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’.
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.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Predicting the future is a no-win scenario. There are so many variables that virtually anything is possible. Futurism inevitably becomes a matter of balancing likely outcomes from current trends, known factors and easily predictable future developments. Any attempt to predict the future will result in either one possible future or a range of possible futures. The one certain thing is that almost all the visions of the future must be wrong, because only one can be right.
This article offers one possible timeline for the next few decades, sketching environmental, socioeconomic, technological and military developments. This article considers the future between now and 2050 – well within the lifetimes of many reading this blog today. Consider it a thought experiment, designed to encourage consideration and discussion.
This timeline deliberately eschews disruptive events such as global pandemics, nuclear terrorism, asteroid impacts or the eruption of Yellowstone. These developments are possible, even (in the case of pandemic infections) likely, but placing them into a timeline would be entirely arbitrary, and the future may well unfold without them. Similarly, no deus ex machinae are included: there is no recourse to world-saving geoengineering or biotechnology developments. Altogether, what follows is a not unreasonable extrapolation of what the near future might hold for us, our children and our grandchildren.
These developments are all sourced in current literature and scientific research and linked directly to supporting evidence and analysis. These are processes that are happening now, and unless human civilisations immediately and radically change course, will continue to their inevitable end. An understanding of these likelihoods is necessary before we can honestly address the challenges of climate change, as the Paris agreements of 2015 recede into our past.
2016 – 2025
In the third world, civil unrest that arose in the early years of the 21st century continues unabated. Over the decades, the US and allies expend profligate effort to viciously subdue Islamic insurgencies in Syria and Iran, but new conflicts spring up more quickly than they can be put down. By 2025 the American people are thoroughly tired of continuing wars and American deaths and the US scales back its involvement, followed by its allies. The Middle East and large parts of the South-East Pacific dissolve into squabbles and conflict, swelling the ranks of refugees from tens of thousands into the low millions. The spark for all of these conflicts is increasing food scarcity and lack of drinkable water.
In Europe, the continued and growing influx of migrants contributes to the rise of right-wing political movements and a tightening of borders. In a desperate attempt to preserve the EU as member countries squabble over refugee policy and relative responsibilities, the Common European Asylum System border protection policy is progressively tightened and, slowly, refugee resettlement efforts give way to the establishment of giant refugee camps in barely habitable areas. The misery in these camps puts Australia’s Nauru to shame.
In Asia, China is pushing strongly for hegemony in the Pacific and the Arctic and Antarctic. Small chains of islands in the Pacific are claimed by China and forcibly pacified despite opposition. The territorial claims include oil fields and China doesn’t take long to start enforcing its ownership there. Other nations suffer as a result as they lose energy sources, but can’t challenge China. China is taken to international courts for a variety of cases, but while the legal proceedings drag on for years, China doesn’t hesitate to consolidate its hold, building artificial islands and industrial city-complexes as bases for its military forces. At the same time, enormous resources are poured into renewable energy generation. China begins to take a lead in solar and wind technology but does not share this technology easily. Large parts of China are becoming desertified at a rapid rate, with internal displacement of millions of Chinese into more fertile areas. Chinese cities, already congested, become ever more crowded and poor. China responds by commencing construction on new urban centres, completely powered by renewable energy, each built as industrial or research hubs.
Drilling for oil by US companies commences in the Arctic. However, China and Russia are also exploring here and not inclined to respect national borders and national territorial claims. This instability leads inevitably to clashes of forces, first between commercial enterprises (and, occasionally, environmental campaigners) and, later, military forces as all sides start patrolling the area with their own navies to protect the operations of their drillers. The distinction between US government and commercial entities begins to blur, to match the situation with both China and Russia. Meanwhile, the effects of climate change continue to accelerate. Tornadoes and freak storms batter coastal cities such as New Orleans, while unprecedented bushfires rage across large parts of the continental US and destroy many consecutive seasons of crops. Food prices, already increasing rapidly, escalate further.
In Australia, the narrow election victory of a Labor government in 2016 gives brief hope to many climate observers, but these hopes fade as it becomes clear that the new government, whilst not as outspokenly climate hostile as the Abbott/Turnbull regime it replaced, is still constrained by the narrative created by it and by the general attitudes of a climate-skeptical populace. Policy adjustments to reduce reliance on coal and oil and to increase renewables are slow and tentative, and by 2025 Australia is still heavily coal dependent and still exporting large volumes of coal and LNG. However, as predicted in the early parts of the decade, the demand for coal has decreased markedly as target markets accelerate their move towards renewables as well as their own domestic sources. Accordingly, the export price of coal and gas has fallen significantly, putting increasing pressure on Australia’s economy.
