damage will only continue — and get worse — if he wins again in 2016.

Rebuilding Labor begins with you and me; let’s talk about it next Tuesday.

Thanks for standing with me on this,

Bill

Never have I read such limp, superficial fluff.

He’s saying one thing yet doing the other.

But if he wants my opinion I can think of a couple of things to add to their disgraceful asylum seeker policy. For starters, Bill Shorten’s response to a federal ICAC:

“I think we’ve all been shocked at the revelations that have come out in NSW ICAC,” he has said. “I don’t believe the same case has yet existed to demonstrate these problems are prevalent in the national political debate in Australia.”

I find that gutless and pathetic. The NSW ICAC has seen Liberal Party politicians dropping like flies and whilst it doesn’t suggest that there is corruption in the federal ranks, Bill must surely be aware that there are tens of thousands of voters out there with eyebrows raised. It’s a question they’d like answered. And it seriously needs to be answered.

I’m also disappointed at the bipartisan support Bill Shorten has given Tony Abbott in involving us in another war. John Kelly expressed it succinctly (and better than I could) when he wrote:

How simple-minded this government is. How pathetic is the Labor opposition that so meekly falls into line as if there was no other position it could take.

I’ll be telling Bill Shorten what I think. It’s a chance for all of us to do the same. He wrote “We can only stop Tony Abbott if we all stand together”. Lately I’m beginning to feel that it’s Tony Abbott he’s standing with . . . not the rest of us.

The Ugly Australians

When one analyses the government’s general performance thus far, it is easy to form the impression that they are so focused on, and beating their chests about, stopping the boats, they haven’t noticed that the current polling puts them out of office in 2016.

sri lankan

Sri Lankan asylum seekers (Image by transcurrents.com)

A disturbing feature for the Coalition is that these polls override the government’s boats’ policy and renders its treatment of refugees irrelevant. Scott Morrison’s brutal statements via video which were produced as a deterrent for those in detention reflect not just his vicious and malevolent approach but reveal a dark and sinister government intent not just on stopping boats but also applying mental torture as well.

His refusal last week to confirm the presence of two boats allegedly containing 203 Tamils being intercepted by the Australian Customs is further evidence that he and the government have lost any sense of morality and think that stopping the boats is all they need to win the next election. How wrong these ugly Australians are.

In the video Morrison warns asylum seekers: “If you choose not to go home then you will spend a very, very long time here and so I urge you to think carefully about that decision and make a decision to get on with the rest of your life.” This is tough, uncompromising talk indeed and bullying by any other language.

When asked about the recent boat interceptions he said, “A boat hasn’t arrived — let’s be quite clear.” This approach by Morrison was utter arrogance to say the least. All subsequent attempts to seek answers from other members of the government were greeted with their robotic, pathetic mantra, ‘we don’t comment on operational and water matters.’

customs

Customs helicopter (Image by australianaviation.com.au)

The arrogance of this minister is mind-boggling. Not only is the level of secrecy unprecedented since the Second World War, it is counter-productive. Well we remember John Howard’s 2004 election campaign slogan which began with, “Who do you trust….”  Somehow that slogan must have helped him and the Coalition across the line then, but they wouldn’t want to try it today.

A recent Essential poll found that while the most trust we have today is with the High Court of Australia followed closely by the ABC, the level of trust we have for political parties is at the bottom of the survey at only 2%. And that is precisely where they deserve to be. Labor, despite their appalling coalescence with the current boats policy, were at least upfront with what was happening with boat arrivals and reported it regularly. Such trust and honesty toward the Australian electorate did not work to their advantage. That, sadly, says more about the duplicity and collective ignominy of the electorate than it does about Labor’s honesty.

But now, Scott Morrison has finally released at least part of the story about the boats’ interception and one suspects he will be beating his chest with delight. We can only hope his actions in this matter and that of this government will come back to haunt them both.

We can only hope there will be international repercussions over this unprecedented abuse of human rights. Tony Abbott’s much repeated claim that the government has always acted in a manner consistent with its international obligations is no longer trustworthy and masks a dark victory reminiscent of John Howard’s Tampa.

Abbott must be feeling very smug. His three word election slogans have prevailed. That, of course, is no comfort to the 41 asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka who will now, most likely, face arrest and charges for leaving Sri Lanka from other than an official port. And what of the remaining 153 who have remained on board Australian vessels? Will it be Nauru or Manus and another opportunity for Morrison to show his video?

At the time of writing, the High Court, that institution Australians trust above all else, has just granted an interim injunction preventing any further transfer of asylum seekers by Australian Customs. This ugly story is yet to play out.

No doubt Abbott’s 37 spin doctors employed to manage his media performances will feed the Murdoch press with all the misinformation they can tap out on their keyboards. We can only hope it won’t work.

When the real stories begin to emerge from Sri Lanka, as they no doubt will, can we also hope the collective conscience of the nation will be sufficiently stirred from its disgraceful ambivalence? Perhaps not.

shorten

Bill Shorten (Image by news.com.au)

We have to remember that Scott Morrison has 97 spin doctors and they also have Murdoch in their stable. So we can anticipate that, for the time being, with a hapless and complicit Labor and an ineffectual Greens and PUP, we will see continued human rights abuses. Doubtless the ABC, Fairfax and The Guardian will continue to investigate this outrageous act of moral bankruptcy but will anyone be willing to listen?

 

 

March in May

MiM SWMarch in March saw tens of thousands of disenchanted voters take to the streets across Australia in protest against the Abbott Government. But it was just the beginning. After the marchers had dispersed, the anger at the government still simmered.

Now the people are marching again.

The AIMN has been contacted by the organisers to promote the next instalment: March in May.

This we are more than happy to do.

After March in March many in the mainstream media ridiculed it as nothing more than a rabble. It was just a group of lefties, they mused, coming along for the walk and waving a placard.

March in May will have a clear message (see list below). The media will know why people are marching. It would be foolhardy to ignore it.

