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Australia’s Orban Sycophants

Australians welcoming the defeat of our nascent religious right in the May election need to pay attention to the echoes of the American right-wing strategies looming ahead of their 2024 election, and the faction in Australia that shares those goals.

The religious right has looked to Putin for leadership for years now. More quietly, the ideas and strategies of Hungary’s Viktor Orban have pervaded the sphere.

In America, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has been an outlier speculated as a post-Trump Republican candidate. Florida’s Ron DeSantis looks much more likely to win the nomination at this stage. Both men have worked to promote Hungary’s Viktor Orban’s ideas in America.

Rod Dreher, ultra-conservative American intellectual, persuaded Carlson to broadcast for a week from Budapest in 2021, celebrating Orban’s achievements and his proudly illiberal democracy to the Fox base. This year Carlson released a documentary promoting Orban’s strategies as the ideal Republican model. These apparently led into the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), America’s key radical “conservative” event, being hosted in Budapest in May 2022, where Orban told the crowd that the right must have its own media and that it should broadcast the Murdochs’ favoured performer, Carlson, to the nation 24/7.

Orban continued that his latest election had “completely healed” Hungary of its “progressive dominance” and that the authoritarian right factions of the world should unite and coordinate to “take back” all the key institutions of the West.

It has just been announced that Orban is to return to speak to the CPAC audience again in Dallas in August.

DeSantis does not so much promote Orban as create what has been described as “American Orbanism.” His people admit, behind the scenes to following and echoing Orban’s strategies. Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill which depicted any mention of anything to do with LGBTQI identity in schools as “grooming” echoed Orban’s 2021 bill focused on the same issue. DeSantis’s press secretary told Dreher that, “Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.”

Orban targets minorities as a supposed threat to Hungarians and then devises laws that push Hungary further into authoritarianism to address the non-existent threat. LGBTQI people are the latest target after bigoted attacks on refugees, Romani, and non-Christians. Florida punishing Disney for its tepid pushback against anti-LGBTQI legislation echoes Orban’s strategies for punishing opponents. The primary institutional enemies are educational, media and social media. Control of the message is central.

The key appeal of Orban’s ideology, as well as Putin’s, is that they posit a white Christian – Western – Civilisation as the world’s great treasure and one that is under attack. Progressive “elites” or globalists – usually embodied in Jewish figures like the loathed George Soros – are depicted as executing a “Great Replacement” of the white embodiments of the west with black and brown non-Christians. The key appeal of his strategy is that he rejects liberalism in the existential battle to preserve the mythologised heritage.

This alliance of culture warriors is apparent in the Australian right. Morrison’s defeated government contained both the traditionalist defenders of a beleaguered Western Civilisation that Tony Abbott drew to prominence, alongside the American-style Evangelicals who are more theocratic in goal, aiming to impose national purity through government action.

Tony Abbott’s international advisor from 2010 to 2014 was Mark Higgie. His years as Australian ambassador to Hungary from 1998-2001 (before becoming our “senior spy” in London) seem to have made Orban’s career a focus for the ideologue. He echoes the same “Hungarians are free” line as Rod Dreher, but the latter when asked about the dark underbelly of living in an illiberal democracy tends to reply, I dont know much, to be honest. Like Dreher, in 2019 Higgie moved to Budapest. He writes for The Australian Spectator.

The main intellectual conduit of Orban’s ideas to the West is the Danube Institute. Brian Loughnane, Peta Credlin’s husband and former Liberal Party federal director is on its international advisory board. Tony Abbott appeared with Higgie there before the pandemic conversing about immigrants “swarming” over the borders. Alexander Downer spoke in Budapest about immigrant Bantustans. Kevin Andrews spoke about reversing declining birth rates in the west at the Budapest Demographic Summit, a “biennial gathering of ultra-conservative and highly influential decision-makers, politicians and individuals actively working to curb the rights of sexual minorities and women.”

John O’Sullivan is the president of the Orban-funded Danube Institute. He has edited Quadrant and serves as its international editor with Keith Windshuttle. O’Sullivan too has written about how the left exaggerates the discomforts of living in an illiberal democracy.

One early event that aimed to foster Danube Institute immigration phobia for a broader Australian audience was a Conversazione in Melbourne in 2016. In fact, it fostered Great Replacement fears in a local audience of the rich and powerful albeit without using the term. Orchestrated by a Quadrant writing LaTrobe academic, with O’Sullivan as a speaker and featuring a Windshuttle essay on Quadrant in the program, it highlighted the connection between that publication and the Orban-booster spirit.

Loughnane also spoke at the event, although Credlin was not present. One of the nations leading News Corp journalists appeared, presenting a speech that expressed lurid objection to Muslim immigration. (That journalist has been a guest of the Orban-funded Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Hungary, which hosted another migration talkfest in 2019.)

Fresh from the January Islamic Radicalism and the Westconference held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Brits Daniel Pryce-Jones and Daniel Johnson also spoke at the Melbourne Club that day alongside Geza Jeszensky, former Hungarian foreign minister and noted eugenicist.

Tucker Carlson is now watched by Murdoch’s Australian print editors as a guide to the beliefs of Rupert and Lachlan. Carlson’s show is pervaded with incitement to violence over the existential attacks on white Christian civilisation by the elites and their immigrant hordes; over the threat to (white) American children posed by progressive groomers particularly their teachers; over the existential threat posed by any liberal who embraces diversity and acceptance.

Dutton and News Corp’s new focus of a war on teachers in Australia has been picked up by the IPA in its “Class Action” program to stop teachers “dominating our children’s schools” with “woke ideology.” There they aim to gather “concerned parents and teachers” in a reproduction of American Christopher Rufo’s cynical moral panic about Critical Race Theory. In America, teachers are leaving the profession, exhausted partly by poor funding and the pandemic, but also by being barraged with conspiracy-fuelled hate by parents and outside groups attending school board meetings in threatening mode.

We saw Morrison fighting hard for his religious discrimination bill while neglecting crucial work, aiming to provide a tool of backlash for marriage equality. The trans sports issue was deployed in the election as an echo of the bitter American attacks on trans youth and LGBTQI people in general. The religious right here has begun to echo the fight against reproductive rights.

After the recent release of census data noted the decline in Christianity, Peta Credlin wrote in The Australian (paywalled) in full Orban mode warning of “the centrality of Christian inspiration to Western civilization.” She defined an Indigenous Voice to parliament as “anathema to the fundamentals of Christian faith” and obliquely blamed Chinese and Indian immigration for the crisis.

The combined forces of the radical right – whether Christian Nationalist in intent, or in bigoted fear of a Great Replacement, or cynically deploying culture wars – all have the capacity to distort our civic debates as they are doing at all levels of government in America. The outcome in America is catastrophic.

It is critical for Australians to watch the international right forces filtered through to our democratic project, directly from the opponents of democracy, or filtered through the American role models so central to our “conservatives.” They are not defeated here, but regrouping.

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations.

 

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Beyond the ‘Palace Letters’ (part 1)

By Dr George Venturini

Beyond the ‘Palace Letters’

Traveller would find a constant element through those three events: the Évian Conference, the Kimberley Plan, and the Dunera odyssey.

That element remains the indifference of the population, of the governments and of the institutions of Australia to ‘the Other’, not only the Jews – but anyone who was not British.

On 3 September 1939 Australia entered the second world war with Prime Minister Menzies making a declaration of a state of war in a national radio broadcast: “My fellow Australians. It is my melancholy duty to inform you, officially, that, in consequence of the persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.”

All of a sudden, thousands of Australian residents found themselves identified as potential threats to Australia’s national security. The war had triggered a mass fear of invasion of England by Germany and later on of Australia by Japan. Panic gripped the country that tens of thousands of Australian residents of German, Italian or Japanese origin – or simply name – might become saboteurs or spies.

Parliament enacted the National Security Act 1939.

Government regulations required ‘enemy aliens’ to register and limit their travel to between work and home and within a specified distance from the local post office. They had to obtain permission from the authorities to travel further or change residence.

The most dramatic response was the internment of many German, Italian and Japanese residents in camps – overseas and Australian-born, as well as naturalised British subjects. Australia interned some 7,000 residents, including nationals from over thirty other countries.

A further 8,000 people were sent to Australia to be interned after being detained overseas by Australia’s allies. At its peak in 1942 more than 12,000 people – mostly men, but some women and children – were interned in eighteen camps around southern Australia, including Cowra and Hay in New South Wales and Tatura in Victoria.

Australian authorities had established internment camps for three reasons – to prevent residents from assisting Australia’s enemies, to appease public opinion and to house overseas internees sent to Australia for the duration of the war.

Internees were usually separated from their families and tried to find ways to keep themselves occupied. In some cases they set up their own study classes, theatre groups and market gardens, and were issued ‘internment currency’ in order to purchase goods within the camp grounds. Many volunteered to work on Australian farms to help with the manpower shortage and some, later in the war, joined the Australian army. Most made the best of the situation, but it was a traumatic experience which left some internees permanently scarred.

Internment camps were administered by the army and run along military lines, affected by poor education, plagued by misconceptions and overcome by xenophobia – and most dangerous carriers of hate-bags.

The first camps were set up at the Enoggera (Gaythorne) and Liverpool military bases in Queensland and New South Wales and at the Dhurringile Mansion in Victoria.

As the numbers of internees grew, the early camps became too small. The Australian Government organised the construction of purpose-built camps at Cowra and Hay in New South Wales, Tatura in Victoria, Loveday in South Australia and Harvey in Western Australia.

Life for the internees varied between the camps, particularly between those which were temporary camps and those which were purpose-built. The conditions also depended on the geographical location of the camp, its climate, the composition of the camp population and importantly, the personality of the officer in charge. (‘Wartime internment’, National Archives of Australia, and (‘Internment during World War II Australia’, Museums Victoria).