The economic downturn causes problems for Labor. The 2024 election sees a return to power of conservatives, but after eight years in the wilderness this new breed of liberals are far truer to the description and bring a raft of climate policies to the table, painting Labor as being “the friend of Big Coal”. By 2025, deep government “transition” subsidies to existing fossil fuel companies are on offer, but this disrupts the burgeoning renewable energy market which has until now been dominated by new entrants and innovators. 2024 sees the start of a process where most renewable energy companies and entrepeneurs will be bought up by BP, Shell, Exxon and others. By 2024, the first generation of university leavers, beneficiaries of Labor’s education investments, are graduating and entering the workforce.
Rising sea levels, declining rainfall and frequent heatwaves are combining to turn vast swathes of South Asia uninhabitable. Asian and African countries are slowly but surely depopulating, both through climate refugee immigration and through deaths to disease, dehydration and starvation. Climate refugees are now an unstoppable tide numbering in the millions, swamping Europe as they arrive daily by the thousands. The EU is attempting to enforce borders with paramilitary forces but the refugees are too desperate and borders too expansive to be successfully patrolled.
Europe is now populated by two subgroups: Citizens and non-Citizens. Two parallel economies now exist. The grey economy is populated by and largely serves illegal immigrants. Not being covered by social support or healthcare from European governments, immigrant populations look after their own needs as much as possible, but are treated as second-class citizens. Crime, while still low on a per-capita basis, has exploded and public areas are now constantly patrolled by heavily armed police forces.
Populations already strongly influenced by hard-right governing parties, the first pogroms of the 21st century commence in some European countries.
In Asia, territorial wars are breaking out. Some are short skirmishes but the whole region is a simmering pot of conflicts. North Korea annexes South; without the US being willing to come to the aid of the South, the North has military superiority. However, within a few years the unified Korea is on the verge of collapse as, rather than benefiting from the economy and technology of the South, the whole of Korea starts to devolve towards its conquerors. By 2050, Korea attempts military expansion elsewhere but fails in its attempt at imperialism, and Korea collapses into a failed state. Japan is now fully self-sufficient, imports no oil and is falling behind economically; however, powered almost entirely by nuclear, the populace is relatively content. Rising sea levels are a concern for Japanese policymakers and resources are poured into levies and protection efforts. China is aggressively advancing its space exploration program and has a permanent settlement on Mars (and one on the Moon). It is starting to mine asteroids for rare minerals and metals.
China’s investment is starting to pay off, with thousands of high-level scientists and engineers living in custom-built technology cities, many completely enclosed in atmospheric domes: technology developed for their Mars colonies is now adapted for use on Earth. Inland desertification is continuing and food production is the country’s biggest ongoing concern. Coal is completely phased out for energy generation. At the same time, laws are passed banning export of fossil fuels. China begins construction of enormous enclosed farms for fish and crops, and continues an aggressive program of purchasing arable land in Australia and other locations. These efforts are now meeting with resistance as other governments see the signs but global courts and national economic systems are slow to react.
The global oil crisis plunges America into a deep depression, as the price of oil extraction climbs to make fossil fuels uneconomic. Attempts are made to leverage renewable and distributed power generation, but the process has been too slow and costs are extreme: the transition was not accomplished while energy was cheap. The US reduces its military spending to focus on a new insular approach – gone is the “muscular diplomacy” doctrine, as the government simply can’t afford to continue it and still put the resources into decarbonising the economy. Strong legislation is drafted to recraft the economy, putting caps on corporate and individual profits and ensuring a greater proportion goes to government revenue. Rebates and exceptions are drafted if individuals put significant resources into approved renewable energy projects. Belatedly the US starts subsidising renewable energy generation programs, but the oil crisis puts a significant brake on these efforts. Exacerbating the concerns for America, many of its cities are slowly becoming too hot for habitation. Americans still live in New York and Washington, but the hotter climate is having a measurable impact on productivity.