Here is the promo The AIMN received:

Media Diary, Sydney Event Alert for May 18 2014
MARCH IN MAY TO TAKE PLACE SYDNEY, ADELAIDE AND PERTH
SUNDAY MAY 18TH 1PM

MARCH IN MARCH saw over 110,000 Australians rally together across 33 locations to express their concern and disdain for the policies of the current government. This grass-roots movement gave a voice to a broad demographic including the elderly, young families, first-time activists, long-time activists and even Liberal voters.

This event was a positive, empowering and uplifting exercise in unity and democracy attracting a range of speakers from many walks of life. To follow on from its growing success, there will be a snap demonstration to register public objection to the ongoing irresponsible and dangerous decisions of our current Federal Government and the impending budgetary announcement – Sydney, Adelaide and Perth will again MARCH IN MAY 2014.

What exactly are we marching for? Better policy making NOW and better governance long-term; transparency, accountability, ethics and equity. We want a progressive Australia which reflects the open-minded, conscientious and intelligent nature of its citizens.

Core areas of concern include:
– Education (cuts to funding and new fees)
– Public services (healthcare, welfare, ABC & SBS funding cuts, the National Broadband Network)
– Environmental Issues (animal rights, climate change, dredging of the Great Barrier Reef, logging of heritage-listed forests, coal seam gas and mining)
– Human Rights (asylum seeker rights, indigenous issues, women’s issues, worker’s rights)
– The Economy (anti-Trans Pacific Partnership)
– Corruption within the government and pandering to corporations
– Political bias in the media.

MARCH IN MAY – SYDNEY SUNDAY MAY 18th
BELMORE PARK, CBD
AN EXCITING LIST OF GUEST SPEAKERS AND PERFORMERS TO BE ANNOUNCED

Tony Abbott’s only claim to fame: persecuting the utterly helpless.

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

We have a government whose only claim to fame is that it has “stopped the boats”. (Whether they have stopped or not) they boast proudly of the feat, but should we the voters proud of the grotesque manner in which they have implemented this policy and of those entrusted with the task?  Jennifer Wilson, in this guest post, looks at the ugliness of both.

As far as I can tell, the Abbott government’s proudest achievement in its first one hundred days has been its ongoing persecution of asylum seekers arriving by boat. It has also been its most costly, and I refer you to this excellent ABC fact-checked site titled Operation Sovereign Borders: the first six months for a breakdown of the billions the government has committed to spending to maintain its “stop the boats” policy, and the mandatory detention of asylum seekers already apprehended.

What the government never admits is that “stopping the boats” is not something it can conceivably cease – as long as there are asylum seekers there will be attempts to access this country by boat.  Surveillance, interception and transfer of asylum seekers to lifeboats (which we must keep on purchasing anew as we never get them back) has no foreseeable end. Stopping the boats arriving on Australian shores is an immensely costly business, and open-ended.

Some weeks ago, the Guardian revealed that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection had inadvertently released the personal details of one-third of asylum seekers currently in Australia, possibly putting them at great risk if they return or are returned to their countries of origin. The result of this data breach is that asylum seekers may now legally claim refugee status in Australia solely on the grounds of sur place. 

Eighty-three asylum seekers detained at Villawood Detention Centre have launched this action, and the directions hearing challenging the government over the data breach is due to be heard on Friday.

The DIBP have advised the Villawood asylum seekers that they are to be transferred to the remote Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia on Thursday, the day before their directional hearing.

Last week, Scott Morrison announced that all taxpayer-funded legal aid to asylum seekers who arrive by boat would be terminated. One of the consequences of this decision is that there are no longer any free telephone interpreter services available to boat arrivals. Plaintiffs transferred from Villawood to Curtin the day before the directional hearing of their claims, will be unable to freely access interpreters to communicate with their lawyers.

According to the UNHCR, asylum seekers are entitled to legal services and to deprive them of access is a denial of justice.

This is just one of the recent examples of the Abbott government’s unrelenting persecution of boat arrivals.

There is something monstrously pitiful about a government that has as its greatest achievement the persecution of a small group of utterly helpless people. Such persecution is the hallmark of the bully: attacking those who have no possible avenue of escape, or of fighting back, and then boasting of your achievement.

Abbott and Morrison continue to bring the full weight of their contemptible authority to bear on asylum seekers who arrive by boat, and no expense is spared in the scapegoating and persecution of this group of human beings.

You may not particularly care about asylum seekers and their fate. But every one of us should care a great deal about the characters of the men who govern us when their greatest satisfaction comes from persecuting and ultimately defeating, even to the death, a human group who are amongst the most vulnerable on earth. Such men are dangerous. Such men do not deserve to govern us. Such men will not stop at one group of human beings. When this group ceases to serve their purpose, they will seek out another, equally helpless, equally unable to fight back, because bullies can only feel good when they make others feel terribly bad.

Bullies and bigots. Australia, 2014.

This article was first posted on Jennifer’s blog “No Place For Sheep” and reproduced with permission.

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I find it hard to believe that Tony Abbott simply does not know the law

For far too long Tony Abbott has said whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without a word of it being challenged.

The price on carbon became the “carbon tax”. It wasn’t a tax yet not only did his claim go unchallenged, but “carbon tax” slipped into the Australian vernacular. It is now used, widely and wrongly, to describe the price on carbon. The Home Insulation Program (the HIP) was a very successful program. Yet any discussion on it sees HIP prefixed with the word “failed”. Now who thought of that one? The Gillard minority Government was a successful government who passed how many pieces of legislation? Yet, thanks to Tony Abbott’s continual emphasis on the word “dysfunctional” in any reference to them, that’s the word frequently but wrongly used to describe it.

The biggest offender is the mainstream media who are happy to repeat the lie. “Carbon tax”, “the failed HIP” and “the dysfunctional Gillard Government” are three of their favourite phrases, one would think.

Repeating a lie is one thing. Failing to challenge it is another.