On 10 June 1940, when the Fascist Regime declared war on England and its allies, 5,000 person of Italian origin, provenance or simply name became overnight ‘enemy aliens’. Some 33,000 Italians were residing in Australia at the time. By 1940, around 40 per cent of members of the Italian community in Australia were naturalised and several thousand Australian-born. Fascism had grown very well in several states, particularly in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. It had been favoured by the likes of Premier of Victoria, H.S.W. Lawson, Premier of New South Wales, Sir George W. Fuller and Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies, who had much admired Mussolini.

As late as 1939 Mussolini was still viewed in Australia and other English-speaking nations as a model of modern leadership. There was therefore some pride associated with being Fascist and Italian. Many migrants with no real understanding of politics joined the Fascist Party in a gesture of national pride. Those who had been forced to escape Mussolini’s Italy made a desperate attempt to draw attention to the looming threat of Fascism.

Fascist success in Australia had been aided by two Jesuits whom Il Duce had personally chosen for ‘mission’ in Australia the assistance by diplomats’ activity, the setting up of Fasci in several states, and the shared belief that Fascism cold be the only bulwark against Communism. The latter ‘conviction’ had aided Australian rulers and those who had been and were financially supporting in keeping a check on the activity of the unions.

A rough, inexperienced, militantly ignorant police found assistance in well positioned persons of Italian origin, many doctors, lawyers, teachers and officers whom less-educated Italians needed for everyday life. The history of Italian antifascism in Australia is full of names of such informers. Most of them saved their skin by carrying on this way. They joined in tormenting some poorchrist who had thought of coming all the way to Australia to escape from Fascist violence. They would encounter the ignorance and indifference of the police in several states. Some such refugees were herded off to local prisons to be fingerprinted, photographed and numbered. Camp authorities indifferently placed known Fascists and anti-Fascists together in the same barracks.

Internment often resulted in life-long, deep emotional scars, especially for the older men who had families. Many men lost their farms, homes or businesses, whilst other families struggled to survive under extreme conditions including acts of public hatred.

Some internees even lost their lives in Australia’s internment camps or the Civil Alien Corps under successive Australian governments of Menzies and Curtin. Others struggled in forced labour groups in the C.A.C. from 1943 to 1947. Without their breadwinner many families became destitute. Some of these impoverished women and children were even interned at the Tatura Camp in Victoria because they could not survive without an income.

In many military interrogations, Italian internees stated that they would willingly work in non-military essential services to support Australia on the home front, but would not fight. They were simply not fighting men. Most of them were not Fascist. In fact many of the Fascist Italians had succeeded in remaining free, in most cases because regarded with favour by Australians who had favoured and obsequiously visited Mussolini. They were devoted to what they considered ‘law and order’ as imposed by the Fascists in Italy.

Most of the Fascist Italians in Australia were left undisturbed. Similarly many Italians resident in Victoria who were neither pro or against the regime were able to continue to work in the community. To complicate matters, Italian families in Queensland were torn apart in 1942 when the Japanese attacked Darwin. Most of the almost 3,000 Italian cane cutters were sent to Loveday and Cowra internment camps. It was in Loveday that the Australian authorities had not cared to place together Fascist Italians and anti-Fascist Italians. The Loveday camp authorities rendered themselves complicit in the assassination of Francesco Fantin, a mild mannered Anarchist. He was killed by a Fascist thug under the indifferent eyes of the military guards. (M. Spizzica, When ethnicity counts: civilian internment in Australia during WW2’, theconversation.com, 20 September 2012 and V.G.Venturini, ‘Never give in – Three Italian antifascist exiles in Australia 1924-1956‘, Search Foundation, Sydney 2007).

By the end of the second world war the population of Australia was 7,400,000. The closeness of second world war being at Australian shores had a frightening effect upon Australia as a whole with its small population; people realised the need to grow – and quickly.

Therefore, migrants would be provided with government assistance. Europe had been devastated by war: it was easier than salvaging for many to simply uproot and start again – a fresh new start in a fresh new continent. Migrants would come from Italy, Greece, England, Scotland, the Netherlands and a few other European countries.

It all began with the Chifley Government. The government commissioned a report on the subject which found that Australia was in urgent need of a larger population for the purposes of defence and development and it recommended a 1 per cent annual increase in population through increased immigration. In 1945 the government established the federal Department of Immigration to administer the new immigration programme. The first Minister for Immigration was Arthur Calwell. An Assisted Passage Migration Scheme was also established in 1945 to encourage Britons to migrate to Australia. The government’s objective was summarised in the slogan “populate or perish.” To critics of mass immigration from non-British Europe, Calwell replied in 1947: “We have 25 years at most to populate this country before the yellow races are down on us.”

Hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans migrated to Australia and over 1,000,000 British subjects immigrated under the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme, colloquially becoming known as ‘Ten Pound Poms’.

The migration assistance scheme initially targeted citizens of Commonwealth countries; but it was gradually extended to other countries such as Italy and the Netherlands. The qualifications were straightforward: migrants needed to be in sound health and under the age of 45 years. There were initially no skill requirements, although under the White Australia policy, people from ‘mixed-race’ backgrounds found it very difficult to take advantage of the scheme.

The immigration programme of the Chifley Government gave preference to migrants from Great Britain, and initially an ambitious target was set of nine British out of ten immigrants. However, it was soon apparent that even with assisted passage the government target would be impossible to achieve given that Britain’s shipping capacity was quite diminished from pre-war levels. As a consequence, Calwell looked further afield to maintain overall immigration numbers, and this meant relying on the International Refugee Organisation refugees from Eastern Europe, with the United States providing the necessary shipping. Many Eastern Europeans were refugees from area conquered by the Red Army and thus mostly anti-Communist and so politically acceptable.

There were initially no skill restrictions; the qualifications were straightforward: migrants needed to be in sound health and under the age of 45 years, although under the White Australia Policy, people from ‘mixed-race’ backgrounds found it very difficult to take advantage of the scheme.

The 1 per cent annual increase in population target survived a change of government in 1949, when the Menzies Government succeeded Chifley’s. The new Minister of Immigration (1949-1956) was Harold Holt.

The British component remained the largest component of the migrant intake until 1953. Between 1953 and late 1956, migrants from southern Europe outnumbered the British, and this caused some alarm in the Australian government, which was moved to place restrictions on southern Europeans sponsoring newcomers and to commence the “Bring out a Briton” campaign. With the increase in financial assistance to British migrants provided during the 1960s, the British component was restored to the top position in the overall number of new migrants.

Migration brought large numbers of southern and central Europeans to Australia for the first time. A 1958 government leaflet assured voters that unskilled non-British migrants were needed for “labour on rugged projects … work which is not generally acceptable to Australians or British workers.” The Australian economy stood in sharp contrast to war-ravaged Europe, and newly arrived migrants found employment in a booming manufacturing industry and government assisted programmes such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This hydroelectricity and irrigation complex in south-east Australia consisted of sixteen major dams and seven power stations constructed between 1949 and 1974. It remains the largest engineering project undertaken in Australia. Necessitating the employment of 100,000 people from over 30 countries, to many it denotes the birth of multicultural Australia. Should Australians think seriously about a real ‘Australia Day’ that could be the day when Prime Minister Chifley signed the papers for the project to start, or when the construction began: 17 October 1949. Two-thirds of the workers were immigrants from over 40 countries around the world. 121 workers lost their life during construction. The Snowy is a story of social, cultural and political change told through the experiences of those who worked on the Scheme.

During the twenty years of the Snowy Mountains Scheme migration from Europe changed the face of Australian society.

In 1955 the one-millionth post-war immigrant arrived in Australia. Australia’s population reached 10 million between 1959 and 1960, up from 7 million in 1945. (Post-war immigration to Australia’, Wikipedia).

In 1949, when Menzies returned to the prime ministership, Harold Holt became Minister for Immigration (1949-1956). He expanded the post-war immigration scheme and relaxed the White Australia policy for the first time.

Menzies was the archetypal Briton-born-in-Australia-by-accident. As Horne put it: “Perhaps when he was a young man making his way in the world those he admired most were the Australian politicians who cherished the English connection. These were the real provincials: Melbourne gentlemen who adopted what they took to be the standards of the far-distant metropolis. Throughout his long career Menzies stressed ‘loyalty’, by which he did not see to mean loyalty to Australia but to the British connection, and to the monarch (when he was not referring to loyalty to himself).” (D. Horne, The lucky country, Penguin Books, Australia, 1964, at 200-201).

He became a successful lawyer and remained an excellent debater. Of course, he was a great actor. But, as Horne observed: “He was lazy in his reading and – the truth is that he was not particularly well-read, as little interested in things of the spirit as his fellow countrymen, and in so far as he did have intellectual or artistic interests they were extremely provincial and old hat. He was essentially arrogant, although courageous, with a scorn for most other men (perhaps all other men). He used his power to little purpose.” (Id., at 198).

His appeal to the home and family, promoted through reassuring radio talks, matched the national mood as the economy grew and middle-class values prevailed. “But for the most part ordinary Australians have held him in little regard: … he was widely considered old-fashioned and had always been considered insincere.” (Ibid., 198) In return, “he seemed to prefer to frustrate talent, to surround himself with a firebreak of mediocrity.” (Ibid., 200).

To his good fortune the Labor Party was being bitterly divided by the threat of the anti-Communist wing, reinforced by Catholic propaganda. So, after 1955, and ‘the split’ Menzies was able to rely on the support from the Democratic Labor Party, a splinter-group from the Labor Party. Menzies won seven consecutive elections during his second term, eventually retiring as prime minister on 26 January 1966.

Menzies expanded post-war immigration scheme, higher education, and the national security policies.

