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Tag Archives: children in detention

Whistleblower goodies and baddies

When Kathy Jackson blew the whistle on Craig Thomson for misusing union funds, she was praised by various members of the Coalition.  Tony Abbott described her as “a brave decent woman”, a “credible whistleblower” whose actions were “heroic”.  Christopher Pyne labelled her a “revolutionary” who will be “remembered as a lion of the union movement.”  George Brandis and Eric Abetz were similarly effusive in their praise.

Kathy’s “courageous” revelations quickly led to Thomson being arrested by five detectives accompanied by a huge media pack at his Central Coast Office.  The following court cases eventually found Thomson was guilty of misappropriating a few thousand dollars.  His defence has cost him over $400,000, his career and reputation.  His prosecution, combined with the ensuing Royal Commission into trade unions and dedicated police task force, has cost the state tens of millions.

In 2012, Tony Abbott said “I think it’s to the enormous discredit of some people in the Labor movement that they are now trying to blacken [Kathy Jackson’s] name.”

Unfortunately for Mr Abbott, the investigation revealed that his hero has allegedly misappropriated far more than Craig Thomson could ever have dreamed of, well over $1 million by some accounts.  Despite the matter being referred to the Victorian police, Ms Jackson remains at large living a millionaire lifestyle.  No squad of police arriving at her door with media in tow.

We also had whistleblower James Ashby choosing to reveal private text messages to accuse Peter Slipper of sexual harassment, a charge he chose not to pursue after he had achieved the goal of destroying Mr Slipper’s career and personal life.

And then there was the “unknown” whistleblower who chose to refer Peter Slipper to the police for a few hundred dollars’ worth of cab charges rather than allowing him to pay back the money, something that many members of the Coalition, including Tony Abbott and George Brandis, have been forced to do.

The prosecution of Peter Slipper once again cost the state an amount totally incommensurate with the alleged crime and he has since won his appeal.

The Coalition’s very close relationship with these two dubious characters – Abetz had Jackson on speed dial and Pyne met up for “drinks” with Ashby – shows they had a vested interest in encouraging their revelations.

But when Freya Newman chose to reveal that Tony Abbott’s daughter had been given a $60,000 scholarship that was not available to anyone else, she was immediately investigated, prosecuted and put on a good behaviour bond.  The fact that Frances Abbott’s school was a Liberal Party donor who then benefitted greatly by Abbott’s decision to fund private colleges makes the whole thing smell of corruption.

Speaking of which, when a former ASIO employee chose to blow the whistle on Alexander Downer for, under the guise of foreign aid, bugging the offices of the government of Timor l’Este to gain a commercial advantage for Woodside Petroleum who subsequently employed Mr Downer, he immediately had his passport revoked so he could not testify in the case in the International Court and the office of his lawyer was raided and all documents confiscated.

When the Guardian and the ABC reported on leaked documents from Edward Snowden revealing that the Australian Government had bugged the phones of Indonesian politicians and even the President’s wife, they were labelled as traitors by Tony Abbott who apparently thought there was nothing wrong with the deed but talking about it was a crime.

Which brings me to, in my mind, the greatest travesty of all.

When ten members of the Save the Children organisation reported on cases of sexual assault and self-harm of children on Nauru, they were immediately sacked by Scott Morrison.

When the group made a submission to the AHRC’s children in detention inquiry providing evidence of sexual abuse, the Department of Immigration asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate Save The Children for potentially breaching section 70 of the Crimes Act, which bars the disclosure of Commonwealth facts or documents.

A secret report prepared by immigration detention service provider Transfield Services reveals the company was monitoring the activities of Save The Children staff, then accused them of providing evidence to the media of sexual assaults and protests in the detention centre.  It reveals that Save The Children staff had compiled reports documenting evidence of sexual assault, which it said had become “increasingly emotive in recent weeks”.

“Two days ago, information report 280917 was written in such a manner by SCA employees, DE and FF, and some of the allegations regarding sexually inappropriate behaviour by security guards contained within this report have been widely reported across Australian media today. DE left Nauru yesterday and the allegations have appeared in the press today.”

The Transfield report also alleges that “It is probable there is a degree of internal and external coaching, and encouragement, to achieve evacuations to Australia through self-harm actions,” though it gives no evidence at all in support of the accusation, which did not stop Scott Morrison and the Daily Telegraph from publicly repeating it last October.

Morrison’s reaction was to announce the Moss Review to examine allegations that staff from the charity acted inappropriately at the Nauru detention centre.

The Moss review, which is due to be released tomorrow, examined why 10 Save the Children aid workers were sent home from the detention centre and whether they fabricated allegations of sexual abuse.

As with the Human Rights Commission’s Forgotten Children report, the message has been ignored and the messenger has been relentlessly pursued and vilified.

In the corporate world, the Corporations Act contains protections for certain whistleblowers, including making it unlawful to persecute a whistleblower for making a protected disclosure of information. This protection encourages people within companies, or with special connections to companies, to alert the company (through its officers), or ASIC, to illegal behaviour.

Where is the same protection for people who alert us to wrongdoing by the government or its agents?  Why does Morrison accept Transfield’s report but not that of the Human Rights Commission?  Will the Moss Review investigate the sexual abuse or just the people who are trying to Save the Children?

A government who is happy to destroy people’s lives for their own political ends, who silences all criticism, and who considers their own interests in front of the welfare of children in our care, is worthy of the same contempt they show for the truth.

We are being governed by a despicable group of people who have sacrificed all decency and integrity to personal ambition.

asylum seeker children protest on Nauru

asylum seeker children protest on Nauru

The real stitch-up

Tony Abbott has been sneeringly yelling at anyone who will listen, if there are any of those left, that the government has no confidence in Gillian Triggs because the timing of her report shows it is a “stitch up” designed to make him look bad, like he isn’t capable of doing that on his own.