Have you noticed, incidentally, that no-one in the mainstream media challenges Tony Abbott on his repeated claims that asylum seekers arriving by boat (or attempting to arrive) are doing so illegally or attempting to break the law? They just keep assuming that he’s right (or know that he’s wrong and continue to let him repeat it ad nauseum).

Many people must really begin to wonder if it is true or not.

Well it is not.

A couple of days ago the ABC Fact Check team published an article confirming that it isn’t illegal, though they were somewhat soft on the prime minister with their title “Tony Abbott incorrect on asylum seekers breaking Australian law“. I think “lie” would be more to the point than “incorrect”. I find it hard to believe that Tony Abbott does not know the law.

In the two days since the article was published it has managed to marvelously escape the attention of the mainstream media. Perhaps they would prefer to ignore it, and why shouldn’t they? It does, after all, provide evidence that Tony Abbott has been repeating a lie – the one they seem happy to keep repeating for him.

So once again it is up to the independent media to repeat the truth. You can access the truth via the above link, or read on:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has tried to discredit a group of asylum seekers who allege they were mistreated by the Royal Australian Navy, by claiming they were attempting to break Australian law.

Footage obtained by the ABC shows several asylum seekers – who Indonesian police say were on a vessel forced back by the Australian Navy on January 6 – being medically assessed for burns on their hands. The asylum seekers say they were burnt and kicked when the Australian Navy forced them to touch part of their boat’s engine.

The Government has denied the allegations and defended the professionalism of the Navy, with Mr Abbott asking the question: “Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who are attempting to break Australian law? I trust Australia’s naval personnel,” he said.

Is Mr Abbott right to say asylum seekers who make the journey to Australia are attempting to break Australian law?

Last year ABC Fact Check looked at the legal position of asylum seekers arriving in Australia.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was found to be correct when he described people who come without a valid visa as having “illegally” entered Australia. However, Fact Check also found such people did not break any law.

While Mr Morrison used correct terminology, Mr Abbott may have overstepped the mark.

Who is Mr Abbott talking about?

Fact Check contacted the Prime Minister’s office to clarify whether his comment related to asylum seekers or crew members. People smuggling is a criminal offence under Australian law.

No response was received by the time of publication. It is therefore necessary to take a look at the context of the remarks.

It is clear from the exchange during his press conference that Mr Abbott was referring to asylum seekers seeking to enter Australia by boat without a valid visa. He was asked about the ABC report, which referred only to allegations by asylum seekers.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I think people making allegations should be able to produce some evidence. There is no evidence whatsoever to back them up.

QUESTION: The ABC claims they have – with that video and having spoken to them.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I said, who do you believe? Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who are attempting to break Australian law? I trust Australia’s naval personnel.

What Australian law are they attempting to break?

Fact Check also asked the Prime Minister’s office what law he says these people were attempting to break. In the absence of any clarification or suggestion of any unrelated criminal acts by the asylum seekers, Fact Check takes him to mean that the people were attempting to break Australian migration law.

As noted in the earlier fact check relating to Mr Morrison’s comments, entry into Australia is governed by the Commonwealth Migration Act 1958.

While it is accurate to describe asylum seekers who enter Australia without a valid visa as “unlawful” or even “illegal entrants”, it is not a criminal offence to enter Australia without a visa. Calling someone “unlawful” or an “illegal entrant” is a description of how they entered the country and determines the way authorities process them. It does not mean they have broken any law. Arriving without a visa can only result in criminal sanctions if there is some other offence involved such as falsifying a passport or forging a document.

An asylum seeker who is simply a passenger on a people smuggling vessel does not commit an offence by paying a smuggler for their passage. Section 233D of the Migration Act makes it an offence for someone to provide “material support or resources to another person or an organisation” which helps the “conduct constituting the offence of people smuggling”. However, this section does not apply if the “conduct constituting the offence of people smuggling” relates to the person that was providing that support (i.e. if the support is given by the person being smuggled).

Professor Jane McAdam, director of the International Refugee and Migration Law Project at the University of New South Wales, told Fact Check Australia’s ratification of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was also relevant to Mr Morrison’s comments.

“By ratifying the Refugee Convention, governments agree precisely not to treat asylum seekers as illegal,” Professor McAdam said.

In relation to Mr Abbott’s comments, immigration law expert Professor Andreas Schloenhardt of the University of Queensland law school told Fact Check that the last time it was a criminal offence to arrive in Australia without a visa was the 1970s. Doing so today “will not result in a criminal investigation, prosecution, or criminal punishment,” he said. 

“‘Breaking the law’ is generally understood to mean committing a criminal offence; persons arriving in Australia irregularly, especially asylum seekers, do not do that.”

Professor Schloenhardt suggests that a more accurate description would have been “persons seeking to enter without complying with administrative rules relating to immigration”.

The verdict

Mr Abbott is incorrect when he says that the asylum seekers making allegations against the Royal Australian Navy were attempting to break Australian law. Australia recognises people’s right to seek asylum and entering Australia without a valid visa is not a criminal offence.

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The kind, gentle, compassionate Scott Morrison

Though now leading the life of a self-proclaimed media recluse, our Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison cannot remain hidden from the media headlines. And each headline leads to an article that reveals Mr Morrison  – thanks to his attitude to and treatment of asylum seekers – as a person deprived of any sense of compassion.

But there was once a kind, gentle, compassionate Scott Morrison.

Some months ago I published (elsewhere) the article that appears below. Given the headlines that Mr Morrison is again making I take the liberty of offering it to our readers here. It is difficult to grasp either of the realisation that he was once a kind, gentle and compassionate person, or that if he was, how he could transform into one who appears a beast by comparison.

Anyone who listened to Scott Morrison’s maiden speech to Parliament in February 2008 would have been heartened that a man of such humility and humanity could one day be a political heavyweight in our country, especially of one who belonged to the Coalition. They had, after all, suffered a massive defeat at the hands of an electorate after twelve years of Howard’s mean spirited government.