He was forever on the stage. If he should be remembered for anything, that should begin with the farce of his public love declaration to young Queen Elizabeth II who was visit Australia in 1963. The occasion was a formal dinner at Parliament House.

Menzies took the last two lines of the first stanza of a poem by an obscure English composer, lutenist, viol player and poet of the English seventeenth century: Thomas Ford (1580? – 1648). To the visible surprise of the monarch, during a Canberra dinner in her honour, he told her: “I did but see her passing by, And yet I love her till I die.”

Sir William Heseltine, Private Secretary to H.M. the Queen 1986-1990, would comment: “It was one of the very few occasions I think Sir Robert misjudged his audience. And I can remember that there was a frisson of embarrassment and this was perhaps reflected on the Queen’s own look on that occasion.” And the occasion might have been squeamish.

Menzies, like most Australians, fondly believed that timely help to ‘our great and powerful ally’ would ensure American protection of Australian interests in the future. In 1962, when President Sukarno of Indonesia annexed Netherlands-now-West New Guinea in the teeth of anguished Dutch – and Australian – protests, Menzies sought America’s diplomatic support. The Americans unblushingly gave it to Sukarno, but even such painful experience did nothing to shake the faith of Australian conservatives in American care for and loyalty to Australia.

Concerned Australians will remember Menzies for the ease with which he committed troops to the Korean war (1950-1953), to the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), to the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation (1962-1966), and to the Vietnam war (1965-1975).

Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war began with a small commitment of 30 military advisers in 1962, and increased over the following decade to a peak of 7,672 Australian personnel following the Menzies Government’s April 1965 decision to upgrade its military commitment to South Vietnam‘s security.

He did that upon a phantomatic request from the Saigon Regime which had been installed in February 1965, resulting in Air Marshall Nguyễn Cao Kỳ becoming prime minister and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu becoming nominal head of state. No trace of such communication was ever found – anywhere.

Here is Menzies’s monument and inheritance.

Part of the United States strategy against the Viet Cong, blindly followed by the Menzies Government and executed the Australian command, was to deny them cover and food. Knowing that the area of Vietnam which borders Laos and Cambodia was a key transport route used to move troops and supplies from the north to the south of Vietnam, the United States planned to defoliate large areas of jungle to hamper these movements. The Mekong delta was also marked for defoliation, as were areas used by the Viet Cong for food growing.

The defoliant of choice was a compound of two herbicides: 24-D and 245-T mixed with kerosene or diesel fuel and containing the extremely toxic substance, dioxin. It was known as Agent Orange for the orange stripe on the 55 gallon drums in which it was transported to Vietnam. The chemicals were sprayed from aircraft to kill jungle growth and the thick canopy.

Spraying began as early as 1961 in a campaign coordinated by America’s Central Intelligence Agency. By late 1964 the defoliation campaign gathered momentum, peaking between 1965 and 1967.

Between 1962 and 1971 the United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 U.S. gallons (76,000,000 litres) of various chemicals – the ‘rainbow herbicides’ and defoliants – in Vietnam, eastern Laos, and parts of Cambodia as part of the aerial defoliation programme known as Operation Ranch Hand, reaching its peak from 1967 to 1969. For comparison purposes, an Olympic size pool holds approximately 660,000 U.S. gallons (250,000,000 litres).

Australian troops were also involved in the use of herbicides and insecticides, the latter being widely sprayed in Phuoc Tuy province, particularly at Nui Dat. Even during the war herbicide use attracted growing criticism in the United States with the first reports of birth defects in children born in areas subject to aerial spraying appearing in 1965.

Nearly 4.8 million Vietnamese people have been exposed to the defoliant, causing 400,000 deaths. The government of Vietnam says as many as 3 million people have suffered illnesses because of Agent Orange. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people, 100,000 of whom are children, are disabled or have health problems as a result of Agent Orange contamination. The chemical is capable of damaging genes, resulting in deformities among the offspring of exposed victims.

The associated illnesses include cancers, birth defects, skin disorders, auto-immune diseases, liver disorders, psychosocial effects, neurological defects and gastrointestinal diseases. Fifty years after the plague continues.

Concerns about the use of chemical sprays and its effect on people emerged in Australia during the 1970s. Veterans began reporting high incidences of cancer while abnormalities in their offspring were also blamed on Agent Orange. The debate in Australia about links between chemical sprays and veterans’ ill health was reported in the media as growing numbers of veterans came forward claiming Agent Orange had affected their health or that of their children.

Unsurprisingly, the Menzies Government at first denied that Australian troops had been exposed to chemical defoliants, but later retracted that in the face of contrary evidence. The Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, V.V.A.A. lobbied hard on behalf of their members but the material on which they relied to press their case was sometimes anecdotal and lacking in the kind of rigour necessary to prove a case. In 1982 the V.V.A.A. published a list of symptoms by which a veteran might recognise the effects of exposure to Agent Orange. The list was sufficiently broad that many people could point to at least one sign of illness. Repatriation clinics reported a high incidence of veterans presenting with one or more of the identified symptoms not long after the list was published.

Further studies followed, some commissioned by the government, until, under pressure from the V.V.A.A., a royal commission was established in 1983. The commission’s nine volume report, issued in 1985, admitted the existence of health problems, but found no link to the use of defoliants in Vietnam. It said that Australian exposure to chemicals had been very small, and that it had not affected the soldiers adversely. The commission’s report said the chemicals had prevented health problems “which may have otherwise been a problem in the Vietnam environment.”

It did, however, acknowledge that certain chemicals may cause cancer and that a connection to illness in veterans was unlikely but ‘not fanciful’.

The V.V.A.A. rejected the royal commission report and fought to have the findings overturned. Further reports, including a major study published by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, suggested that veterans’ health was indeed affected by their war service and that in certain types of cancer, links with exposure to dioxin and other chemicals used in Vietnam did exist.

It was not until 1994 that the Labor Government acknowledged that Agent Orange was responsible for the cancers and other illnesses suffered by Australian veterans of the Vietnam war. American veterans had to fight a similar battle for recognition of their symptoms – they eventually won a legal action against seven chemical companies and received a multi-million-dollar compensation payment. In Australia the government began a compensation scheme for those who had cancer caused by their service in Vietnam and for the widows of those who had died from cancer. (‘Agent Orange – The Anzac Portal’, anzacportal.dva.gov.au; see also: J. Bird, ‘In the matter of Agent Orange: Vietnam veterans versus the Australian War Memorial’, honesthistory.net.au, 15 March 2016).

By the time the last Australian personnel were withdrawn in 1972, the Vietnam war had become Australia’s longest war. That was actually the Second Indochina War, the conflict which occurred in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.

The withdrawal of Australia’s forces from South Vietnam would begin in November 1970, under the Gorton Government, when 8 R.A.R. completed its tour of duty and was not replaced. A phased withdrawal followed, and by 11 January 1973 Australian involvement in hostilities in Vietnam had ceased by initiative of the Whitlam government.

Approximately 60,000 Australians served in the war; 521 were killed and more than 3,000 were wounded. Remains of Australians sent to die against ‘guerrillas’ near the border between Malaysia and Thailand in 1964 were returned last year.

Menzies won seven consecutive elections during his second term, eventually retiring as prime minister in 26 January 1966. At Horne wrote: “It was a feature of Menzies’ long rule that little of what he did seems to matter much. His great talent was to preside over events and look as if he knew what they were all about. His few active interventions proved mainly failures.” (Id. at 195) And again: “The positive characteristics of his ‘Age’ – the spread of affluence, the considerable relaxation in social styles, the increased in national self-assurance, the continued migration programme, the beginning of an interest in Asia and the growing intolerance of Asians residents in Australia, the demands of technology, the increasing power of overseas investment in Australia, were none of them the kind of thing that Menzies had ‘stood for’ and some of them are the opposite of what he said he hoped for before he came to power.” (Ibid., at 196).

Queen Elizabeth II had already honoured him with an exclusive knighthood, the Order of the Thistle – Australians treated such ‘elevation’ as ludicrous. To this was soon added the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports: New Romney, Hythe, Dover, Sandwich. Back 700 years!

In 1973, long after his retirement, the imperial Japanese government conferred on him the Order of the Rising Sun (First Class) for his services to Japanese-Australian friendship. Critics and admirers agreed. It was only fitting that the erstwhile “Pig-Iron Bob” should end his days loaded with overseas honours.

An air of Gilbert & Sullivan surrounded the man born in Jeparit, Victoria. Or would one go to The Government Inspector, also known as The Inspector General, which is a satirical play by the Russian and Ukrainian dramatist and novelist Nikolai Gogol?

Under the name The Inspector General Warner Bros. produced a film, very loosely based on Gogol’s play. The plot is re-located from the Russian Empire into an unspecified corrupted region of a country which suddenly finds itself under the supervision of the First French Empire. The film is dated 1949, the year of the second ascension of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, K.T., A.K., C.H., Q.C., F.A.A., F.R.S. As Danny Kaye, who impersonates The Inspector, might have said: et cetera, et cetera

Having succeeded Menzies as Prime Minister (1966-1967), Harold Holt also expanded Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war, and maintained close ties with the United States under President Lyndon B. Johnson. While visiting the White House, Holt proclaimed that he was “all the way with L.B.J.”, a remark which was poorly received at home, but which had become – if any was necessary – the evidence of the shift of Australia from the ‘protection’ of the United Kingdom to that of the United States. The majority of Australians were unconcerned about the change of ‘loyalty’.

On the disappearance of Holt while swimming, John McEwen served as Prime Minister from 19 December 1967 to 10 January 1968 in a caretaker capacity. McEwen ceded power to John Gorton after 23 days in office, and in recognition of his service was appointed deputy prime minister, the first time that position had been formally set up.