I would like to point out that Ms Triggs told Senate estimates hearings in early 2013 of the HRC’s concern about children in detention and their ongoing investigation.  She was slapped down by George Brandis who wasn’t interested.

In February 2013, some seven months after Ms Triggs had assumed her role at the Human Rights Commission, and seven months before the election, Senator Brandis grilled her unmercilessly about why the HRC was not spending more of their budget on defending free speech.

When she pointed out that the HRC receive about 17,500 inquiries a year of which approximately three concern political opinion “so it is a very tiny part, in answer to your question, of the complaints function of the commission”, Brandis refused to accept her explanation.

Senator BRANDIS: That may very well be so, Professor Triggs, but why has it taken people other than the Human Rights Commission to elevate this debate? Why has it taken people like my friends at the Institute of Public Affairs, some of my colleagues in the coalition, columnists, editorial writers and writers of letters to the editors of the newspapers to get a debate up and going in Australia about limitations on freedom, when we have an agency, your agency, whose explicit statutory charter is to promote and advance those rights?

Prof. Triggs : I wonder if I could take another point here. I accept your question. I think it is a valuable one, as I have said. But let us look at another element of this—that is, a great deal of my time as president and that of many members of our human rights law and policy group has been responding to our profound concerns about the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. I understand that at the moment we have many thousands—and I do not know the exact number, but let us say 6,000 people—in mandatory detention in Australia, including children. Many have been there for years. Babies have been born within that environment. They have been charged with no offence, and they have not yet had their claims to refugee status assessed. That is an area that I think is of fundamental importance to human rights.

Senator BRANDIS: Well, it is.

Prof. Triggs : It concerns arbitrary detention without trial. If I may say so, I went to an interesting lecture by the foreign minister the other day to celebrate the Magna Carta, quoting the fundamental principles of the Magna Carta that no man—or presumably woman—can be charged or held without a trial of their peers. It seems extraordinary—

Senator BRANDIS: I do not think the barons at Runnymede had friends like Mr Eddie Obeid and Mr Ian Macdonald, unlike our foreign minister, who speaks with eloquence about the Magna Carta, at least.

Brandis mentions several times his “friends at the IPA”

“Whereas your commission is a dedicated and committed advocate of antidiscrimination principles, I do not see the commission being a dedicated and committed advocate of freedom principles. You have think tanks, like in the Institute of Public Affairs, which has something called a ‘freedom project’. I do not see a freedom project in the Human Rights Commission.”

Senator Brandis finishes with what was no doubt his aim all along.

Senator BRANDIS: My last question. Your commission does seem to have a superabundance of discrimination commissioners in various areas. Should the Human Rights Commission have a freedom commissioner whose particular brief is to promote the kind of balance of which you speak so that within the commission there is a person whose particular job is to promote freedom, just as, within the commission at the moment, there are, I think, five commissioners whose particular job is to promote antidiscrimination?  Would that not be a desirable balance—one freedom person versus five anti-discrimination people?

Come on down Timmy!

A couple of months later, in April 2013, Brandis attended the IPA 70th birthday bash.  He obviously enjoyed himself because he has been rewarding them ever since.

As soon as he assumed office, Brandis gifted to Tim Wilson a $400,000 a year job as a Human Rights Commissioner despite his “woefully inadequate” qualifications.  It seems apparent that Wilson was appointed to destroy from within and, if worst comes to worst and he can’t abolish the HRC as he wants, then Tim will probably be offered the top job after the “anonymous” leaks about Triggs wanting to get out.

After the predictable backlash to this obvious act of cronyism, George wrote an article in the Australian condemning those who criticized his choice.

“But some things never change, like the reaction of the claque of bilious pseudo-intellectuals who constitute what passes for a left-wing commentariat in this country. Mike Carlton, Catherine Deveney, Van Badham and their ilk were nothing if not boorishly predictable.  They and their followers unleashed a storm of hatred and bile against Wilson on social media, the like of which I have never seen.”

Or perhaps they just thought that sacking the Disability Commissioner to employ your unqualified inexperienced ideologically opposed little friend was a step too far?  And is that any way for the highest legal officer in the land to speak?

This was all the more hypocritical considering  Brandis, in opposition, had previously taken to the Australian to excoriate the appointment by Mark Dreyfus of Labor staffer-turned-intellectual Tim Soutphommasane as Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, a role for which he was eminently qualified, labelling him as “yet another partisan of the Left”.

Dr Soutphommasane graduated from the University of Sydney with a first-class honours degree. He was then a Commonwealth Scholar and Jowett Senior Scholar at Balliol College of the University of Oxford where he completed a Master of Philosophy with distinction and a Doctor of Philosophy in political theory.

From 2010 to 2012 he was a Lecturer in Australian Studies and a Research Fellow at the National Centre for Australian Studies of Monash University.

Soutphommasane is the author of three books: The Virtuous Citizen: Patriotism in a Multicultural Society (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Don’t Go Back To Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works (New South Books, 2012) which in 2013 won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award in the ‘Community Relations Commission Award’ section, and Reclaiming Patriotism: Nation-Building for Australian Progressives (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

By contrast, Wilson has a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Diplomacy and Trade from Monash University.  He worked at the Institute of Public Affairs for seven years.  He was a vocal critic of the Human Rights Commission and during his time there the IPA called for the abolition of the commission.

After his “surprise”appointment, Wilson wrote that:

“Attorney-General George Brandis has asked me, as Australia’s next human rights commissioner, to focus on traditional liberal democratic and common law rights, particularly article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

All rights should be defended, but the human right most being neglected is free speech. Arguably freedom of speech is the most important human right. It is the human right necessary to protect and defend all other human rights.