After Howard’s demonisation of asylum seekers it was a breath of fresh air to hear someone new in the party speak of his love for all people and their right to share our country. One could have easily been lulled into believing this man could one day become the Minister for Immigration and through his beliefs restore Australia’s long-gone goodwill of fellow beings. Here are some extracts of his speech:

It is with humility and a deep sense of appreciation to the electors of Cook that I rise to make my maiden speech in this House. Today I wish to pay tribute to those who have been instrumental in my journey and to share the values and vision that I intend to bring to this House. I begin by acknowledging the first Australians, in particular the Gweigal people of the Dharawal nation of southern Sydney, who were the first to encounter Lieutenant James Cook, the namesake of my electorate, at Kurnell almost 240 years ago. I also commence by expressing my sincere appreciation to the people and families of the Sutherland shire in my electorate of Cook for placing their trust in me on this first occasion.

The shire community is a strong one. It is free of pretension and deeply proud of our nation’s heritage. Like most Australians, we are a community knit together by our shared commitment to family, hard work and generosity. We share a deep passion for our local natural environment and embrace what Teddy Roosevelt called the vigorous life, especially in sports. It is also a place where the indomitable entrepreneurial spirit of small business has flourished, particularly in recent years. In short, the shire is a great place to live and raise a family. As the federal member for Cook, I want to keep it that way by ensuring that Australia remains true to the values that have made our nation great and by keeping our economy strong so that families and small business can plan for their future with confidence.

We must also combat the negative influences on our young people that lead to depression, suicide, self-harm, abuse and antisocial behaviour that in turn threatens our community. We need to help our young people make positive choices for their lives and be there to help them get their lives back on track when they fall.

From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own wellbeing; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family. We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil.

Australia is a strong nation. It is the product of more than 200 years of sacrifice—most significantly by those who have served in our defence forces, both here and overseas, and by those who have fallen, particularly those who have fallen most recently, and to whom I express my profound gratitude. But a strong country is also one that is at peace with its past. I do not share the armband view of history, black or otherwise. I like my history in high-definition, widescreen, full, vibrant colour. There is no doubt that our Indigenous population has been devastated by the inevitable clash of cultures that came with the arrival of the modern world in 1770 at Kurnell in my electorate. This situation is not the result of any one act but of more than 200 years of shared ignorance, failed policies and failed communities. And we are not alone: our experience is shared by every other modern nation that began this way. There is much for us all to be sorry for. Sadly, those who will be most sorry are the children growing up in Indigenous communities today, whose life chances are significantly less than the rest of us.

We can choose to sit in judgement on previous generations, thinking we would have done it differently. But would we? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Nor can we compare the world we live in today with the world that framed the policies of previous generations. So let us not judge. Rather, having apologised for our past—as I was proud to do in this place yesterday—let us foster a reconciliation where true forgiveness can emerge and we work together to remove the disadvantage of our Indigenous communities, not out of a sense of guilt or recompense for past failures but because it is the humane and right thing to do. Having said this, we cannot allow a national obsession with our past failures to overwhelm our national appetite for celebrating our modern stories of nationhood. We must celebrate our achievements and acknowledge our failures at least in equal measure. We should never feel the need to deny our past to embrace our future.

We are a prosperous people, but this prosperity is not solely for our own benefit; it comes with a responsibility to invest back into our communities. Our communities are held together by the selfless service of volunteers. We must work to value their service and encourage more of our community to join the volunteer ranks and assist local organisations engage and retain today’s volunteers, particularly from younger generations. We must also appreciate that our not-for-profit sector has the potential to play a far greater role in the delivery of community services than is currently recognised. As global citizens, we must also recognise that our freedom will always be diminished by the denial of those same freedoms elsewhere, whether in Australia or overseas.

We must engage as individuals and communities to confront these issues—not just as governments. We have all heard the call to make poverty history. Let us do this by first making poverty our own personal business.

The Howard government increased annual spending on foreign aid to $3.2 billion. The new government has committed to continue to increase this investment and I commend it for doing so. However, we still must go further. If we doubt the need, let us note that in 2007 the total world budget for global aid accounted for only one-third of basic global needs in areas such as education, general health, HIV-AIDS, water treatment and sanitation. This leaves a sizeable gap. The need is not diminishing, nor can our support. It is the Australian thing to do.

What a wonderful human being. One who recognised injustice to the first Australians; one who felt for those suffering overseas and one who believed in Australia’s ability to open up its arms to the underprivileged of the world.

What happened to him?

He isn’t behaving like the “man of such humility and humanity” that spoke to Parliament in February 2008. The new Scott Morrison seems as mean spirited as Howard himself. It’s hard to believe that the Scott Morrison of today is the same as the one of five and a half years ago.

He certainly appears to have lost that loving feeling.

As the ABC image from above unwittingly yet prophetically notes: maybe there is more to the story.

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You are a disgrace to our nation

I was appalled at the results of the recent poll reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that revealed, for whatever reason, most people want the Abbott Government to treat asylum seekers more harshly than the disgustingly inhumane levels they currently do. It was noted, disturbingly, that:

A strong majority of Australians, 60 per cent, also want the Abbott government to “increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers.”

It is obviously not good enough that the:

Manus Island’s detention centre has been described as cruel, inhuman, degrading and violating prohibitions against torture in a detailed report by Amnesty International.

The most extraordinary claim in Amnesty’s report is that drinking water in the largest compound . . . is limited to less than half a litre a day.

“A dozen bottles a day for nearly 500 men, according to the staff who supply them, or less than a single 500ml bottle per person, an amount that is clearly insufficient, especially given the heat and humidity.”

Or that an:

. . . independent body of psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs and other medical professionals and advocates gave advice to the government about the serious mental health impacts of offshore processing and long term detention.