The new Prime Minister, John Gorton, held power from 1968 to 1971. Not much of a distinguished career may be remembered for Gorton continuing Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, although he began withdrawing troops amid growing public discontent. Gorton’s domestic policies, which emphasised centralisation and economic nationalism, were often controversial in his own party, and his individualistic style alienated many of his cabinet members. He resigned as Liberal leader in 1971 after a confidence motion in his leadership was tied, and was replaced by William McMahon.

A long period of ‘Liberal’ – that is to say ‘anti-Labor Coalition’ government would come to an end with William McMahon. He became prime minister at the age of 63 – the oldest non-interim prime minister to take office. His government (1971-1972) has been described, quite generously, as “a blend of cautious innovation and fundamental orthodoxy”, although one would be justified in comparing him with some classical character which originated in commedia dell’arte of the 17th century. McMahon continued many of the policies of its immediate predecessors, such as Gorton’s phased withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam. Toward the end of his tenure of office Australia was faced with high inflation and unemployment.

McMahon was defeated by Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party at the 1972 federal election, ending 23 consecutive years of Coalition rule.

Twenty-three years of reaction, inertia and ultimately bumbling on the part of the Coalition had given its members the arrogant feeling so clearly expressed by Western Australia Senator Reginald Greive Withers in moving an amendment to the Address-in-Reply critical of the government on 8 March 1973. Withers – who had earned the moniker of ‘the toe-cutter’ – said that he repudiated the idea that the Labor Party had a mandate based on what he referred to as ‘temporary electoral insanity’ in two states at the December 1972 federal election, and warned that “the Senate may well be called upon to protect the national interest by exercising its undoubted constitutional rights and powers.” Behind those words one could easily perceive the anti-Labor ethos: win-at-all-cost, always. The Address, as amended, was finally agreed to on 30 August 1973, and delivered to the Governor-General on 30 September, in a ceremony which no government senator attended.

But Withers had been an easy prophet, as already seen in the initial part of this essay.

Continued Saturday – Beyond the ‘Palace Letters’ (part 2)

Previous instalment – The HMT Dunera scandal

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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The Évian Conference

By Dr George Venturini

The Évian Conference

In 1930, with the Great Depression severely affecting Australia’s workforce, the Scullin Government (1929 – 1932) tightened up entry requirements for ‘aliens’, demanding that only those immigrants who had £500 landing money, or who were dependent relatives of aliens already living in Australia, would be permitted to enter the country.

Following the election of Adolf Hitler in Germany, a group of concerned Jewish spokesmen, led by Rabbis F. L. Cohen and Israel Brodie, travelled to Canberra and personally lobbied the Minister for the Interior to admit a limited number of skilled German-Jewish refugees. But it was to no avail. Two years later, and following Hitler’s promulgation of the notorious Nuremberg Laws (German: Nürnberger Gesetze) which were purposely anti-semitic and racial laws, and had been enacted by a submitted Reichstag on 15 September 1935, prominent Sydney leader Sir Samuel Cohen presided over the formation of the German Jewish Relief Fund, which tried to emulate similar initiatives in Britain by raising funds to assist young German Jews to escape to Palestine or other ‘safe havens’.

Simultaneously, Cohen, Brodie and Brigadier Harold Cohen, among others, continued to press Government members for an easing of immigration restrictions. The successor Lyons Government (1932-1939) compromised by reducing landing money to £50 for those migrants guaranteed by family or friends. It also encouraged the formation of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, A.J.W.S. to coordinate migration processes. Australia House in London reportedly received 120 inquiries a day from would-be immigrants in March 1938, while the A.J.W.S. received 1200 pleas for assistance in the week following the German invasion of Austria, the so-called Anschluss Österreichs, on 12 March 1938.

The A.J.W.S. was sensitive to Government and public sentiment and concerned that its actions could have been affected by the presumption that any marked increase in migrant numbers would merely jeopardise existing, and already tenuous, concessions. As a result it could accept only a fraction of the 70,000 applications for help it had received.

In July 1938 Australia followed Britain’s lead by agreeing to send representatives to Évian-les-Bains, France where a world summit was to seek solutions to the refugee problem. Named officially the ‘Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees’, the conference – originally the initiative of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and held on 6 to 15 July – brought together delegates from 32 nations.

The results of the conference were disappointing; it was clear from the outset that none of the participating countries was willing to modify its existing migration restrictions.

The Australian delegation was headed by Lieut. Col. T. W. White, Federal Minister for Trade and Customs. He bluntly informed the participants that Australia was committed to its policy of British migration, and declared that ‘as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration.’

Clearly White had not heard of the ‘Day of Mourning’, a protest held by Indigenous People on 26 January 1938, the 150th anniversary of British invasion of Australia. It was declared to be a protest of 150 years of the seizure of the land and of criminal treatment of the original population. It purposefully coincided with the Australia Day celebrations held by the non-Indigenous population on the same day. The protest became a tradition, and annual ‘Days of Mourning’ have been held ever since.

White was voicing a widespread national sentiment. According to a public survey conducted at this time, only 17 per cent of the Australian population was in favour of large-scale immigration of Jews. There was intense disquiet about the reluctance of Jews ‘to integrate’ – whatever that may ever mean – or the possibility that refugees would ‘swamp’ some professions or take away jobs from ‘Australians’. Already rigid quotas had been imposed on the number of refugee practitioners able to enter the medical profession in Australia.

At the Évian conference, the United States itself – represented not by Roosevelt or even an elected official but by a friend of the President called Myron C. Taylor – refused to increase the annual admission quota of 27,370 from Germany and Austria even before the meeting began. Edward Turnour, 6th Earl Winterton, Lord Winterton, the leader of the British delegation, clearly outlined his country’s position: “The United Kingdom is not a country of immigration.”

By 1938 more than half a million refugees would be on the move across Europe, fleeing the Nazis, who had rendered first 900,000 German Jews stateless under the Nuremberg Laws, then 200,000 Austrian Jews following the invasion in 1938.

After Kristallnacht (literally “Crystal night”) or ‘The night of broken glass’, between 9 and 10 November 1938, which was an anti-Jewish pogrom in Nazi Germany – then including Austria and Sudetenland – and in slow response to increasingly urgent calls to increase its refugee intake, the Australian Government announced that it would accept 15,000 refugees – 12,000 of them Jews – over the subsequent three years.

This apparent ‘liberalisation’ of policy was, in fact, nothing of the kind. Australia was effectively already accepting 5,100 refugees per annum – before December 1938 – and the new quota actually reduced the proposed intake. The trick was intended to advertise the Government as compassionate, liberal and ‘humanitarian’; in reality, the new policy cynically used the opportunity to curtail whatever trend there had previously been towards a growth in refugee admissions. As it was, a mere fraction of the first annual quota had reached Australia before the second world war broke out. In fact, only some 7,000 Jews settled in Australia between 1933 and 1939. (IRIN | ‘Look back and learn: The Evian Conference, 1938’; see also: Evian Conference – ThoughtCo; The Evian Conference | The Holocaust Encyclopedia).

Once war against Germany by Britain and its allies had been declared in September 1939, immigration effectively ceased, although a small number of refugees did manage to reach Australia through the Orient in the early years of conflict. As former citizens of enemy states, quite a number of them were promptly – albeit temporarily – interned as ‘enemy aliens’.

Continued Wednesday – The Kimberley Plan

Previous instalment – Adjunct imperialist clowns (part 2)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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What do Labor voters want?

Judging from the latest polls one would assume that Bill Shorten’s head is what Labor voters want first and foremost. But moments before this disastrous poll was splashed liberally on the front pages of most media sites, Labor voters had been talking about something equally as important as leadership woes: national issues.

A few months ago Labor voters were invited to vote on the issues they wanted to discuss most with Labor (which I wrote about here). Yesterday they announced the findings of this poll, which some of you might be interested in seeing:

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Poll of Labor voters

The thing that strikes me the most is that it looks the reverse of what the media (over the last couple of years) and the Right-wing have been shrill about. It is also a message to Labor that Labor voters disapprove of the policies the Opposition is quick to show bipartisan support for with the Government.

It must be remembered that the poll closed (presumably) before the Paris attacks, and given that 7’s Sunrise have been telling us that 75 per cent of Australians believe there will be a terrorist attack on our soil, it would also be presumed that National Security might rate much higher than its low ranking.

The Paris attacks (and national security aside), one can only hope that Labor will start listening to Labor voters on the issues that are important to them. They asked what Labor voters wanted, and now they’ve been told.

I won’t hold my breath though.

 

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Dutton has lost control

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has well and truly lost control of his portfolio. The past year alone provides a rich field of examples of Dutton’s incompetency. There are many instances which highlight the absurdity of his excuses, claims and justifications for the Coalition’s appalling policies. Yet despite a growing list of clear failures, there is a noticeable absence of demands for accountability. Dutton continues his awful attempts to defend the indefensible and the general public laps it up, convinced by the Government’s lies that it is all for the greater good.

Dutton has demonstrated many failures. A man with his level of ineptitude and incompetency in the private sector would have been fired a long time ago. A man in his position in any other institution, would be loudly condemned, and subject to a fiercely independent investigation at a minimum.

The latest in the string of absurdities must be Dutton’s reaction over the recent death of a person under his care and the following riot on Christmas Island. Dutton brushed off the seventh known death of an asylum seeker since early 2014, with little more than a ‘meh’, followed by loud accusations of violent, hardened criminals causing trouble for no reason at all in the remote prison. Not only does Dutton fail to recognise or even faintly appreciate the duty of care he owes to asylum seekers detained under this watch, but he loudly refutes the provable fact that violent criminals, minor offenders and asylum seekers have all been mixed together and none would be there at all if it wasn’t for him and his party’s policies.