Article 19 of the covenant states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Article 19 ought to be the human rights community’s starting point. But at the moment it seems more like a footnote.

Increasingly free speech has been pushed aside in favour of laws and regulations designed to stop people being offensive to each other, a steadily expanding corpus of anti-discrimination and defamation law, and the growing momentum towards restrictions on speech online.”

Whilst the Attorney General may appoint people to the HRC, I am not sure he has the power to direct them then what to say and do, and I am wondering how Tim feels about George’s recent announcement of devoting $17 million to monitor social media to take down terrorist propaganda

When the two Tims attended Senate estimates hearings in May 2014 to discuss proposed changes to Section 18C of the racial discrimination act, George Brandis objected to Tim Soutphommasane giving his opinion even though he is the Racial Discrimination Commissioner.  Ian Macdonald, coincidentally, was also chairing this meeting as he was with the recent meeting with Gillian Triggs and he upheld Senator Brandis’ objection saying his opinion had no place in the discussion. (see video here)

But later in the hearing, Tim Wilson was allowed to re-state, at length, his clear support for changing the Act.

After the hearing, Senator Singh said Dr Soutphommasane ”was gagged, in complete contradiction to Tim Wilson who was able to share his views on the RDA.  Senator Brandis initially stopped me from asking the question and accused me of being dishonest in asking for Dr Soutphommasane’s views.  This is a man who stands for freedom of speech yet won’t allow a witness at the table to speak.”

This absolute championing of freedom of speech seems very much at odds with Tony Abbott’s stand against Hizb ut-Tahrir, taken after Alan Jones urged him to “proscribe the movement”.

“We are changing the law that will make it easier to ban organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir. But before that even we should have a system in place which red cards these hate preachers and stops them coming to Australia.”

The response from our “Freedom Commissioner” was totally devoid of any legal facts, or gumption for that matter, as reported by Michelle Grattan in October:

“Wilson fears florid talk about “hate speech” can “justify censorship all over the place”. He is considering putting in a personal submission to the current parliamentary inquiry into the legislation, urging a tighter definition of the advocacy of terrorism. Wilson says it is unclear where the line would be between the advocacy of terrorism and for example attacking the coalition’s air strikes in the Middle East.”

Apparently, he either didn’t get around to his “personal submission” or it was ignored.

Abbott is right…this has been a stitch-up – one that began well before George Brandis was in a position to reward his “friends at the IPA” and, with the help of Senator Macdonald, take his revenge on that pesky woman.

Bring our boys back, Scott Morrison

child-detention-e1405467162748

Help Save two orphaned 16 year old boys from deportation.

On 26/06 Dept of Immigration were waiting at the home of the boys who had been studying at Woodville High School. When the boys arrived home from school they were taken, without being told what was happening to them & then flown out to Darwin at 3am with 4 Serco guards each, where they are now being detained at Wickham Point. The students at Woodville High School have started this petition, please Sign, Share and help bring our boys home!

Everyone has the right to a safe, healthy, happy life. On the 26th of June, 2014, Department of Immigration employees were waiting at the residence of two 16 year old Vietnamese asylum seekers who had been studying at Woodville High School. When the boys arrived home from school they were taken, without being told what was happening to them, and were sent to Inverbrackie Detention Centre in the Adelaide Hills. Soon afterwards, they were then flown out to Darwin, where they are now being detained at Wickham Point.

A wave of fear spread through the multicultural community, and by week’s end 11 students had fled from their homes in fear of being taken by the Department of Immigration. A teacher from Woodville High School has already started a petition to bring our boys home, so we suggest all who sign this petiton also sign that one to let Scott Morrison know just how diverse the support for this cause is. Http://chn.ge/1qtmCoe

This petition is to spread awareness about what is happening to people who have come to seek refuge in Australia. We want our boys brought back home and we want the guaranteed safety and fair treatment of unaccompanied minors seeking our help. The government cannot act in such an inhumane way. No justice, no peace – these injustices are not committed in our name.

Sign our petition and show your support by following us on twitter at @two_too_many, using the hashtag #twotoomany and joining our group on Facebook: facebook.com/groups/bringbackthewoodvillekids

First they came for the asylum seekers, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not an asylum seeker.

Then they came for the immigrants, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not an immigrant.

Then they came for those who spoke out, and I did not speak out—

Because I was afraid.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Petitions Scott Morrison bring our boys back home

The facts about ‘boat people’ – The government and media are lying

“The facts about ‘boat people’ – The government and media are lying” is a title that perfectly sums up the emphasis in this guest post by Glenn Murray. This was first published on Glenn’s blog in October last year, but it is such a powerful exposé of the extent of the lies that we need to keep disseminating Glenn’s message. We would urge you all to share this widely. The lies can only be fully exposed if more people were aware of the truth.

Who are ‘boat people’?

‘Boat people’ are asylum seekers who arrive by boat, without a valid visa or any other appropriate authorisation. They’re seeking protection (asylum) because they fear persecution in/from the home country (torture, murder, illegal imprisonment, etc.).

Are ‘boat people’ doing something illegal?

No. Asylum seekers are NOT illegal. They’ve broken no laws at all. Under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

The terms, ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘illegals’, etc., are completely incorrect.

The 2012 UNHCR Guidelines on Detention explain it in plain English:

“Every person has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution, serious human rights violations and other serious harm. Seeking asylum is not, therefore, an unlawful act… In exercising the right to seek asylum, asylum-seekers are often forced to arrive at, or enter, a territory without prior authorisation. The position of asylum-seekers may thus differ fundamentally from that of ordinary migrants in that they may not be in a position to comply with the legal formalities for entry. They may, for example, be unable to obtain the necessary documentation in advance of their flight because of their fear of persecution and/or the urgency of their departure. These factors, as well as the fact that asylum-seekers have often experienced traumatic events, need to be taken into account in determining any restrictions on freedom of movement based on irregular entry or presence.” (p.12)

Is Australia obligated to help them?