The living conditions in the facility are hot, extremely cramped and poorly ventilated. There is no privacy. The conditions in one dormitory were so bad that Amnesty International considers the accommodation of asylum seekers there a violation of the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment. “P Dorm” is a World War II building with a low, curved, metal roof. It sleeps 112 men on bunk beds arranged with no space between. There were no windows, and two standing fans. As a result, the smell is overwhelmingly bad and the heat is stifling. Asylum seekers reported finding snakes in the room and flooding when it rained.

As the week progressed, we witnessed a string of unnecessary humiliations.

The men spend several hours each day queuing for meals, toilets and showers in the tropical heat and pouring rain, with no shade or shelter. Staff refer to them by their boat ID, not their names. Almost all are denied shoes. Most have had their possessions confiscated by people smugglers or staff on Christmas Island.

Pointless advice, apparently, as sixty per cent still want the Abbott government to increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers.

I now have a message to that sixty per cent: You are a disgrace to our nation.

It is highly unlikely that any of that sixty per cent will read this post but I have the satisfaction of telling The AIMN’s readers what I think of those disgraceful human beings and I can only hope that my feelings are widely disseminated. I would like to hope that my feelings would not only be widely shared, but widely supported.

This message comes with the warning that course language will be frequently used. I won’t be holding back.

To that sixty percent:

You are disgusting pieces of low-life shit.

You’re no doubt mildly pleased that asylum seekers are forced to live under conditions condemned by Amnesty International but it still isn’t good enough. What would make you arseholes happy? No, on second thoughts, I’d dread to know what would really make you happy: I’d find it even more shameful to accept that we share the same nation and I can assure you that a high degree of shame already consumes me. And disgust. And anger.

What is truly disturbing, nay frightening, is that you possibly represent the views of the majority of Australians. Sixty per cent of them to be precise. That means we have a nation that is predominantly populated by the lowest common denominator when it comes to compassion for the plight of human misery. In other words, we are predominantly a nation of heartless, selfish, ignorant, racist bastards. And you sixty percent have proven to be heartless, selfish, ignorant, racist bastards because you want the Abbott government to increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers.

I have no idea why you are the way you are and I don’t know where you came from. I didn’t grow up in an Australia where heartless arseholes like you dominated the social landscape. What happened? Were you simply born a nasty piece of shit or was it external influences like the fear mongering mainstream media in this country that caters for your Neanderlithic intelligence. Or maybe you’ve believed the equally racist Abbott Government – don’t get me started on them or their resident Darth Vader, Scott Morrison – or that xenophobic freak John Howard. Or maybe you await your daily dose of instructions from that screaming idiot Alan Jones on how to run your life. Perhaps you were among the angry mass that came down from the trees pumping with racial hatred when Jones urged his listeners to:

“Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge. This Sunday every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla to support the Leb and wog bashing day . . . “

If any of those poor sods locked up in those filthy detention centres – you know, the ones that aren’t getting treated harshly enough – if they ever make it to this ugly country, what would you like done to them? I can’t imagine how horrific it might be, though I’m sure it’d be something ghoulish enough to satisfy your heartless souls.

As I said, you (and your ilk) are a disgrace to our nation. And what a crying shame that sadly, you are our nation.

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Asylum Seekers: Let’s Pretend

Guest post by Doug Evans 

Let’s pretend.

Let’s play a little game of make believe. At the moment it seems that everyone is talking about Australia’s enormous intractable problem of asylum seekers and how to deal with them. But this is in large measure a function of the last decade of policy history in this area. What if we could roll it all back and construct exactly the asylum seeker policy we believe we should have. What would its main features be? Here is my attempt.

  1. ONSHORE PROCESSING
  • I think all processing of refugee/asylum applications should be carried out onshore. 80 or 90% of Australia’s asylum seekers arrive by plane with valid papers, usually a tourist visa and simply overstay before applying for asylum. They are processed onshore why not the rest? Australia is the only industrialized country in the world (out of some 44 countries) to have offshore detention centres. Why is that?
  • Onshore processing is cheaper. The way we do it now is very expensive. The cost of re-establishing offshore processing on Nauru alone has been estimated at $2billion over 4 years. Budget papers reveal the cost of Australia’s immigration detention system was estimated at $800 million in 2011-12. With approximately 7,000 people in detention, it cost Australians $110,000 per asylum seeker in detention in 2011-12, and in 2012 the overall cost rose suddenly some 500 million. Now with Rudd’s NG solution the price per asylum seeker has suddenly skyrocketed. Who knows how much it will cost from now on?
  • Onshore processing would be a large step towards ensuring that Australia (currently a member of the UN Security Council) meets its UN obligations in respect of refugees and asylum seekers. Although offshore processing is not in itself a contravention of these obligations we are obliged to provide adequate safeguards including the provision of humane living conditions and an effective regime for the prompt processing of refugee claims. It has been argued that neither of these exists on either Nauru or Manus Island.
  1. DETENTION

Australia’s system of mandatory detention of asylum seekers without time limits has been found on numerous occasions to breach Australia’s international obligations not to subject anyone to arbitrary detention.

  • I think all asylum seekers should be detained for processing at a centrally located processing centre or centres in Canberra or wherever the relevant Federal bureaucracy is located.  This/these facilities need to be secure but not behind barbed wire. There are many less intimidating and stigmatizing options to barbed wire fences. A central location and high profile is important for both symbolic and practical reasons of access.
  • I think they should be held there for no longer than two weeks; just long enough to complete the initial application and to have any health or support needs assessed. After that time they should be moved to regional refugee centres centrally located in one or more of the State Capitals where they will have assigned caseworkers to whom they should report regularly while awaiting a decision on whether their application for asylum is to be granted or not.
  • I think that if an applicant has family or close friends in Australia they should be able to choose to live with them while their application is being processed.
  • I think that if it is assessed that an asylum seeker’s application will take more than four months to determine, the applicant should be entitled to work.
  • I think they should be offered free housing, but should provide for them selves if they have enough money. Emergency medical and dental procedures and prescriptions should be provided for minimal cost. All asylum seeker children should receive the same medical coverage as Australian children.
  • I think that the Regional refugee centres should provide accommodation for the asylum seekers along with childcare, recreation facilities and a central reception office.
  • I think that asylum seekers should be required to visit the reception office regularly to receive their allowance, news on their application and for need and risk assessment.
  • I think that their caseworkers should make these assessments and refer clients for medical care, counselling and other services.
  • I think that in the regional reception centres residents should be free to come and go as they please.
  • I think that all asylum seekers awaiting a decision should be encouraged to participate in some form of organized activity such as English lessons if they are not working.
  • I think although there may be special cases, in general it should be for an applicant to decide whether or not to speak to the press.