By 2030, China has banned the use of coal for energy generation, closing one of Australia’s major export markets entirely. India is advanced in its push to renewable energy and domestic coal sources, and the majority of Australia’s export coal has no buyer. The price of coal-fired energy in Australia plummets, putting downwards pressure on renewable energy research and take-up; nonetheless, major coal miners go out of business. The Australian economy is in terminal decline with high levels of unemployment nationwide and continual government deficits. New political microparties are in the ascendancy as both Labor and the Liberals suffer from public dissatisfaction, but the microparties do not have the strength or discipline to govern for the country’s future; governance devolves into a multitude of partisan interests, populist policies and pork barrelling. Australia has a brief advantage from an influx of technology students, but with few high-tech companies to employ new graduates and a new conservative government reluctant to fund placements and subsidies, many are forced to seek work overseas.
Some parts of Australia are becoming difficult to live in: the vaunted “New North” program is stalling due to high levels of heat stress, regular flooding and low productivity due to high wet-bulb readings. Towards the end of this period, the collapse in farmland, the continued sale to China and others of food-producing territory, and lowering aquifers and water levels are major concerns. Food prices are increasing. Meat, in particular, is becoming too expensive to eat regularly, and most Australians’ diets now include less meat overall. The 2040s see the last of the baby boomers retiring. Government revenue is insufficient to pay for comfortable social security for many, and the ranks of the elderly poor are swelling. Healthcare is also overstretched and death rates among both the young and the elderly are rising.
The world after 2050 may appear, to our 2016 eyes, as a dystopia, but this is no fantasy. There are no happy endings in store. The seeds which are planted over the next thirty years – both good and bad – will direct the fate of humanity as the state of the planet Earth continues to deteriorate.
By the 2050s, the Amazon rainforest is in irreversible decline. Deforestation by humans, combined with wildfires exacerbated by climate change, have had an irreversible effect. The eventual death of the rainforest is now a certainty, and as the forest itself plays a major role in regulating the planet’s climate, its loss is one further accelerant to climate change.
The most immediate outcome is the emergence of major human diseases. As climate change pushes humans and remote insect and mammalian species into direct contact and conflict, new animal-to-human diseases emerge with alarming regularity. Fortunately, most of these diseases are suppressed before they become airborne and cut a swathe through remaining human populations, but each new disease emergency has the potential to kill millions.
International flight has been curtailed: a combination of oil shortage and punishing carbon restrictions means that jet fuel is too expensive. There’s nowhere to go, in any case: people now want to escape tropical locations with their daytime temperatures in the 40s, rather than travelling there for holidays. The Great Barrier Reef has been dead for decades, and the annual vacation overseas is now, except for the very wealthy, an indulgence of the past.
By the second half of the 21st century, death from starvation is one of the major killers of humans. Large swathes of Asia, Africa and central Europe are becoming quickly depopulated. Deserts are spreading across the United States midwest, and it is likely that at some point in the century, one or more States may secede from the union. By 2100, it seems likely that the United States will be united no longer.
Disunity in the former European Union is no less severe. Pressures over resources and land, particularly water, lead to armed conflicts. The European wars of this era are localised and in many cases informal, but they are wars nonetheless. Some smaller countries are either annexed by their neighbours, or left without sufficient water resources to feed their own peoples. Other European countries are dealing with their own civil wars or popular uprisings, ostensibly on grounds of race or nationality, but triggered by food and water shortages caused by climate change.
By the late 21st century, capitalism as we know it will have been largely replaced by a kind of socialism. The loss of the oil economy has the effect of making individual prosperity much more difficult, as a large proportion of energy generation comes from state-owned solar and wind farms that dwarf those run by private concerns. Continued and growing pressure from an ever-expanding base of unemployed citizens requires an ever-increasing investment into social security. Governmental caps and curbs on individual profit gradually metamorphise into a socialist structure, and the most prosperous in society receive an increasing proportion of their windfall gains in non-monetary forms.
By the time 2100 arrives, it is likely that our planet will be harsh and unforgiving, covered in billowing deserts and rising oceans. Sea levels will continue to rise, unstoppably, for the next three hundred years at least, and by the time this process is over they will be a minimum of six metres higher than now. This will entirely cover the vast majority of current human cities, but sheer physics constrain how quickly this can happen, and human civilisation will have either collapsed or entirely changed by then.