Yes. Australia has a legal obligation to assist ‘boat people’ whether or not they follow our polite protocol. We signed an international law called the Refugee Convention.

Are most ‘illegal immigrants’ boat people?

No. According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, in 2012-13, 25,091 asylum seekers arrived by boat, more than 8,308 arrived by plane, 2,813 visa overstayers were detected, 2,328 immigration clearances were refused at air and seaports, and 15,077 other ‘unlawful non-citizens were discovered in the community.

Percentage of illegal immigrants boat people

And according to the Advertiser, that doesn’t even include all the illegals who fly in and are caught in the first two weeks. Another 200,000 or so!

Do all asylum seekers arrive by boat?

No. Since 2003, only 42% of all asylum seekers have arrived by boat.

Percentage of asylum seekers who arrived by boat

In 2012-13, the rate was higher than that due to a spike in boat arrivals:

Percentage of boat people who arrived by boat in 2012-2013

But as you can see below, the number of boat arrivals tend to go up and down. In other words, history tells us it will go down again after the current spike.

Boat people arrivals since 1975

Are asylum seekers who arrive by boat treated the same as asylum seekers who arrive by plane?

No. Those arriving by plane aren’t detained. Plus, they can immediately apply for a protection visa, and are typically given a bridging visa while their application is processed. Boat people, on the other hand, are immediately moved to a detention centre, and they can’t immediately apply for a protection visa. Instead, they’re screened into a refugee status determination process to determine whether they’ll be allowed to apply.

What does ‘refugee’ mean?

A refugee is a person who has fled their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution (torture, murder, illegal imprisonment, etc.).

Are all ‘boat people’ actually refugees?

9 out of every 10 ‘boat people’ are eventually found to be genuine refugees. They have a genuine reason to fear persecution in their own country (as assessed against the regulations set out in our Migration Act).

According to the Department of Immigration and Border Control, since 2008, 92% of all considered asylum cases relating to people arriving by boat were granted (p.30).

How many asylum seekers are judged refugees

As a graph:

How many boat people are actually refugees

But even if they weren’t, it still wouldn’t change Australia’s legal obligation. We are legally obliged to accept asylum seekers.

Are they ‘jumping the queue’?

No. There’s no such thing as a queue. Anyone who wants to claim asylum must leave their home country first. So all asylum seekers flee to other countries. Some overland, some by plane, some by boat. Some come to Australia, some go to other countries. This is the standard way to seek asylum. These people are called ‘onshore applicants’.

Sadly, a lot of refugees are very, very poor, so their only option is to travel overland to a neighbouring country. That’s why countries like Kenya and Ethiopia have huge refugee camps (because of trouble in neighbouring Somalia).

Sometimes refugees are resettled in a country other than the one they fled to. E.g. Someone might be resettled from a refugee camp to Australia. These people are called ‘offshore applicants’. This is something we voluntarily do to  supplement the standard ‘onshore’ process. Again, resettling refugees from refugee camps is a voluntary act. Australia does it to share the refugee load with other countries. Accepting asylum seekers who come directly to Australia is our legal obligation.

Unfortunately, Australia’s policy is that when we accept an onshore refugee (i.e. an asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by plane or boat), a place is deducted from the offshore program (i.e. there’s one less place for people being moved from refugee camps). No other country in the world does this. In other words, it’s policy that takes places from camp refugees, not ‘boat people’.

Are they still genuine refugees if they can afford boat passage?

Yes. The manner of an asylum seeker’s arrival isn’t what makes them a genuine refugee (or not). They’re judged to be a genuine refugee if they have a well-founded fear of persecution at home.

And although the poor are often the victims of persecution, middle-class and wealthy people are persecuted too. In fact, because these people tend to be well educated, they are often persecuted for speaking out against oppressive government regimes. So just because someone can afford (or scrape together the funds) to make it to Australia, that doesn’t mean they’re not a refugee.

And remember, 92% of boat people since 2009 have been found to be genuine refugees, as assessed against the regulations set out in our Migration Act.

But even if they weren’t, Australia’s legal obligation remains the same. We are legally obliged to accept asylum seekers and process their claims.

Are they still genuine refugees if they don’t look battered, bruised and hungry when they arrive?

Yes. The Refugee Convention doesn’t say they have to look battered, bruised and hungry. It says they have to have a well-founded fear of persecution at home.

Out of interest, here’s a photo of some Jewish refugees who fled to Australia at the end of World War II (courtesy of The Australian). They don’t look particularly battered, bruised and hungry.

Jewish refugees

Are they still genuine refugees if they come via another country (e.g. Indonesia)?

Yes. Although the Refugee Convention says they must come directly from a territory where their life or freedom is threatened (as opposed to ‘skipping through’ a country like Indonesia), the 2001 Geneva Expert Round Table organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees concluded that:

Refugees are not required to have come directly from territories where their life or freedom was threatened…  Article 31(1) was intended to apply, and has been interpreted to apply, to persons who have briefly transited other countries or who are unable to find effective protection in the first country or countries to which they flee.” (p.2, 10b, 10c)

Because Indonesia hasn’t signed the Refugee Convention, they’re not obliged to protect asylum seekers. As a result, asylum seekers who arrive in Indonesia live in constant fear.

Are they still genuine refugees if they don’t just flee to the closest country? Aren’t they cherry-picking?

Yes, they are still genuine refugees. There’s no law that says refugees must flee to the nearest country. In most cases, this would simply land them in a poverty-stricken, dangerous refugee camp for years. Nor is there any rule that says refugees can’t flee by plane or choose their destination.