How am I doing so far? Does it sound like a lot of impractical hippy rubbish that only a Greens supporter with no idea of what it takes to govern, could dream up? I’m afraid there’s quite a bit more in similar vein about the categorization of asylum seekers, treatment of those whose applications have been rejected and their rights to appeal negative assessments, but I’ve already used too much space.

Luckily I don’t have to write it all down. You can all look for yourself. I have a little surprise for you. I’m not making it up. What I’ve described so far is the way they do this in Sweden. Apparently they were so naïve as to just go ahead and try to do the right thing rather than waiting for the focus groups and party strategists to tell them what they could get away with without losing votes in the marginals. It’s all written in a paper that you can find it at Fabian.org along with the footnotes and the author’s credentials.

Of course Sweden is not Australia and as is well known they have their own problems with xenophobia, racism and the rise of fascism not unrelated to immigration and refugee intake at the moment. Grant Mitchell, the very well qualified author of the paper I’ve been plagiarizing has some very interesting things to say about the differences and similarities between the two countries. But I have a few comparative figures of my own.

In 2010 Sweden received about 30,000 asylum seekers. In 2010 Sweden’s population was 9.18 million. That is one asylum seeker for every 306 Swedish citizens. In 2010 Australia’s population was 20.85 million and it received in total 8250 applications for asylum. About half of these were the boat arrivals that get our politicians so hot and bothered. Looking at total numbers only we find that is one asylum seeker for every 2527 Australian citizens.

The number of Swedish asylum seekers in 2010 was about 8.5 times greater per capita than in Australia. However in 2010 Sweden held most applicants for asylum in mandatory detention for no longer than 14 days. In 2010 Australia held them for an average of 224 days. In the same year France, approx 49,000 asylum seekers (one for every 1260 French citizens) held them for an average of 10.7 days and Canada, roughly 22,000 asylum seekers (roughly one for every 1500 Canadian citizens) held them for an average of 8 days.

The numbers, both total and boat arrivals have shifted since 2010. 2012 saw 17,202 Australian arrivals by sea. This year’s figure looks set to be even higher. However numbers are increasing elsewhere also and the comparisons remain valid although totals and ratios have shifted.  Why is it that in Sweden, indeed nearly everywhere else in the developed world the numbers of arrivals are much larger but the problem seems to be smaller?

In 2007 Labor had the real possibility of separating itself from the coalition on this issue and doing what is right. Instead it chose to engage in a pissing contest with them to see which party could convince a severely misled electorate that they could be the meanest to a tiny group of the world’s most vulnerable people. I support the commonly expressed view that since little Johnny the Rat pulled his Tampa number on Kim Beasley and caused him to lose the ‘unloseable’ election, the ALP has lacked the courage to confront the ever-present undercurrent of racism that flows in so many Australians.

Could it be that the Rudd/Gillard governments have got themselves into this appalling mess because they didn’t have the courage to confront a relatively small number of shock jock fuelled racists primarily in Sydney’s western suburbs by telling them a few simple truths?

Like, for example:

  • Persecuting asylum seekers who arrive (perfectly legally) by boat will make no difference to the number of burkas and brown and black faces that alarm you by living and working in your neighbourhood. Irregular boat arrivals are a small percentage of Australia’s total asylum seeker applications and nearly all of them are genuine refugees fleeing persecution as opposed to the large majority of arrivals by air where nearly all of them are found to be not genuine.
  • Numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Australia are tiny both in total and on a per capita basis.  Australia ranks in the mid forties in the rank ordering of favoured destinations for asylum seekers.

And so on. You all know the script.

Now it is clear that the MSM has complicated the dissemination of this message with its constant negative messaging so the blame for the woefully low level of awareness of asylum seeker realities is not entirely with the government. Overall I think the Rudd/Gillard governments have done a passably good job in difficult circumstances and I agree with Paul Strangio that history will probably judge them (particularly Gillard) better than their current critics on the other side of the ‘House’ and in the MSM.

However the mess they have created around the issue that AA nominates, asylum seekers, is all their own doing. The virtually indistinguishable policies of both the major parties on this issue are a stain on Australia’s history. It did not have to be so. I hope the above demonstrates this.

What causes good and intelligent people, some of whom even aspire to make Australia a fairer, more just place, to conceive and enact such discriminatory, cruel legislation?

A final note:

The failure of the Rudd/Gillard governments to put in place a principled, economically defensible and workable asylum seeker policy is worthy of discussion but what really alarms me is the unexamined, unquestioning, tacit acceptance of this and other substantial policy glitches made by these Labor governments by so many that post on the altogether too ‘relaxed and comfortable’ centre-left sites that dot the fifth estate. In difficult times critical examination of the entire political landscape is a necessary pre-requisite to understanding what is happening to us. Consistently overlooking the not insubstantial failings of one of the three major features in our political landscape (Labor, Coalition, MSM) is not helpful to promoting understanding and perhaps appropriate action.

 

Rope A Dope – Is Rudd Ali to Abbott’s Foreman?