The totally preventable death of Fazel Chegeni is the doing of Dutton. The riot, which looks to cost the Australian taxpayer $10 million dollars, on top of the $100 million dollar blowout in the billion dollar cost of offshore detention, is the doing of Dutton.

Dutton is responsible, and in being responsible, must be the most incompetent Immigration Minister since the equally appalling performance of former Minister Scott Morrison.

If Dutton was an employee in any private organisation, he would have been sacked long ago for gross incompetence. If any individual person was paying Dutton’s remuneration, he would have been sacked long ago. Yet the Australian public, every individual tax payer is paying for Dutton, and yet he continues, unchecked, with calculated, deliberate lies to try and cover up his incompetency. And Australia does not hold him to account.

The mysterious death of Fazel Chegeni, a refugee whose body was found after being chased through the Christmas Island jungle by guards, follows other preventable and inexcusable deaths. In October, out of fear of being returned to detention and dying a slow death at Dutton’s hands, Khodayar Amini doused himself in petrol and self-immolated. Leo Seemanpillai did the same last year. Asylum seeker ‘Reza’, fearing deportation on Dutton’s orders, was found dead at Brisbane airport. Earlier, Nasim Najafi was attacked while under Dutton’s care, placed in solitary confinement, and committed suicide.

Dutton is responsible for these deaths. Just like former Minister Scott Morrison was responsible for Reza Barati’s murder on Manus Island, and for Hamid Kehazaei who died from a septicaemia after a treatable infection on his cut foot was ignored.

Dutton holds the power to giving these people hope, freedom and a chance of a life. Dutton refuses.

Dutton, whose actions are slowly killing the people under his care, is doing his best to convince asylum seekers that it is better to return to their own countries and risk death in a warzone, than die a slow and lingering death under his watch. ‘Khaled’, who saw his own father murdered after they both worked as military interpreters for the US, was coerced into returning to the very city he fled from in Iraq. Officials from Dutton’s Department coerced another man, Eyad, to return to Syria, where he was tortured for twenty days by government officers, before finally making it to his home. A short time later he was injured in a shell attack, which killed his father on the spot. Dutton is responsible for this.

If any other person was responsible for so many deaths, so many atrocities, so much harm, they’d be imprisoned themselves. Not Dutton. No, he is being paid by the Australian tax payer to continue his torturous regime.

Who can forget the boatloads of Tamil asylum seekers Dutton returned to Sri Lanka, despite being subject to persecution? And his refusal to help rescue Rohingya refugees stranded at sea? Or the Vietnamese asylum seekers who were returned by Dutton, some of which were arrested and detained immediately on their return to Vietnam?

And of course there is Dutton’s implied admission that his Department paid people smugglers, in a clear breach of international law, backed up by an Amnesty International report finding enough evidence that it happened.

Dutton is determined to continue to expose children to sexual abuse, assault and torture. The Government-commissioned Moss Report, the Forgotten Children Report from the Australian Human Rights Commission, and a Senate Committee Inquiry found that offshore detention is not safe for families and children. Earlier this year Dutton ordered the transfer of a five month old baby, Asha, to Nauru, where her desperate mother is still gravely concerned for her health. Fully qualified, professional Australian doctors have labelled the Government’s treatment of asylum seeker children as torture. Dutton is unrepentant. Instead of addressing the shocking claims, he made it illegal for ‘entrusted people’ to report the abuse, threatening doctors, nurses, councillors and teachers with two years jail.

The Australian tax payer is financing this abhorrent situation. Every Australian is paying for Dutton to put in place laws to incarcerate anyone who tries to hold Dutton to account.

Dutton refused for months to help a woman who had been brutally raped while under his care. Abyan, another refugee who fell pregnant after being raped, was also denied treatment in Australia until a mass public outcry. Dutton, insistently lying to the Australian public and the world about the poor woman’s situation, despite even the Coalition’s biggest supporter, Chris Kenny, backing up her advocates, has not been held to account for his lies. Dutton only acted after a scathing press statement from the United Nations, yet he still insists that denying a traumatised woman access to a counsellor and expert medical care is appropriate treatment.

Dutton deliberately seeks to expose vulnerable men, women and children to further harm.

According to Dutton, pregnant women under his care who request to give birth in Australia are trying to blackmail him, are taking him for a ‘mug’, and are partaking in a racket to get to Australia. According to Dutton, it is acceptable to force women under his care to give birth in a third world hospital on Nauru, where a newborn baby is seven times more likely to die at birth, and the mother is fifty times more likely to die during childbirth. Dutton has ignored medical professionals and the Australian Medical Association who insist Golestan, a diabetic woman, must be immediately flown to Australia to give birth. Golestan is suffering a complex pregnancy, and despite medical staff expecting her baby will require specialist care, Dutton insists on risking the baby’s life. Will Dutton sacrifice the life of an innocent baby in his race to provide crueler conditions than those which the asylum seekers have fled from?

It is not just asylum seekers Dutton treats with loathing and contempt. A freedom of information request by Fairfax media revealed that Dutton deliberately misled the public when he said there was no way his Border Force agents would be doing random spot checks on unsuspecting and law-abiding Melburnians in August this year.

Spooked by a backlash to the press release that Government agents would stop and speak with anyone they came across during Operation Fortitude in Melbourne’s CBD, Dutton’s kneejerk response at the time was to deny all knowledge of such a planned venture.

What kind of Minister thinks it’s acceptable and lawful to expect people to carry, and produce on demand, their ‘papers’ while out shopping on a weekend? What kind of Minister then lies to say it was never planned? Obviously one who mistakenly thought Australia was a police state, or one who is grossly incompetent. Dutton forgets he is an elected representative paid for by the Australian taxpayer to represent the Australian people, not treat the very people who elected him as criminals.

Speaking of taxpayers, voters, and Christmas Island, Dutton demonstrates yet again his inability to tell the truth. Despite deliberately, unrepentantly and viciously detaining and deporting any non-citizens who have suddenly become socially undesirable, no matter how minor their wrong-doing, or the absence of any actual offence at all, Dutton is adamant only the most violent and hardened criminals are subject to section 501 of the Migration Act. Many of these people have lived in Australia for their entire lives. They have voted in elections. Many have paid their taxes and contributed positively to the community for decades. They have families, wives, husbands, partners, siblings, parents and children in Australia.

According to Dutton, a decorated New Zealand soldier, Ngati Kanohi Haapu, known as Ko, must be banished forever, despite having no criminal convictions whatsoever. Ko’s ‘character issue’ is that he is allegedly a member of a one percent motorcycle club. Despite no motorcycle club being proven to be a criminal organisation, and police and law enforcement agencies being unable to produce sufficient evidence of such, Ko has been detained and set for deportation.

Ko has committed no crime. Not like Dutton, who has paid people smugglers, enabled and condoned child abuse, rape, and torture, and is responsible for at least five of the seven known deaths of asylum seekers.

According to Dutton, a New Zealand born mother of six, who has served her time for minor drug offences is a violent, hardened criminal. If this woman had been born in Australia she would serve her time and move on with her life. But no, according to Dutton, she must be banished from Australia, despite serving her sentence, because a faceless bureaucrat has applied a mandatory provision enacted on Dutton’s command, that she be deported.

According to Dutton, a single mother of two, charged with shoplifting is such a threat to the Australian public, she should be incarcerated, away from her young child and teen daughter – banished forever from Australia, because of Dutton. There is no such thing as rehabilitation or having ‘done one’s time’ under Dutton’s watch.

According to Dutton, a quadriplegic man, who served time for self-medicating with painkillers, is such a threat to the Australian public, he must be deported, never to return to the land he called home.

According to Dutton, a British man, who has lived in Australia for fifty of his fifty-one years, who in a moment of stupidity lit a scrub fire in which no people or property were harmed, is a violent and hardened criminal. Because according to Dutton, only violent and hardened criminals are being held on Christmas Island.

Where are the cries for Dutton’s resignation? Why is the Opposition silent? Why is Bill Shorten not calling for Dutton to stand down or be sacked? Why is the mainstream media not demanding more answers?

No person in anything other than a criminal organisation, a fascist, police state or dictatorship would get away with such criminal behaviour, and wilful and deliberate lies to the domestic and international community.

How many more families will be ripped apart by Dutton’s arbitrarily applied laws? How many more people must die a violent, painful and preventable death under Dutton’s watch? How many innocent children will lose their parents, and how many parents will lose their children at Dutton’s hands? The Government and the weak opposition, the detention centre contractors, and all the faceless bureaucrats, are complicit in the deaths, torture, and inhumane treatment of people under Australia’s care. Every Australian who does not make a stand against the cruel regime, is complicit.

Enough is enough. Rape, murder, suicide, torture, child abuse, violent assaults, death from medical neglect, and wilful destruction of families is all in a day’s work with Dutton in charge. And every Australian is paying for it.

 

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The top 5 signs that your country’s Refugee Policy is a disaster

Australia’s Minister for Saying-We’ve-Stopped-the-Boats – one Mr Peter ‘PDuddy’ Dutton – was out and about this morning defending what he and his government believe is the best and most successful immigration policy EVER.

I decided to check out PDuddy’s claim against the following officialesque list …

The Top 5 signs your Refugee Policy is a disaster

Number Five: Refugees would rather return to possible death in a war-zone

than stay in the Refugee Centres your country provides

The Australian government has worked hard to convince as many refugees as it can to return to their home countries, despite the considerable potential risk to those refugees that doing so entails.

One Syrian refugee – Eyad – elected to return to probable death in Syria a few months ago, saying he would prefer to die with his family in Syria rather than stay on Manus island. On arriving in Syria he was arrested and tortured for 20 days. Following his release, he was allowed to return to his former home village where he was subsequently hit by shrapnel and saw his father die before him.