It seems odd to me that some Australians want to vilify these people for using commonsense and, in the process, reducing the load on the desperately poor countries that are actually being flooded by refugees.

Do they have passports to prove their identity? And do they burn their passports?

People (and the media) often get this confused. Boat people come by boat because they don’t an Australian visa, not because they don’t have ID. Many (perhaps most) do have passports and other identifying information, just don’t have an Australian visa.

There are reports of asylum seekers destroying their documents prior to interception by Australian Navy vessels. There are a number of reasons this could be happening: 1) As asylum seekers, they fear capture at home, so they have to destroy their real passports before they leave their home country; 2) They then use fake documents to leave their home country; and 3) They destroy these documents before arrival in Australia because they’re fake and don’t accurately represent their identity or situation, and would, therefore, impede their asylum case. I’ve also heard that people smugglers tell them to burn them as it will aid their asylum claim.

Some people smugglers also claim they sell fake passports and visas, which enable asylum seekers to fly into Australia, after which they’re advised to rip up their passports and claim asylum. But these asylum seekers often end up on dangerous boats anyway. No doubt this is another reason some boat people tear up their passports.

If they can afford boat passage, why don’t they just fly in?

Flying to Australia would definitely be cheaper and safer, and I’m sure all boat people would do it if they could. But the fact is that they have to get an appropriate visa first, and this isn’t always possible. The Australian embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, don’t issue Australian visas. And that’s where 39% of our boat people since 2008 have come from!

What’s more, even when an embassy does issue visas (e.g. Sri Lanka, Iran & Pakistan, where 47% of our boat people have come from since 2008), the application process and requirements for an Australian visa are quite rigorous and time consuming. And if you’re fleeing for your life, you don’t usually have time to complete the application, have your documents certified and wait around for a visa to be approved.

No doubt there are also some boat people who destroy their passports. There are a few reasons this might happen: 1) As asylum seekers, they fear capture at home, so they have to destroy their real passports before they leave their home country; 2) They then use fake documents to leave their home country; and 3) They destroy these documents before arrival in Australia because they’re fake and don’t accurately represent their identity or situation, and would, therefore, impede their asylum case. I’ve also heard that people smugglers tell them to burn them as it will aid their asylum claim.

Do we get more asylum seekers than other countries?

No. In 2012, we ranked 20th overall, 29th per capita and 52nd relative to GDP. And remember approximately half of those people did NOT come by boat.

Do we get more asylum seekers than other countries

“Poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier ones. While anti-refugee sentiment is heard loudest in industrialised countries, developing nations host 80 per cent of the world’s refugees.”

Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon

And again, no matter what our ranking, we’re still are legally obliged to accept asylum seekers.

Do harsh border protection laws deter ‘boat people’?

No. There’s no evidence to suggest our harsh policies on ‘border protection’ reduce the number of boat people trying to get to Australia. Here’s a timeline showing when Australia introduced its harsh asylum seeker policies…

  • June 1989 – Prime Minister Hawke introduced changes that included mandatory deportation, and allowed for the recovery of funds from asylum seekers to pay for the costs of their detention and deportation. The number of boat people continued to increase after these changes were introduced.
  • December 1992 – Prime Minister Keating introduced limited mandatory detention.  The number of boat people remained unchanged afterwards.
  • April 1994 – Keating expanded mandatory detention. The number of boat people increased afterwards.
  • October 1999 – Prime Minister Howard introduced temporary visas (TPVs). Instead of getting a permanent protection visa, refugees were instead given only temporary protection (a 3 year protection visa). After that, their case would be reviewed. Also, their protection could be revoked if they left Australia during the 3 years, and it didn’t allow their families to settle in Australia. The number of boat people continued to increase afterwards.
  • September 2001 – Howard introduced the ‘Pacific Solution’. This involved offshore processing and detention, and turning back of boats. Again, some people claim this policy slowed the arrival of boats, but the data show the numbers were already dropping by the time he introduced the Pacific Solution. Plus, the introduction of the Pacific Solution (Sept 2001) coincided with the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan (Oct 2001). Leading up to this point, Afghanistan had been one of our major sources of asylum seekers (17% in 2001-01). Also, from 2001 to 2002 there was a 45% drop in refugee numbers worldwide.
  • August 2012 – Prime Minister Gillard reintroduces the Pacific Solution. It didn’t slow the boats. In fact, the number of boat more than doubled.

It’s clear these hard-line policies can’t be claimed as deterrents. In all but 2 cases, the number of boat people increased afterwards. Once it remained unchanged, and once it was already going down before the policy was introduced. So if we’re to believe that Australia’s harsh policy has any significant impact on boat people numbers, we’d have to deduce it’s often an incentive!

Harsh Policies

How many ‘boat people’ resettle in Australia? Won’t we be over-run?

No we won’t be over-run. Not even close! For the 2012-13 period, Australia makes available 190,000 places for immigrants. During the same period, 4,949 ‘boat people’ were granted refugees status in Australia. So refugees who arrive by boat make up just 2.5% of all immigration.

Less than 3 percent of immigrants are refugees who arrived by boat

Let’s look at it another way. In 2012, only 4,949 boat people were granted refugee status in Australia. That’s one person per 4,718 Australians. You might just be able to see the thin line representing approved boat people in the graph below…

How many boat people resettle in Australia

Don’t boat people get more social security?

No. Asylum seekers aren’t entitled to the same welfare as citizens and permanent residents. They get Asylum Seeker Assistance (ASA), which covers basic living expenses, at a rate below Centrelink benefits.