If humans survive in this new world, most likely they will exist in artificial environments. These self-contained cities will utilise much of the renewable energy they gather for cooling, for water purification, and for agriculture. We are building a future where we will need to be terraforming our own planet in order to continue to live there.
The 20th century saw immense changes in human technology, civilisation and society. The development of mankind is an accelerating trajectory, and the first decades of this century have showed that we’re not slowing down. However, the effects of climate change place severe constraints on the direction of our species for the immediate future.
The one thing that can surely be said of the next hundred years is that the world in 2100 will be mostly unrecognisable to what we know today. The predictions made in this article are strongly supported by current trends and analysis, but may easily prove to be conservative. What we do know is that we will see this future coming to pass.
Humans aren’t great at planning for the long term: anything outside of our own lifetime is so remote that we don’t generally bear it in mind when making decisions. However, we are capable of making long-term plans for our own future – we consider our retirement needs, the schooling of our children, our investments into property. So consider this: those taking out a new mortgage now will see this future shaping around them. People are buying houses now that will be underwater before the mortgage is fully paid. Or, to put it another way:
The Paris terrorist attacks were horrific and like any other terrorist attack they leave a trail of grief for the victims’ families to which I send my sincere condolences.
Like everyone else, I did feel revulsion but was further repulsed by the Muslin haters with Tony Abbott in the forefront sowing seeds of division against Muslims and refugees.
One thing that stuck in my craw was Abbott saying they are coming to get us: us being the infidels, the unbelievers. This led to a train of thought that since I was already aware of beheadings and stonings and other murderous teachings appear both in the Bible and the Koran, what I didn’t know was whether death to the unbeliever appeared in the Bible.
Google didn’t disappoint:
Kill All Unbelievers
“And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God …” (Deuteronomy 13: 5).
“If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers …” (Deuteronomy 13: 6).
“Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people” (Deuteronomy 13:8-9).
“Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword” (Deuteronomy 13:15).
So there it was, another similarity which led to my conclusion that the Koran is the same as the Bible and that the Koran was a plagiarization of the Bible but I needed confirmation and I duly asked Google whether the Bible and the Koran was the same.
The first entry was Pope Francis To Followers: “Koran And Holy Bible Are The Same“. I couldn’t get luckier than that, as this excerpt shows:
During his hour-long speech, a smiling Pope Francis was quoted telling the Vatican’s guests that the Koran, and the spiritual teachings contained therein, are just as valid as the Holy Bible.
“Jesus Christ, Jehovah, Allah. These are all names employed to describe an entity that is distinctly the same across the world. For centuries, blood has been needlessly shed because of the desire to segregate our faiths. This, however, should be the very concept which unites us as people, as nations, and as a world bound by faith. Together, we can bring about an unprecedented age of peace, all we need to achieve such a state is respect each other’s beliefs, for we are all children of God regardless of the name we choose to address him by. We can accomplish miraculous things in the world by merging our faiths, and the time for such a movement is now. No longer shall we slaughter our neighbors over differences in reference to their God”.
Of course there is debate whether plagiarism is involved and some stories diverge in the Koran, but the murderous teachings are the same.
Perhaps it comes down to branding something like Pepsi and Coke as the same drink but with a different name, though both in existence to purely make a profit. Muslim and Christians are all but capitalists in their own right too, by tithing followers in exchange for a product called ‘Solace from God’ and the more followers the greater the profit. (One only has to look at the Vatican where Cardinal Pell found a very lazy 3 billion dollars that wasn’t accounted for).
And so it goes: America (for example – and the best one) starts wars and we become hostile when the folk who have had American bombs rained on them turn around and inflict carnage in our cities, and since the Iraq war we are seeing the second coming of exodus but for these refugees there is no promised land, the borders are closed and refugee haters, Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Shorten, Abbott and Turnbull have ensured our borders are closed but the government will determine who comes here and under what circumstances … and as long as they are Christian.
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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.
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.
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 …
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.
That same year, Nauru became a cornerstone of one of the LNP’s favourite policies – their refugee policy. In the heady days of the Abbott PMship, barely a day went by when Abbott didn’t boast about stopping the boats. Even in his post-PMship days, Abbott is still annoying people all over the world with his stop the boats mantra. And our shiny new PM – Malcolm Turnbull – has picked up a similar, but predictably longer refrain about his party’s refugee policy:
The one thing that we know is that our [refugee] policies, tough though they are, harsh though they are in many respects, actually do work. They save lives. (Malcolm Turnbull, 1 October 2015)
One country’s political hot potato is another country’s lottery win
Crucial to our government’s refugee policy – at least so they would have us believe – is the promise that no asylum seeker who arrives here by boat will be settled in Australia. To achieve this, they have renewed and reinvigorated deals with Nauru and PNG (Manus Island) that were first struck by both the previous Liberal and Labor governments.