Image by servatius.blogspot.com

The ‘invincible’ Ali (image by servatius.blogspot.com)

Briefly, a recap on history. Muhammad Ali was almost invincible, but he was stripped of his medal for his refusal to be conscripted into the army. He fought the decision in the courts, and – after four years – was allowed to return to the ring. The time out of the ring meant that he was past his peak, and after losing to Frazier, he eventually defeated George Foreman, regaining his heavyweight title. I won’t go through all the fights, but I want to briefly mention the “Rope-A-Dope”.

Ali taunted Foreman in the lead-up, and Foreman fought the first few rounds as though he wanted to hurt Ali. Boxing, I know, is like politics – you are meant to hurt your opponent – but this seemed personal. And for much of the fight, Ali looked beaten. He wasn’t laying a glove on his opponent and he was absorbing punches to his body, but protecting his head and face, which is the scoring area. I can’t remember if it was Round 7 or later, but Ali danced out and started to fight back. Foreman was exhausted from all the body punches. It took a few simple blows, but Foreman went down. Ali had won.

I can’t help but think about this fight in the context of the current political situation. Rudd has been resting; Abbott has been trying to knock out his opponent, but he hasn’t succeeded. Abbott may have appeared to be great while on the attack, but does he have a defence against a fresh opponent?

Yes, there are things that trouble me about Rudd – I do think that he is a “whatever it takes” sort of man – such men are dangerous. But in terms of just looking at the “match”, I feel that he is dancing round the ring while Abbott asks the referee to make him stand still. Rudd’s latest asylum seeker move is designed to appeal to a particular part of the electorate – which it will. It will, of course, annoy another part. But I suspect most of us who aren’t sure that PNG is the answer will feel that it’s Abbott who’s mainly responsible for the politicisation of the issue. Abbott’s response: It’s a good idea, but it won’t work because we’re not the ones doing it! … Strangely, I don’t see that as a vote-winner whatever you think of the issue. If you think that boats are a bigger threat to Australia than almost anything you can name, well, you probably already vote for Abbott. If you don’t, and feel that this is obscene, then Abbott hasn’t won your vote back from the Labor Party, and when allocating preferences you’ll hardly preference a Cory Bernardi type ahead of a Doug Cameron.

” Ali’s theme this fight was to hang a nickname on Frazier as he had done to many of his opponents throughout the years. The name he chose was “The Gorilla”, and he rhymed out the singsong chant “It will be a Killa and a Thrilla and a Chilla when I get The Gorilla in Manila.” while punching an action-figure sized gorilla doll. “

“Debate me,” taunts Kevin, “you’re the boxer.” Abbott insists that he won’t get in the ring with Kevin until an election is called. Perhaps, he’s worried. Or maybe he’s just saving his energy for the next round.

Will the election be called on Monday? Or is this part of the Rope-a-Dope? “Let’s keep Abbott punching to the body, wearing himself out, but doing no real damage.”

Whatever – Abbott looks tired and devoid of strategy. Rudd looks ready for the main bout!

 

A Wicked Problem. A Wicked Solution?

When Kevin Rudd announced Labor’s new asylum seeker policy yesterday, my knee-jerk reaction was to be very concerned. Kevin Rudd and his Labor colleagues obviously desperately want to win the election, as I hope they do. But the last thing I want to see is Rudd winning by adopting Abbott’s right wing policies– that’s not the Labor Party way. And besides, what’s the point of campaigning against Abbott for the last three years, only to eventually give in and say ‘if you can’t beat them, you may as well become them’? However, knee-jerk reactions aside, after having some more time to think about this situation, I must admit I’m really not sure what to think. But what I would like is to at least be given the opportunity to discuss and debate policy changes, before having them written off by every left-winger I know, before joining protests and before wasting my vote by not voting for anyone.

When I first heard mention on Twitter that Rudd was going to get rid of the Carbon Price, I panicked. But then after realising he wasn’t actually emulating Abbott, and rather moving to an ETS a year sooner than we would have anyway, I understood it was actually a smart move. Taking ‘Axe the Tax’ away from Abbott has left him impotent. It has erased his one-dimensional stunt and smear campaign, and forced the media to take a least a cursory interest in his Direct Action alternative. This has to be a good thing. In an ideal world, the Carbon Price would have been accepted by the entire community as a cost we had to bear and polluters wouldn’t have pooled their resources to smash the Labor Party for bringing in this policy. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, far from it. And if the electorate is threatening to vote Labor out for introducing the Carbon Price, and all it takes to stop this happening is to change it to an ETS a year earlier than originally planned, isn’t this outcome better than handing power to Abbott and his wasteful, ineffective joke of a Direct Action policy? Might the ETS not even work better to reduce emissions? Pragmatism, I think it’s called. There’s no point being holier-than-thou in opposition when you can have the less-than-perfect, but better than the alternative, policy in government.

Bearing in mind that the whole idea of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister has been a little difficult for me to stomach over the last few weeks, I am now looking at his asylum seeker policy change and wondering if he’s done something evil and unacceptable, or if he’s again being pragmatic in the very less than ideal world of an electorate who hate ‘boat people’. When you’ve got every news outlet in the country, including the ABC, reporting every single asylum seeker boat arrival like it’s an invasion by an alien species, it’s no wonder there are large portions of the Australian public who feel justified in their bigoted hatred of people arriving by boat. But the really difficult problem, which many seem desperate not to discuss, is that the political reality of the situation is thus: if the majority of the electorate is going to vote for the leader who promises to ‘stop the boats’, Abbott is going to win the election by promising to ‘stop the boats’. And however vile, illogical and racist this sentiment is, I haven’t seen anyone, Labor and Greens included, make any headway whatsoever in changing this attitude in the Australian community. Yes, we should be talking about these people’s individual stories and their terror and desperation in their decision to get on a boat. But while we fail to hear these stories, and while the electorate refuses to budge on this issue, the Labor party is left with a wicked problem. Pander to the voters by promising to also ‘stop the boats’. Or lose the election by leaving the policy as is. And let Abbott ‘stop the boats’ by turning them around, which everyone with any expertise knows is not a viable alternative and will not solve anything. Also, good luck getting Abbott to increase the intake of refugees. He’d slash it given the chance. No doubt even suggesting that Labor should ‘pander’ to the electorate is enough for me to lose very Greens Twitter follower I have, but I’m not apologising for supporting anything that keeps Abbott out of power.