Number Four: You put refugees in the care of a government that has made

money from selling passports to terrorists & money-laundering

The way that Peter Dutton pontificates about ‘smashing’ the business of people-smugglers, you’d think he’d donned a cape and mask and turned into a one-man regional crime-fighting machine.

What PDuddy conveniently forgets to mention, when boasting of his crime-fighting achievements, is that the Australian government is propping up the Nauru government with our Refugee policy – and that the Nauru government is so beleaguered by corruption claims that the New Zealand government recently cut off aid to them. PDuddy also leaves out the fact that this same government was previously heavily sanctioned by the international community for selling Nauruan passports to terrorists and laundering money for the Russian Mafia.

Number Three: Your Refugee Centres make it onto the UNHRC’s torture list

In March this year, the UN Human Rights Commission released its report on torture, naming Australia as a country who had breached the UN Convention against Torture in our Refugee camps.

Of course our government raced to immediately set up a Royal Commission to investigate the issues raised by the UN. Oh wait – no, that was a Royal Commission into the unions. What our government actually did in response to the UN report was to say that it was sick of being lectured.

Number Two: You are spending more on your Refugee Policy than the

combined GDP of 9 small countries

In 2015, the Australian government spent at least 4 billion on its Refugee Policy – of which 3 billion was to look after offshore refugees (including just under 1600 refugees on Nauru and Manus Island).

This is the equivalent of the combined GDP in 2014 for Tonga, Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Sao Tome and Principe, Dominica and Comoros.

By way of contrast, the UN has a budget of $157 million USD for 2015 to look after over 200,000 refugees in South-East Asia.

Number One: A country in the Axis-of-Evil thinks you’ve gone too far

Over 110 countries lined up at the UN this week to comment on Australia’s refugee policies. In fact, so many countries wanted to raise issues at the periodic UN review, that each was given a time limit of just over a minute to speak. Between them they still managed to raise over 300 concerns in just that space of time.

Among their number was long-term member of Bush’s ‘Axis-of-evil’ – North Korea – who said that they:

have serious concerns at the continued reports of … violence against refugees and asylum seekers“.

It’s official – Australia’s refugee policy is a disaster …

In all seriousness – our refugee policy really IS a disaster. It is pure propaganda – truthiness at its finest – to suggest otherwise.

And still Peter Dutton keeps a straight face while he claims that Australia’s Refugee policy:

  • has saved lives – this is doubtful at best;
  • has stopped people smugglers – if this were true, who exactly are they paying to turn around?
  • to be the most generous in the world – this is actually an insult to countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan who lay true claim to this title. We are literally nowhere near.
  • to have protected our borders – from who exactly? From victims of war, terrorism, torture and persecution, who, if they had the funds to arrive here by plane would be allowed to stay? When did we start needing protection from victims? The reality is that these are the world’s most vulnerable people being used as political pawns. They aren’t terrorists. Or economic migrants. They are people with no safe place to call home.

It doesn’t matter what measure you pick …

  • financial
  • humanitarian
  • doing our bit globally
  • stopping crime in the region
  • making our country more secure, or
  • just plain common decency.

… there is not a single measure that doesn’t point at our government’s Refugee Policy as being at best an abject failure, and at worst a complete disaster that will haunt us in years to come.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

 

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First Class Travel and the Danger of Extremism . . .

This morning Paul Sheehan quoted Canadian author, Mark Steyn who was over in Europe to see what immigration had done. Canada, of course, has been ruined by immigration – just ask the indigenous population!

However, we’re not talking about Canada here, we’re more interested in a how a Canadian perceives Europe. Apparently early on in his visit there was an a rather nasty incident. Sheehan quoted Steyn:

“I was looking forward to sitting back and enjoying the peace and quiet of Scandinavian First Class. But, just as I took my seat and settled in, a gaggle of ‘refugees’ swarmed in, young bearded men and a smaller number of covered women, the lads shooing away those first-class ticket holders not as nimble in securing their seats…

“They seemed to take it for granted that asylum in Europe should come with complimentary first-class travel … The conductor gave a shrug, the great universal shorthand for there’s-nothing-I-can do.”

Refugees taking it for granted that they should travel first class is outrageous enough, but that first class travellers should have to put with men with beards “swarming” in. Although how Steyn managed to determine that they were refugees and not hipsters, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was the “covered women’, because, after all, this was Scandinavian first class travel and it’s my understanding that everyone’s naked there most of the time, but that could be because I reduce everything to stereotypes.

Of course, the same mental powers of clairvoyance that enabled the writer to tell that they were asylum seekers and to determine exactly what the conductor meant by his shrug, enabled him to see that they both clearly knew that travel comes in classes and that they had an economy class ticket but were choosing to travel first class, out some sense of entitlement. Now, a socialist might suggest that those in first class also had a sense of entitlement but, as we know in Australia, the age of entitlement is over so that socialist would be wrong.

Of course, Paul Sheehan goes on to tell us about how this influx of refugees is causing a lurch to the right and how anti-immigration parties are gaining ground in many European countries. He talks about Germany’s decision causing problems with social cohesion because as he says:

“Too late. More than 500 arson attacks have occurred in Germany this year targeting housing designated for refugees.”

Now, I could go on to quote a lot more of Paul Sheehan’s article but the basic thrust of it seems to be an attempt to make Tony’s “Jesus didn’t know what he was taking about it and I was just so awesome that I stopped the boats speech” seem reasonable. I think you’ve probably got the gist. It takes the view that if people are starting to believe something then it must be true, which makes an interesting contrast to views on climate change where people are just being gullible and going along with a majority.

He goes on using the sort of logic that suggests that Reclaim Australia is the result of the Liberals being too left-wing before concluding with:

“This encapsulates a growing view in Europe from which you may recoil, as it contrasts starkly with the liberal belief that the West has a moral obligation to help the wretched.

I doubt the liberal view will prevail. The dots are starting to connect. They point to a gathering storm, building on millions of small indignities and disappointments which, over time, will add up to something large.”

Yep, once you fail to see the irony in a Canadian complaining about foreigners disturbing his “Scandinavian first class travel”, then it’s a small step to argue that refugees are causing problems with social cohesion because people are attacking them.

But then consistency has always been in short supply when it comes to politics.

 

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Deconstructing a dog whistle

Tony Abbott’s government has taken some body-blows in recent weeks, and Abbott’s own leadership standing is suffering. Some say that this is due to a savage budget that seeks to address a non-existent budget emergency by penalising those who can least afford it and by punching the powerless, compounded by poor communications and head-scratching political decisions. If this were the case, one might be forgiven for thinking that the best way of recovering the party’s fortunes might be to revisit the thinking behind the budget, to seek to appropriately identify who the real lifters and leaners in the economy are, and to fix the way that the government goes about doing business.

Or you could go for the approach of sowing distrust and disunity, painting an amorphous group as the “Other” in order to convince Australians that you are “One of them” and being strong to protect them from the forces of darkness. This is a skill-set and a rulebook Tony Abbott inherited from his great hero John Howard and this weekend’s video message shows that he has enthusiastically embraced it.

If national security is so important that it has prompted an address to the nation, at the expense of attention to Joe Hockey’s “Never back to surplus” budget and Andrew Robb’s TPP negotiations and the likely forthcoming execution of the Bali Nine kingpins, then it would seem worthwhile to examine the detail of Mr Abbott’s speech.

When you look at what Mr Abbott had to say, it becomes clear that he is taking two specific incidents and generalising threats from them, generalising failures from them, and using them to beat up the necessity for changes. In two minutes and 23 seconds, he commiserates with the victims of violence, generalises the threat to all Australians, spruiks the actions of the government, reminds us of the threat and reassures us that he is keeping us safe.

An examination of the specific incidents to which Abbott refers, however, tells a more sobering story. There have been no significant failures of our immigration and border protection regulations, no breaches of our balanced and considered jurisprudence and bail system. There are no practical measures that could have prevented these specific events that prompt Abbott’s address. Once you understand that any measures the government might propose can have no possible effect on preventing these specific events, the low-brow dog whistle becomes crystal clear, and it becomes possible to see the real threat behind the words – the threat of further intrusive and unwarranted interference into people’s everyday lives.

A Message from the PM

Abbott begins by referring to the recent Lindt cafe attack by Man Haron Monis. It is perfectly appropriate to “acknowledge the atrocity”. It was one man with a shotgun and three people, including the attacker, died in the event. “Atrocity” is a strong word, but Abbott commences as he means to continue. In any case, the scene is set, the tone of the address is identified: this is a message about terrorism.

Abbott continues with a pledge to keep Australia as “safe and secure” as humanly possible. Federal and State governments are conducting a joint review into the siege, and the report will be released soon. The report will make recommendations and the government intends to take some actions. History has shown us that actions taken by a government are often only a subset, or sometimes a completely different set, to the recommendations of any given report, but we will reserve judgement. In effect, Abbott is attempting to take credit in advance for an announcement the government has yet to make. He is showing the government is strong, by pointing to the future when it intends to take strong action that it can’t tell us about yet.

We may get an inkling of the actions the government has in mind when Abbott addresses the Parliament on the topic of national security next Monday. But we may have a sneak preview as Abbott continues on.

“For too long we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt. There’s been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink. And in the courts, there has been bail, when clearly there should have been jail.”

When we unpack this statement, in the context of recent events and of the preceding text, Abbott is effectively telling us that we have not been strong enough in our immigration policies, and failures in our bail and justice systems. Abbott refers very specifically to the one example he has mentioned, Man Haron Monis, the attacker in the Lindt cafe event. Australians – particularly those in Sydney, Abbott’s home constituency – will be very aware
also of the arrest this week of two young men, home-grown potential jihadists. Despite not mentioning them specifically, the media has been quick to connect the dots between their arrest and this statement by Abbott.

The problem is that neither our immigration, residency, citizenship nor bail processes failed in any of these cases.