Rather than considering this to be a hardship, Australia’s political hot potato has been a veritable lottery win for Nauru and PNG. Both have received a substantial increase in foreign aid from Australia as well as a brand new ‘Asylum Seeker processing’ industry to provide jobs and inject hundreds of millions of dollars into their economies.
But who exactly are we financing here? We’ve taken money (and jobs) out of the Australian economy so that we can send victims of war, terrorism and persecution to these islands. So surely, with the well-being and lives of asylum seekers at stake and with billions of Australian taxpayer dollars being poured into sending asylum seekers offshore, we would want to ensure that we are comfortable with the regimes we are throwing our considerable financial weight behind.
Further, as one of the other regularly promoted goals of the LNP’s refugee policy is to stop the “evil trade” of people smuggling, we would certainly want to ensure that any country we are dealing with is above board, and that we are not directly or indirectly supporting any illegal activities through our investment in their economies.
So let’s take a look at Nauru – the Economist’s ‘Paradise Lost’.
Nauru: not so much paradise lost as paradise spent
Here’s some things you need to know about Nauru:
Nauru has the second smallest population in the world Nauru is a sovereign state – a single island with around 10,500 inhabitants. It is the second smallest country (population wise) in the world – with only the Vatican City in Rome being smaller.
Nauru is a speck in the ocean, just below the equator Nauru is only 21 square kilometers – around the size of an average university campus in Sydney or Melbourne. But thanks to mining, around 70% to 80% of the island is now an environmental wasteland – leaving inhabitants with around 5 to 7 square kilometers of inhabitable space. In fact, Nauru is so small, that it doesn’t even have a capital city.
Nauru has almost no arable land and no in-ground water supplies – but it does have a golf-course Having given up most of its land to mining, Nauru has very little room for agriculture and as a result imports most of its food (much of it from Australia). There are no clean in-ground water supplies, so all clean water is sourced from rainwater or imported. Despite this shortage of arable land and water, Nauru has still found room for a golf-course.
In the 70s and 80s Nauru was THE wealthiest country (on a per capita basis) in the world In the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to the proceeds of phosphate mining (derived from bird poop) – Nauruans had the highest income per capita in the world. Knowing that the bird poop would run out at some stage, the Nauruan government did set aside income from the phosphate mines for the future. But it also started spending up big time. For example, it set up a national airline of seven aircraft which were often empty and ran at a huge loss. Further, it created ‘jobs’ in the public service for most of the population. At one stage the government employed some 95% of the island’s laborforce.
By the early 90s, most of Nauru’s mining wealth was gone Once the phosphate started to run out, the income started to dry up. The Nauru government also made some poor investment decisions with the money they had saved from the phosphate boom – which meant that by 1993 the Government teetered on the edge of insolvency. The 1.8 billion the government had set aside was somehow all but gone.
So Nauru became a money laundering centre drawing in the likes of the Russian mafia On an island that small, there weren’t too many money-making options left once the phosphate supplies had dwindled to a trickle and the bulk of the land was left stripped of vegetation. So some bright-spark came up with the idea of allowing foreigners to set up their own offshore bank in Nauru online. When you combine the ability to set up your own bank with laws that provide strict secrecy for any banking transactions done in Nauru – and they had created the perfect environment for money laundering. In 1998 alone, the Russian mafia is said to have laundered $70 billion through Nauru.
Throw in selling passports to foreign nationals (including at least a few to Al Qaeda) and Nauru was starting to look shadier than a palm tree To further supplement the country’s income, the Nauruan government also set up a passport-dispensing operation whereby it would sell passports to anyone who had the money. This included selling much-coveted diplomatic passports – which confer all sorts of legal immunity to the passport holder.
This soon bought severe international sanctions Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before Nauru’s money-laundering and passport-dispensing boom brought international condemnation. This was soon followed by sanctions – harsher than those against Iraq – which eventually forced Nauru to do something about its latest money-making schemes.