Once an asylum seeker’s claim is processed, and they’re judged a refugee, they receive the same amount of social security as a citizen or permanent resident. They “apply for social security through Centrelink like everyone else and are assessed for the different payment options in the same way as everyone else. There are no separate Centrelink allowances that one can receive simply by virtue of being a refugee.” (http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/f/myth-long.php#centrelink)

Unfortunately, the Australian government doesn’t allow asylum seekers to work. Nor does it allow refugees to work until they become permanent residents (which can take years). If they were allowed to work, the burden on our welfare system would be far less.

Doesn’t it cost a lot to keep asylum seekers detained?

Yes. That’s another reason why we should stop doing it. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, it costs approx $225,000 to detain a person on Manus Island or Nauru. If they were were allowed to live in the general community (say, in specified rural areas in need of a population injection), it would cost only $35,000.

But aren’t they all Muslims who’ll want us to submit to Sharia law?

No. In 2012-13, only about half (57%) of asylum claims are were from Muslim boat people fleeing countries that follow strict Sharia law. That’s just 1.4% of all our immigrants. And remember, these people are fleeing those Sharia law countries!

Doesn’t Tony Abbott have a mandate to stop the boats?

Arguably. But he does NOT have a mandate to stop them by breaching international law. Some voters definitely agreed with the stop the boats policy, and Abbott won the election on the back of that policy. But he didn’t mention breaching international law during his campaign, so he does not have a mandate to do so.

Abbott decided to breach international law, not voters.

In fact, only 45.6% of Australians actually voted for Abbott. Yes, he still won the election on preferences, and yes, ‘stop the boats’ was AN election campaign, but there’s a big divide between claiming a mandate on an issue and assuming the majority of Australians support it. And that 45.6% includes people who voted for Abbott based on other factors, such as hating Rudd, hating Labor, being over Labor’s idiotic back-room bickering, and supporting any one of the LNP’s other policies.

Is Australia breaching international law?

Yes. We’re breaching all of the following (see below list for details):

  • UN Refugee Convention
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  • International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR)
  • International Maritime Organization (IMO)
  • Australia’s Criminal Code (Commonwealth)

The UN Refugee Convention

The UN Refugee Convention requires that we must treat refugees at least as well as any other foreigner:

Except where this Convention contains more favourable provisions, a Contracting State shall accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to aliens generally” (Article 7, 1)

And that we must not send them anywhere where they’ll be unsafe or imprisoned:

No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” (Article 33, 1)

Importantly, it also says we must not penalise people who arrive without the appropriate visa or other paperwork:

The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence” (Article 31, 1)

It also says we must not detain them longer than is necessary for their asylum claims to be processed:

The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country.” (Article 31, 2)

But by locking up asylum seekers in detention centres, we’re not treating them as we do other foreigners. Nor are we detaining them merely for the time necessary to assess their asylum claims. Instead, as a direct penalty for the way they arrived, we’re detaining them indefinitely in order to deter other asylum seekers from coming to Australia by boat. Not only are their movements being restricted, but the conditions of their imprisonment are terrible – another penalty and deterrent.

The UNHCR Guidelines are very clear on this:

Detention must not be arbitrary… Mandatory or automatic detention is arbitrary as it is not based on an examination of the necessity of the detention in the individual case… Detention that is imposed in order to deter future asylum-seekers, or to dissuade those who have commenced their claims from pursuing them is inconsistent with international norms. Furthermore, detention is not permitted as a punitive – for example, criminal – measure or a disciplinary sanction for irregular entry or presence in the country. Apart from constituting a penalty under Article 31 of the 1951 Convention, it may also amount to collective punishment in violation of international human rights law.” (pages 15 – 18)

Also, by pushing/towing asylum seeker boats back to Indonesian waters from Australian waters, we’re once again restricting their movements unnecessarily and penalizing them. We’re also returning them to a place where the lives and freedom of many would be threatened. Many asylum seekers are Shia Muslims who are fleeing persecution by Sunni Muslims in their home country. Indonesia is 88.2% Muslim, and the majority of those Muslims are Sunni. So Shia Muslims face persecution in Indonesia just as they faced at home.

The UNHCR has been very clear on this too, telling Australia, in April 2014, that:

There are obligations as a signatory to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 protocol, which say: if you intercept in your territorial waters, you should allow those in need of protection to have access to the asylum system”

This wasn’t our first warning either. The UN warned Australia about this breach in early January, 2014, too:

UNHCR would be concerned by any policy or practice that involved pushing asylum-seeker boats back at sea without a proper consideration of individual needs for protection… Any such approach would raise significant issues and potentially place Australia in breach of its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and other international law obligations.”

Incidentally, we’re further breaching our responsibilities by changing workplace safety laws to exempt Navy sailors from their obligation to take ‘reasonable care’ to ensure the safety of asylum-seekers. In doing so we’re indirectly penalising asylum seekers.

What’s more, Article 16 of the Refugee Convention also stipulates that asylum seekers must have access to free legal assistance:

A refugee shall enjoy in the Contracting State in which he has his habitual residence the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the Courts, including legal assistance and exemption from cautio judicatum solvi

(“Cautio judicatum solvi” means payment of security for legal costs.) Sadly, however, our government now denies legal assistance to asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) says that:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.” (Emphasis added)

By arbitrarily detaining asylum seekers, we are violating their fundamental human rights.

Other human rights conventions

According to Julian Burnside QC, by “using arbitrary detention for asylum seekers, and subjecting people (including children) to conditions which put their physical and mental health at risk in order to persuade them to return to their homelands, and deter further people from seeking asylum in Australia”, we’re breaching the following international conventions:

What’s more, recently a Sudanese asylum seeker claimed he was deliberately burned by Australian Navy personnel. Yet despite being legally obligated to investigate the matter, the Australian government is investigating the ABC, for reporting the claims! Under the United Nations Convention against Torture, which we voluntarily signed, we agree to “ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.” (Article 12, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

We’re also breaching the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 2(2)), under which it is prohibited to detain someone on the basis of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

Australia was also strongly criticised by independent organisation, Human Rights Watch, in its 2014 World Report (p.292):

Successive governments have prioritized domestic politics over Australia’s international legal obligations to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, many of who have escaped from appalling situations in places like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Too often, the government has attempted to demonize those trying to reach Australia by boat and has insisted that officials refer to all asylum seekers who do so as illegal maritime arrivals.”