Man Haron Monis was on bail for a variety of criminal offenses at the time of his cafe attack. These cases were not religious in nature. He was accused of being accessory before and after the fact for the murder of his wife by his girlfriend. Separately, he was on bail on indecency charges. Neither case could have given indication that he was planning to turn into a shotgun-wielding maniac. [Read: How was Man Haron Monis not on a security watchlist?]

There were indications perhaps of mental instability, of paranoia, and definite isolation and marginalisation. Monis was known for holding “extremist” views. That’s easy to say in retrospect. His views on the West’s involvement in Middle-Eastern conflicts would not be out of place in a Greens party room meeting. He was, until very shortly before his act of terror, a well-dressed and urbane Australian.

Could the Lindt Cafe attack have been avoided if Man Haron Monis was denied bail? Certainly. On what basis could bail have been denied, though? This was not a wild-haired fanatic before the magistrate.

Bail is a State issue of law enforcement. As it happens, laws have already been tightened in NSW that would have prevented Monis’ bail. So what exactly does Abbott, in the Federal sphere, expect to do to make Australians still safer?

The recent arrests in Sydney were of two young men, Mohammad Kiad and Omar al-Kutobi. Allegedly they were arrested just hours before they intended to attack members of the public with knives. Could either of these alleged terrorists have been captured earlier with tighter border protection policies, or more intelligence resources? Were they abusing their Centrelink entitlements?

It would appear not. Kiad, now 25, came into Australia four years ago on a family visa to join his wife. al-Kutobi fled Iraq with his family ten years ago; he came to Australia in 2009. Shortly thereafter he received a protection visa and he became an Australian citizen in 2013. Neither man was a wild-haired fanatic, nor obviously a danger to the public.

The pair were not known to police. They were not known as religious extremists. Until recently, it doesn’t appear that they were. Instead, they were young Aussie men, fond of barbeques and American TV and luxury goods. Their radicalisation occurred over the last few weeks, perhaps triggered by the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices last month in Paris. Their rapid radicalisation was reported to Australian authorities by their own community about a week ago. Mere days later, police swooped.

How were tighter immigration rules four years ago going to prevent a planned terror attack that took months, at most, to be conceived and instigated, from men who by all reports only became extreme within the last six months, and on Australian soil?

The other problematic element of this densely offensive paragraph is the reference to Centrelink. In the context of this strident message, the inference is clear: that terrorists rely on Newstart. This is so ridiculous as to be laughable – yet it plays to the same crowd who lapped up the election rhetoric about boat people clogging up the motorways of Sydney.

The other possible reading is that people who rely on welfare are as bad as terrorists. I’m not certain which interpretation is the more offensive.

Abbott continues his address with the key message: all too often, “bad people play us for mugs. Well, that’s going to stop.”

Who are these bad people? That’s not been shown. Hopefully it’s not Man Haron Monis, because if we’re going to stop people like him from “taking us for mugs”, we presumably will no longer be providing welfare to those with mental issue. Hopefully it’s not Mohammad Kiad and Omar al-Kutobi, because in order to curtail the terrorist threat they pose, we would need to prevent muslims in general from entering the country.

Abbott makes a variety of references to the “Islamist death cult”. There’s a three-word slogan that’s earned him a couple of poll points before. It is also simultaneously emotive, highly offensive to large groups of undeserving people, and impossible to criticise without coming across as an apologist. Well, this author will criticise it. Islamic State might possibly be Islamist, but using the term paints all Muslims alike. IS is most certainly not a death cult. Yes, it uses unsupportable means and revels in bloodshed, but it does so not for the sake of killing people, but rather to attract those it considers devout. The killings are a means, not an end. And the idea of a world caliphate of muslims is dear to many. Nobody should seek to defend the actions or the Islamic State. However, belittling IS with a three-word slogan ignores the complexities and the real grievances and aspirations of millions of muslims everywhere.

Abbott goes on to talk about the much-discussed “new threats” of home-grown backyard terrorists, armed with “a knife, a flag, a camera phone, and a victim”. Terrorists are everywhere, around every corner, lurking under every bed.

By all means, do what you can to identify potential attackers before they take a life. But in the same way that it’s impossible to protect the public from an armed robber in a milk bar, it is impossible to protect the public from a quiet young man who just wants to be respected.

Abbott finishes his presentation by proudly boasting of working with other nations to degrade the Islamic State through military means; and improving the powers and resources of Australian intelligence agencies. Finally, he claims the need for stronger laws to “make it easier to keep you safe”. These include the data retention laws currently before parliament, but, worryingly, might also include other laws and regulations Abbott does not describe, but which will inevitably further encroach on our liberties and our privacy. Of course, it’s all for our own good. The government is being strong to keep Us safe from Them.

“As a country we won’t let evil people exploit our freedom.” As Kaye Lee has written today, it’s a pity that credo doesn’t stretch to include the current government.

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When Scott Morrison applies his Immigration Model to Social Services

Now there’s been a lot of angst about Scott Morrison’s appointment as Minister for Social Services. Probably coming from a few bleeding heart lefties who’ve never worked a day in their lives while earning a living as a “rent-a-crowd” professional protester! (One could see that as a contradiction but only if one thinks about it, so please stop thinking and go with the flow!!)

Personally, I see Morrison’s appointment as a turning point in the history of Australia. Up until now, Australia has always been the sort of country that valued a “fair go” for everyone whether they deserved it or not. Morrison will ensure that the “fair go” is reserved for the genuinely deserving. I picture his first interview with the ABC going something like this:

Interviewer: So, Mr Morrison, how do you see your role as Minister for Social Services?

Morrison: It’s really quite simple. We will decide who gets governmnet support and the way in which they’ll get it.

Interviewer: So what exactly does that mean for, let’s say the unemployed?

Morrison: Well, if you’re talking about the unemployed let’s be quite clear. We don’t want the unemployed just rocking up to Centrelink by whatever means they choose and trying to jump the queue. Only those who arrive by car will dealt with.

Interviewer: What about those who arrive by walking or public transport?

Morrison: Simply, they’ll be detained while we check out what jobs they’ve applied for and whether they’re attending interviews, and if we find that they’re not applying for jobs then we intend to send them to camps where they can join a work-for-the-dole scheme.

Interviewer: But how can they attend interviews if you’re detaining them?

Morrison: They should have thought of that before they began their journey.

Interviewer: So how do you intend to determine whether or not the person came by car?

Morrison: Look, can we stop refering to them as “persons” or “people”, I’ve instructed all Centrelink staff to refer to them as “illegal dole applicants”.

Interviewer: The question remains, how will you determine whether they came by car or not?

Morrison: We’ll have ADF personel scouring the streets and if anyone comes within ten metres of a Centrelink office, they’ll be taken into custody while we check out their credentials. In fact, we’ll pick up anyone who comes within ten metres of the ten metre exclusion zone unless they’re wearing a blue tie.

Interviewer: Doesn’t this breach their human rights?

Morrison: Sorry, I don’t understand the question.

Interviewer: I said, “Doesn’t this breach…”

Morrison: I heard it, but you seem to presuming that illegal dole applicants have human rights. These rights aren’t for everyone, you know.

Interviewer: Moving on to some of your other areas of responsibility, let’s take benefits to families…

Morrison: We haven’t actually decide to take them yet, so you’re jumping the gun there.

Interviewer: I meant, let’s look at benefits to families.

Morrison: Well that’s exactly what the Government is doing. Under the Labor Government we had the ridiculous situation of the government taking money via taxation, only to give it back to families in the form of generous payments when a baby was born or a child began the school year.

Interviewer: What’ll you be doing about that?

Morrison: We’ll be stopping it.

Interviewer: So, you’ll reduce taxes and just let people keep the money and abolish many of the payments.

Morrison: No, we’ll be stopping children starting school. After all, in my previous portfolio I stopped the education of children in detention centres and nobody seemed to mind.

Interviewer: You intend to abolish Education?

Morrison: No, don’t be ridiculous.

Interviewer: That’s a relief.

Morrison: Stopping Education is Christopher Pyne’s job.

Interviewer: I can’t believe what you’re saying!

Morrison: Typical ABC bias. Look, it’s very simple. Gonski has given us a big report which according to those who read it, says that most government schools need a massive injection of funds if they’re to achieve anything worthwhile, and Kevin Donnelly has argued that government schools aren’t really teaching anything worthwhile like our Judeo-Christian heritage and Latin, so there’s really no point to them. When you add the fact that under the Higher Education changes, nobody who doesn’t already go to a secondary school that charges a fortune in fees will bother with university, we can stop all funding and then there’ll be plenty of money for the private schools, who can offer scholarships to the two or three children who are bright enough to educate but whose parents have no money.

Interviewer: How will these scholarships be determined?

Morrison: Sorry, but that’s confidential.

Interviewer: Surely the procedures for awarding a scholarship have to be transparent.

Morrison: I’m sorry but that’s a question for Mr Abbott, but I will say that Frances is a lovely girl and fully deserved…

Interviewer: I meant as a general principle, I wasn’t refering to that particular case.

Morrison: Let’s return to Social Services, we’re really straying outside my portfolio.

Interviewer: Ok then, let’s look at the NDIS.

Morrison: Sorry, the what?

Interviewer: The National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Morrison: Oh, yes. That’s part of my portfolio too, isn’t it? Um, yes… We intend to keep that – at least the name part- but we’ll be undertaking a review of its effectiveness and I’m not able to comment on its future till that review is completed.

Interviewer: All right, then what about Seniors?

Morrison: What about them?

Interviewer: Will there be any changes in policy?

Morrison: Yes, same thing. We’ll be undertaking a review of their effectiveness and I’ll comment further when that review is finished. But I will add that Seniors are some of the most important voters in this country and we do not intend to allow their standard of living to deteriorate as long as they can still vote.