As a result, the unemployment rate in Nauru has been as high as 90% this century During the mining and money laundering booms, the Nauruan government continued ‘redistributing’ much of its wealth through government ‘jobs’. Once the government had limited income from these sources, the jobs dried up, leaving unemployment as high as 90%. While employment has picked up a bit lately, that is primarily due to Nauru hosting our Asylum Seeker Processing centre which generates 600 direct jobs and many ancillary ones. Other than that, the key sources of non-government employment are a few jobs in what remains of the Nauru Phosphate mines and a few in fishing.
Nauru finds a new money supply….
Back to 2001, and with its two major income sources under threat, Nauru was in a perilous position. It had even started discussing buying another island and starting all over again. But in the words of the Economist:
Luckily for Nauru, at the same time as they were looking for either a new island or a new source of income, the Liberal government of Australia was looking for a way to solve its politically charged refugee situation. Phillip Ruddock – then Immigration Minister of Australia – was in charge of implementing the LNP’s “Pacific Solution”, and offered Nauru a much needed lifeline: a new industry to bring employment and income to the island nation, along with an agreement to substantially increase Australia’s Foreign Aid to Nauru.
Back in 2001, Nauru’s role was simply to play temporary host to asylum seekers while their claims for refuge were being assessed. Once assessed, if asylum seekers were determined to be legitimate refugees they were then moved elsewhere – to Australia, New Zealand and various other countries.
It was just prior to the 2013 federal election that then Prime Minister Keven Rudd signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nauru to extend their role in Australia’s refugee policy to one where they would also allow refugees to settle in Nauru, rather than just staying there temporarily. Two weeks later, when Abbott took the reins of government, he and Scott Morrison endorsed and continued the arrangements that had been made.
Australia: Nauru’s Sugar Daddy
A key part of our initial agreement with Nauru back in 2001 was to increase the amount of foreign aid we sent there from around $3.5 million per year in 2000 and 2001, to an average of around $27 million per year since then. This equates to around $2700 per Nauruan citizen per year. As a result, Nauru now receives aid at one of the highest rates per capita in the world.
And that’s just our foreign aid budget. We also spend an extraordinary amount of money on running the asylum seeker detention centre on Nauru. In the 3 months from July 2015 to September 2015, our government spent 93.26 million dollars to look after 653 asylum seekers on Nauru. This is $143,000 per asylum seeker for the quarter – the equivalent of $572,000 per year. That’s just for operating the asylum seeker centre – meals, water, staff etc.
With that sort of price-tag, you’d be forgiven for thinking that asylum seekers are living in five-star beach-side accommodation on Nauru, each with their own private chef and butler.
(Now, to avoid confusion, I should point out that not all money for running the asylum seeker centre is going to the people of Nauru. The centre is actually operated by Transfield who clearly have a very large snout in the seemingly endless pool that is the asylum seeker funding trough.)
And that’s not the end of the money that continues to flow out of the Australian taxpayer’s coffers to keep our government’s refugee policy firmly in place. Here are some other examples of money spent by our government on keeping refugees out of Australia and on Nauru:
$29 million on monthly visa fees for asylum seekers. Since February 2012, the Australian government has paid Nauru a $1,000 ‘visa fee’ per month for each asylum seeker on the island.
$19.5 million for the September 2015 quarter alone for ‘departmental and administrative’ costs (relating to refugees who have been ‘resettled’ on Nauru).
$26.5 million redeveloping the Nauru hospital as well as a further $11 million on a clinic.
It’s pretty clear that the government’s refugee policies cost Australians a fortune – over a billion dollars in 2014 for just over 2,000 refugees on both Nauru and Manus Island.
By way of contrast, the UNHCR spent $157 million (around 16% of that) over the same period to look after 200,000 refugees, half a million internally displaced people and nearly 1.4 million stateless people.
Allegations of corruption in Nauru
It’s hardly surprising that allegations of corruption are to be found on an island that provided money-laundering services to the Russian mafia and purportedly sold passports to Al Qaeda operatives. According to Tony Thomas, “anti-corruption drives are often announced and never successful, partly because among any five Nauruans, two are relatives.”
Most recently, New Zealand cut aid to Nauru due to human rights abuses and problems with the Nauruan judicial system (which saw several senior members of the judiciary removed).