Laws of the sea

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires contracting states to:

ensure that necessary arrangements are made for distress communication and co-ordination…”

The 2012 Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, interprets this to mean “Where assistance has been provided to persons in distress in a state’s SRR, that state has primary responsibility to ensure that coordination and cooperation occurs between governments, so that survivors are disembarked from the assisting ship and delivered to a place of safety. ” But Australian defence personnel are not helping asylum seekers disembark or otherwise reach safety. Instead, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requires contracting states to:

… promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the sea and, where circumstances so require, by way of mutual regional arrangements co-operate with neighbouring States for this purpose.”

But Australian defence personnel are not co-operating with Indonesia to ensure the safety of asylum seekers. Instead, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.

The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) requires contracting states to:

… ensure that assistance be provided to any person in distress at sea … regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found” and to “… provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety.”

But Australian defence personnel are not delivering asylum seekers to a place of safety, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.

What’s more, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), we’re also breaching:

  • Amendments to the SOLAS and SAR Conventions, which require contracting states to: “… arrange disembarkation as soon as reasonably practicable”; and
  • Guidelines on the Treatment of Persons Rescued at Sea, which state: “The government responsible for the SAR region in which survivors were recovered is responsible for providing a place of safety or ensuring that such a place of safety is provided,” where a ‘place of safety’ is defined as “… a location where rescue operations are considered to terminate, and where: the survivors’ safety or life is no longer threatened; basic human needs (such as food, shelter and medical needs) can be met; and transportation arrangements can be made for the survivors’ next or final destination.”
  • But Australian defence personnel are not arranging disembarkation of asylum seekers, nor providing or ensuring a place of safety, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.

Australia’s Criminal Code (Commonwealth)

Julian Burnside QC also suggests we may be committing “a crime against humanity contrary to section 268.12 of the Criminal Code (Commonwealth)”:

Article 9 of the Covenant prohibits arbitrary detention, yet people sent to Nauru and Manus Island, by Australia at Australia’s expense, are being arbitrarily detained in disturbing conditions. The refugees without ASIO security clearances are also being arbitrarily detained. This then constitutes a crime against humanity, according to the Criminal Code in section 268.12.”

Summary

So here’s what the facts tell us:

  • ‘Boat people’ are not breaking any law, so they’re not ‘illegal’.
  • Australia has a legal obligation under international law to accept asylum seekers.
  • Less than half of all ‘illegal immigrants’ are ‘boat people’.
  • Only about half of all asylum seekers arrive by boat.
  • 92% of ‘boat people’ are genuine refugees; they have a genuine reason to fear persecution in their own country.
  • ‘Boat people’ are not jumping the queue.
  • They’re still genuine refugees if they can afford boat passage.
  • They’re still genuine refugees if they come via Indonesia.
  • 51 other countries get proportionally more asylum seekers than Australia (relative to GDP).
  • ‘Soft’ border protection laws did NOT cause an influx of ‘boat people.
  • Refugees who came by boat make up only 2.5% of all of Australia’s immigrants.
  • Only 1.4% of all our immigrants are Muslim boat people from countries that follow strict Sharia law. And they’re fleeing those Sharia law countries!
  • Abbott does NOT have a mandate to stop the boats by breaching international law.
  • Australia is breaching international law by detaining boat people unnecessarily and turning them away (e.g. sending them to Indonesia).

In other words, ‘boat people’ are a small issue to Australians. They’re not doing anything wrong, and they hardly make a ripple in our overall immigration intake. We only think they’re a big issue is because the government makes them a big issue, and the media happily plays along because it’s a big story.

In reality, the only people to whom the whole ‘boat people’ issue is a big issue are boat people themselves. And, sadly, the smokescreen created by the government is very effectively obscuring that fact.

Why don’t most people know this stuff?

The fact that most people don’t know this stuff is testament to the dishonesty of our politicians and the brainwashing by or media.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory. It’s all fact on public record. Look it up. It’s another instance of the government and media distracting voters from real issues by pointing the finger and finding a common enemy.

That’s why the Coalition built its 2013 election campaign on the ‘Stop the Boats’ line. And why they changed the name of the immigration department from “The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship” to “The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection”. And why they even changed the processing label applied to asylum seeker boat arrivals from “Irregular Maritime Arrivals” to “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”.

None of this is accidental.

Am I suggesting we should open our borders up completely?

No. I’m saying we should separate our onshore and offshore refugee quotas, so boat people don’t take places of resettled camp refugees. And we shouldn’t be using ‘population’ issues as an excuse to turn ‘boat people’ away. If there are population issues (which I don’t believe there are), curtail regular immigration. At least then the people being turned away will merely be inconvenienced. They won’t be killed, tortured or wrongfully imprisoned.

What can we do about it?

If you feel strongly about this issue (and any other problems being caused by the Abbott government), make sure you write to your local politicians and to Abbott and co. Tell them what you think, and demand they stop.

Beyond that, I think we need a Constitutional Convention. And when we get it, we need to change the system to a vote-for-policies system. No politicians, no parties… And tighter regulation on corporations. I’ll be blogging about my thoughts on this soon, so make sure you subscribe to my blog.

What do you think? Please comment…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Please add a comment below, so we can chat about it.