Interviewer: So what changes do you see happening in Social Services?

Morrison: At this stage all that’s proposed is ensuring that the Australian taxpayer gets the best value for money. Any developments will be announced by me at my regular weekly briefings, just like when I was Immigration Minister.

Interviewer: And what will you say at those briefings?

Morrison: No comment.

Interviewer: You want us to wait to the briefing before you announce what you’re doing?

Morrison: No, I’ll be saying “no comment”. Let’s be real here, most of the things in this portfolio relate to people’s circumstances and surely people have a right to keep their personal circumstances private.

Interviewer: But surely the public have a right to know the general policies of the Department!

Morrison: No comment.

Interviewer: I just want to know about the general direction…

Morrison: Listen, I’ve made it quite clear that I won’t be commenting on operational matters.

Interviewer: Just finally, is it true that you’ll be abbreviating Social Services to SS on all your correspondence?

Morrison: No comment.

Interviewer: I’m afraid that’s all we have time for. Merry Christmas, Mr Morrison.

Morrison: I’m not in a position to confirm or deny that.

 

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A Conspiracy of Convenience

Much has been written here recently about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), the job guarantee, structural deficits, fiscal statements, fiat currency and the like. But that, it turns out, is just the tip of the iceberg. There is also the neo-liberal ideology that drives our governments, the buffer-stock of unemployed so necessary, it seems, to keep wages growth in check, the fallacy of supply side economics and a host of other measures that most people don’t understand and shy away from for fear of appearing stupid.

Most of this was foreign to me except for the gold standard; I knew about that and well remember the day Richard Nixon made the announcement that the USA would no longer tie its currency to its gold reserves. I remember that the gold price was fixed at $US35.00 per ounce and Nixon abandoned that as well. But that story pretty much got lost or buried as Watergate began to encroach upon ‘Tricky Dick’s’ tenure in the White House.

But last Friday, listening to ABC Radio 774 in Melbourne with Jon Faine, there was a discussion raging over the 457 visa programme and as it progressed I quickly realised its proximity and relevance to the previously mentioned buffer-stock of unemployment. The 457 visa programme, as most people would know, is designed to enable a company to employ people from overseas on short term visas; people who have the necessary skills needed for particular work where the company cannot find an Australian citizen or permanent resident to fill the position.

It was heralded as analogous to plugging a gap in the wall; a short term fix. Interestingly, such a worker with the required skills did not have to be outside the country when the application was made. Importantly, they did need to have the skills required and be sponsored by an approved business for up to four years. Holders of 457 visas could bring their families and even change jobs after they arrived provided a new employer sponsored them. Even more interesting, there was no limit on the number of people a company could sponsor.

On Jon Faine’s programme last Friday, two particular callers alerted me to what might be described as a window to rorting on a grand scale. One caller decried the system because it allowed one applicant to be sponsored and employed as a truck driver. Just how the sponsoring company was able to convince the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that they could not find any citizen in Australia able to drive a truck was beyond both me and Jon Faine, but somehow they did.

The second caller alerted me to something even more sinister. He claimed that he had received calls from a person offering him $10,000 to sign a few application forms that would enable multiple 457 visas to be issued to persons unknown for which he (the caller) had no need.

Clearly, there is something wrong here. Notwithstanding the obvious fact that 457 visas are being issued to foreign workers when local workers could quite easily be found, i.e. truck drivers, it also looks suspiciously like it is being used to maintain a buffer-stock of unemployed in the true tradition of neo-liberal economics.
In February, the Abbott government quietly lifted the cap on business nominations for skilled migrants imposed by the former Labor government and undertook a review of the scheme.
Subsequent changes meant that businesses could increase the number of foreign workers above their initial application.

The Australian Industry Group claimed the change would help those businesses that were struggling to find highly skilled people, but clearly the move has the potential to impact on wages and conditions for Australian workers and leave foreign workers vulnerable to exploitation. Currently there are more than 90,000 foreign workers in Australia with 457 visas.

When we look at what is happening with 457 visas and overlay that upon the neo liberal economic platform one can see it fits quite neatly into its broader ideology and looks a lot more like a programme designed to maintain a buffer stock of unemployed than it is to help meet the sometime dubious requirements of business. It might seem to be only a small part of a much larger conspiracy, but a conspiracy nonetheless; a conspiracy that proponents of MMT could effectively highlight and expose.

 

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Let’s fix this mess

In 2012–13 a total of 50 444 people lodged applications for asylum under the offshore component of the Humanitarian Programme. The Labor government increased the intake to 20,000 and granted a total of 20 019 visas, of which 12 515 visas were granted under the offshore component and 7504 visas were granted under the onshore component.

Even though there are estimated to be over 40 million refugees worldwide, when the Coalition formed government they reduced the humanitarian intake to 13,750.

As at 31 October 2013 there were 22,873 asylum seekers who had arrived by boat (including 1,811 children) who had been permitted to live in the community on Bridging Visas while waiting for their claims for protection to be processed.

The Coalition government* has now decided that anyone who arrived after 13 August 2012 will not be allowed to work so these people are now in limbo, facing uncertainty and financial distress.

[*Correction: As pointed out by Marilyn, this policy was introduced by Labor under Julia Gillard as part of their “No advantage” policy. Both major parties are complicit in this infamy.]

As at 31 October 2013 there were:

6,401 people in immigration detention facilities, and 3,290 people in community detention in Australia. This included 1,045 children in immigration detention facilities and 1,770 children in community detention.

Location: 4,072 people detained on the mainland (+ 3,290 in community detention) and 2,329 people detained on Christmas Island.

Length of detention in immigration detention facilities:

•2,432 people has been in detention for 0-3 months

•2,812 people had been in detention for 3-6 months

•864 people had been in detention for 6-12 months

•170 people had been in detention for 12-18 months

•23 people had been in detention for 18 months to 2 years

•100 people had been in detention for over 2 years.

Due to Kevin Rudd’s “PNG solution”, anyone who arrived by boat after 19 July 2013 was transported to offshore detention camps. There are more than 1,700 asylum seekers being held in detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island with capacity for many more.

Since they reopened in 2012, only one application has been processed on Nauru and none from Manus Island.

In December 2013 the Coalition announced the removal of the 4000 Migration Programme places allocated to Illegal Maritime Arrival sponsored Family.

They also announced that they would not be renewing the Salvation Army’s contract to provide “emotional support, humanitarian assistance and general education and recreation programs” to asylum seekers in detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island beyond February. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the Government has been forced to make contract changes, because of the way the system was being administered by the former Labor government.

Several eyewitness accounts of the recent riots on Manus Island suggest they happened because the government refused to listen to questions from refugee representatives about their future and the conditions at the camp. Instead they inflamed the situation by telling them “You’re never getting out of this camp, it’s indefinite detention”. The deadly clashes on Manus Island allegedly flared after asylum seekers realised the Australian government had been ‘lying to them’ about plans to resettle them, and some asylum seekers decided to protest.

‘G4S were aware of tensions on compounds and intelligence reports indicated potential unrest for the period 16-18 Feb. DIBP [Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection ] were advised NOT to hold briefing and meeting with compound representatives [allegedly to advise them that they would not be resettled]. Despite several protests from centre managers on the day, the decision to hold said meeting was dictated from Canberra and was the catalyst for the violence.’

Reza Berati came to us seeking safe haven. He was murdered while under our care. Scores of his fellow asylum seekers have been grievously wounded, others have committed suicide, others are driven to self-harm, all under our care.

We have been told we must stop the boats to save people’s lives. One thousand deaths at sea is certainly a tragedy. The greater tragedy is that we ignore this cry for help and punish the people who are desperate enough to risk their lives seeking our protection.

I don’t presume to be the suppository of all wisdom but you have to admit guys, what you are doing is not working. Stopping the boats and locking people up does not help one single refugee but it costs us a fortune, threatens our relationship with our neighbours, and draws international condemnation.

When you remove hope you remove life so, in order to save the lives of the over 30,000 asylum seekers who are currently under our protection, I would like to offer the following observations and suggestions.

Department of Immigration figures project that in the year ending 31 March 2014, 63,700 people arrived in Australia with working holiday visas. A further 48,300 arrived on 457 visas. These are not citizens of our country and do not aspire to be. They are here to earn a buck and then go home.

Why can’t we give some of these 112,000 temporary visas to asylum seekers who have passed health and security checks while they are awaiting processing? Instead of paying for them to be incarcerated or on below-poverty welfare payments, why not let them work and pay taxes? Even if the jobs are not ideal, they have to be better than being locked up with nothing to do and no chance to become a productive member of our society. Children should be in school, not locked up on a Pacific Island wondering why their mother can’t stop crying, and if they will live in a tent forever.

We do not have to increase total immigration to do this. We could give all the asylum seekers temporary working visas and still have over 80,000 available. More should also be done to see if Australian citizens could fill these jobs even if they are temporary in nature.

Instead of making our unemployed, disabled and single parents work in our Green Army, offer that work to asylum seekers or working holiday makers, and give our unemployed the opportunity to apply for the jobs in hospitality, agriculture and services that backpackers often fill.

Instead of importing labour on 457 visas, see if asylum seekers and our unemployed have the necessary skills to fill the positions. Train people where there are skills shortages. Only issue 457 visas where we truly cannot find anyone with the necessary skills.

In the last year we issued 101,300 permanent visas but only 16,500 of these were on humanitarian grounds and this number is predicted to fall to 11,000.

Increase the humanitarian intake from 13,750 to at least 30,000. Send representatives to all transit countries to start taking applications and begin processing them. They must give applicants a realistic time frame for processing and resettlement options.

Increase foreign aid and participate in condemning, and sanctions against, human rights abuses around the world.

Let’s fix this mess.

 227 total views