So back to Labor’s asylum seeker PNG policy. Again, I haven’t totally decided how I feel about it, and I am not ready to jump to campaign against it, or to support it in full. But I do know that this is one policy area where many people seem to want it both ways. For instance, when the media reports the devastating news that asylum seekers have drowned on their journey to Australia, the government is blamed for these deaths. Because they didn’t ‘stop the boats’. But then when the government attempts to find a way to convince asylum seekers to stay where they are, to wait for resettlement, to not get on a boat, the very same people who are complaining about the dangers of coming by boat, are complaining about the policy alternative being cruel and inhumane. Let’s get something straight. Kevin Rudd can’t stop people who come by boat from drowning. If people choose to come by boat, a certain percentage of them will drown. This is tragic and unfair. But it is fact. This is why I am not afraid to say that I support stopping the boats. I don’t want to stop asylum seekers. I just want them not to get on a boat. In fact, if Rudd’s policy of sending asylum seekers to PNG does stop people coming to Australia by boat, won’t this policy also stop drownings?

And how about the people who have been stuck in Indonesian refugee camps indefinitely because they can’t afford to pay a people smuggler to bring them to Australia? Aren’t these people disadvantaged by their extreme poverty? If Australia agrees to provide a certain number of Humanitarian Visas each year, and the quota is filled by those asylum seekers who have survived the boat trip to Australia, what happens to the people who can’t afford to come by boat? I don’t think we talk about these forgotten people enough.

One part of Rudd’s PNG policy announcement which seems to have flown under the radar, in preference for outrage and condemnation from some politicians, their supporters and those speaking on their behalf in the media, is the promise to “consider progressively increasing our humanitarian intake towards 27,000 as recommended by the Houston panel.” I congratulate Rudd on this, and I hope that it is not just considered, but also implemented. As I said, I fully support Australia accepting more refugees. Full stop.

I guess where I’m feeling most confused is trying to reconcile my feelings about the policy, with the underlying dread that Rudd is just doing this to win votes. But then, isn’t beating Abbott, and stopping him turning back boats, a justifiable motive for doing whatever it takes to win the election? And is the PNG solution really as evil as many people are making out? I haven’t decided, but I appreciate the opportunity to think aloud, to analyse the situation before a knee-jerk reaction becomes my opinion. This is quite a foreign feeling for someone as opinionated as I am, but I’m learning to live with it.

Tony Abbott’s shaky campaign – beginning of the end?

Malcolm Turnbull with Tony Abbott (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

Malcolm Turnbull with Tony Abbott (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

Tony Abbott has spent most of this year hiding from scrutiny and waiting for what the media say is a certain election win later this year — but have the wheels started to fall off his campaign in the last few weeks? Matthew Donovan reports.

TAKE NOTE of this date. 10 April 2013.

In my opinion that is the date the Coalition’s campaign started to crumble around them.

The much hyped release of their NBN alternative could hardly have gone worse. Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull – or as Tony likes to call him, Mr Broadband – were clearly out of their depth at the awkward policy announcement of their “faster, cheaper and more affordable” broadband plan.

It was nothing short of cringe-worthy.

The content of the plan was thoroughly panned across the board and social media had a field day. Within hours, the tag #fraudband had been adopted on Twitter and memes decrying its lack of vision were springing up by the minute. Experts were quick to reject the idea that we shouldn’t take fibre to the home (FTTH) but rather to the node (FTTN) and then use the existing copper network, yesterday’s technology, to reach the home.

It will deliver much slower speeds than Labor’s plan and quickly become redundant as technology and demand outpaces its roll out. An outcome that clearly isn’t satisfactory for Australia’s data and technology hungry consumers.

Not the best of starts when trying to address one of their greatest weaknesses — credible costed policies.

Within two weeks, Tony Abbott plunged his party into another publicly embarrassing situation, this time, asylum seeker policy.

On 23 April, he unveiled what he hoped would be a stunt to wedge Labor. Sadly, for him, it blew up in his face almost immediately.

He happily posed in front of a large roadside sign that stated 639 “illegals” had arrived in Australia since Labor took over, adding:

“Labor have lost control of our borders.”

The response from some in the media was swift and pointed.

Jane McAdam from The National Times clearly wasn’t impressed [author’s emphasis]:

You cannot apply for a refugee visa before you leave a country because a “refugee” is, by definition, someone outside their country. Even if you cross a border, Australian embassies abroad cannot issue refugee visas to those on the move – such as people fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Further, it is highly unlikely that refugees will be able to get a visa of any other kind, such as a tourist or work visa.

For example, an Iraqi who applies to an Australian embassy for such a visa will likely be screened out, precisely because of the assumption that they will claim asylum on arrival in Australia. It is a catch-22.

For these reasons, the Refugee Convention prohibits countries from imposing penalties on asylum seekers who enter without a passport or visa. Indeed, in some cases arrival without documentation may in fact help to demonstrate that a refugee claim is compelling and credible.

Article 31 is one of the most fundamental elements of the Refugee Convention precisely because it underscores the right of people in distress to seek protection – even if their actions constitute a breach of a country’s domestic immigration laws.

Indeed, even the two international treaties on human trafficking and smuggling both make clear that being a victim of trafficking or smuggling must not negatively affect a person’s right to claim asylum and receive protection.

The opposition’s use of the term “illegal” is designed to tarnish people’s perceptions about the legitimacy of asylum seekers’ claims. It is language that dehumanises and criminalises. Invoking it is either ignorant or deliberately mischievous, since the act of seeking asylum is not a crime, but the right of every individual.

This is nothing more than John Howard style dog-whistling and, happily, Abbott was challenged about these assertions at a press conference.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxlunUpz-Nc] (more…)

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