You can follow Glenn on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

Let no child who arrives in Australia ever suffer detention again

Ten years ago, the Australian Human Rights Commission released a previous report into children in immigration detention, when there were around 700 children in detention.

Today, there are over 1000 children in Australian detention centres including unaccompanied minors sent off-shore.  The average length of time spent in closed immigration detention facilities is 226 days, the highest level in more than two years.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has announced it will conduct yet another national inquiry into the ways in which life in immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of children.

Even though refugee advocacy group welcome the inquiry, the federal government has expressed disappointment that an inquiry into children in immigration detention was not launched under the previous Labor government.

Rather than both sides of politics blaming each other, or worse still backing each other up, rather than spending more time and money endlessly redoing investigations and reports, read what was written ten years ago and act on it NOW.

This is an excerpt from the paper written by Human Rights Commissioner Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM published in 2004 entitled A last resort? National Inquiry into Children in Immigration DetentionHe began his paper with the following quote:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Martin Luther King Jnr

 “The primary focus of this report has been on the human rights that all children in Australia should enjoy.

The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be … used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Few people would disagree with these words from the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In fact, most Australians would agree that all other options should be explored before a child is locked up. The words from the Convention form the basis for the title of the report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention: A last resort?

A last resort? talks about children who arrived in Australia to seek protection from despotic regimes like those of Iraq and Afghanistan where breaches of human rights were the norm. Most of these children arrived with their families, some were unaccompanied. More than 92 percent of all children arriving by boat since 1999 have been recognised by Australian authorities to be refugees. In the case of Iraqi children the figures are as high as 98 percent. This means they left their homelands because they had little real choice. Seeking asylum elsewhere was, for them, a last resort.

Yet, since 1992, we have welcomed these children by taking them to remote facilities, detaining them there to wait for a visa. Australia’s immigration policy makes the detention of these children the first and only option and it puts no limit on the time that they are held there. Children wait in detention for months or years – one child spent almost five and a half years in detention before being released into the community as a refugee.  In fact, as at the end of 2003, the majority of children in detention had been held there for more than two years. This policy seems a complete departure from the principle of detention as a measure of last resort.

The irony is that the long-term impact of this system on children is likely to be borne by Australian society as a whole, since almost all children in the detention centres eventually become members of the Australian community. They will carry the effects of their experience with them throughout their lives.

However, even if we were to ignore these human rights concerns, what is the rationale for, or logic of, the current immigration detention system? Does this rationale withstand vigorous examination?

Some have argued that mandatory detention is necessary to prevent floods of boat arrivals. We must take a reality check here. Even if we agree that between 1999 and 2002 the number of people arriving by boat was relatively significant, from a midrange time perspective the number of arrivals is small. Over the past 14 years approximately 13,500 people have arrived by boat – this number of people would fill approximately 15 percent of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Compare this to the approximately 1.4 million new settlers who arrived in Australia over the same period. In other words, ‘boat people’ constituted roughly one per cent of our total intake over that period.

But even if these numbers were greater, the detention of one group of children to deter another group from coming to Australia raises the issue of the proportionality of our policy response. Compare this with our treatment of children who commit a crime: such young offenders are only detained after prompt and careful consideration by a magistrate, the period of imprisonment is strictly limited and is reviewable at several levels. Yet under our immigration laws, children who have not been accused of any crime are detained automatically and for indefinite periods and there is also no real opportunity to argue their case before an independent tribunal or court. A comparison of the two regimes highlights the lack of proportionality of our immigration detention policy.

The international community must take into account the ’cause and effect’ nature of migratory movements when developing policies; if one part of the globe is under pressure there is likely to be a corresponding increase in asylum seekers elsewhere. The Australian experience with boat people is testimony to this reality. People smugglers who risk children’s lives by taking them on a perilous voyage in an unseaworthy boat, should be appropriately dealt with through international policing co-operation. However the answer to these issues lies more in international cooperation and planning than in the creation of ‘fortress Australia’.

Others have argued that in the post 9/11-Bali world the terrorist threat requires a total embargo on unauthorised arrivals. I am fully conscious of the threat posed by terrorism which, when all is said and done, represents the utter negation of human rights. But in the case of boat people, these are the children who are the victims of the Saddam Hussein’s of this world, not the perpetrators. That is why most of them left their homes in the first place. In any case, Dennis Richardson, the Director-General of ASIO, stated that not one person arriving by boat between 2001 and 2002 ‘had received an adverse security assessment in terms of posing a direct or indirect threat to Australia’s security’.

Finally, some have warned that without detention, children and families will disappear into the community and will not be available for removal if they are found not to be refugees. This argument lacks supporting evidence and disregards the fact that, according to the Department’s own statistics, around 90 per cent of boat arrivals whether adult or child – are found to be genuine refugees. While there is always some flight risk, since almost all children arriving by boat are given protection visas in the end, there seems little incentive for these refugees to go underground. In any event, our domestic justice system deals with hundreds of children charged with a crime, who may also present a flight risk, but are released on bail. We accept this system as a necessary hallmark of a ‘civil society’, yet fail to apply these principles to children seeking asylum in Australia.

While recognising the right of each country to protect its borders, I hope that A last resort? removes, once and for all, any doubts about the harmful effects of long term immigration detention on children. It warns governments, in Australia and around the world, that mandatory, indefinite and unreviewable detention of children is no answer to the global issue of refugee movements.

Even if there is no child in detention when this report is tabled in Parliament, it is now time for our elected parliamentary representatives to amend our immigration legislation to ensure that it complies with Australia’s accepted human rights standards. 

Let no child who arrives in Australia ever suffer under this system again.”

Now I understand

What you tried to say to me

And how you suffered for your sanity

And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how

Perhaps they’ll listen now

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