There have been other accusations of corruption this year. The Nauru government has attempted to silence local dissent – recently shutting down access to social media from the island and suspending members of the opposition from parliament without pay.
Further, other than hand-picked state-friendly media, the Nauruan government has blocked many media outlets from visiting their island. In the words of Meghna Abraham, Deputy Director for Global Thematic Issues at Amnesty International:
“Whatever Nauru is trying to hide, it can’t be good if the authorities are so desperate to block all international media from visiting or reporting from the island”
So back to my original question…
Question: What do bird poop, the Russian Mafia and Australia’s refugee policy have in common?
Answer: Nauru has managed to make money from all of them.
But here’s the thing – there are plenty more questions that we, the Australian people, really need answers to about Nauru. Here’s a few key ones:
If one of the key goals of our Refugee Policy is to reduce criminal activity such as people smuggling in the region, then why on earth did we make a deal with Nauru back in 2001? There was no doubt at all at that stage that Nauru was facilitating money laundering and selling passports to foreign nationals – including to Al Qaeda. And even if we made a mistake back then, why do we continue to prop up their regime today when there are so many stories around about government corruption?
How could anyone in this ‘entitlement-free’ age think that spending between $400,000 and $600,000 per asylum seeker per year is a reasonable cost when the UN does it for less than $800 per year. Yes, that is the cost differential – I haven’t forgotten any zeros. The UN looks after 200,000 refugees in SE Asia for less than what it costs us to look after 4 refugees on Nauru. And who exactly is getting all of this money? It’s clearly not all being spent on accommodation or food – so whose pockets are really being lined?
Why would anyone select an island in the middle of nowhere with less than 10 kms of inhabitable land and a history of unemployment at 90% as a viable solution for resettling a group of refugees? Who exactly would choose an island that even the locals have considered deserting because they are doubtful that it will be able to sustain them? What could be the justification for deciding to increase Nauru’s population by close to ten percent through the resettlement of refugees? And while the government is now looking at alternatives to move some of these refugees – how is $50 million to move four of them to Cambodia any more palatable?
I find it impossible to look at the image of this tiny little rock in the middle of the Pacific ocean – so crucial to our government’s refugee policy – and not wonder if there is a single non-political reason for continuing our arrangements there.
To me Nauru seems like a ridiculously expensive political solution that has seen victims of war, terrorism and persecution who, having escaped hellholes in their country of birth in order to find a safe place to put their feet, end up in a location referred to by the BBC as Australia’s Guantanamo. Instead of safety, they have ended up on an island where they sleep in moldy tents and are unable to protect themselves and their children from being sexually abused. It’s no wonder Australian officials have been able to convince Syrian refugees to return to Syria – despite the war there continuing to worsen.
It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, this government’s refugee policies are an abject expensive failure. They have stayed in place and avoided scrutiny for so long by fanning the flames of bigotry which lie in many corners of Australia, by mixing up the issue of refugees with border security, by hiding behind spurious ‘saving lives’ claims and through the self-righteous (and erroneous) proclamations of having stopped people smuggling.
One day history is going to look back on Australia’s current refugee policies in the clear light of day with horror, disbelief and shame.
When Tony Abbott was Prime Minister it was difficult to imagine myself feeling more contempt and loathing for any politician than the contempt and loathing I felt towards him.
The emotions one experiences for public figures are paradoxical: they can be fiercely visceral and at the same time entirely abstract, as the relationship is not a personal one and the individual is unknown, except superficially. Nonetheless, they can keep you awake at night if the anger provoked is strong enough.
Tonight my contempt and loathing meter has exploded with the news that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have conspired to secretly remove a raped and pregnant refugee, brought here just a few days ago for an abortion, back to the scene of her rape and the purview of her rapist, whose child she is now almost certainly doomed to carry to term.
The woman had, on the advice of psychologists and doctors conveyed to her through her lawyers as the government did not permit her to see either professional, requested counselling for both the sexual assault and the termination of the pregnancy it caused, before she underwent the procedure.
No counselling was permitted by the government. The date set for the procedure passed as she repeatedly begged for precursory assistance. The government then disingenuously decided she had refused the abortion, and whisked her back to Nauru on a chartered plane without allowing her lawyers to speak with her.
If you have been sexually assaulted, if your body has been, against your will, violated by another, it is going to be traumatic to undergo any subsequent procedure that involves the penetration of your body, even if it is with your permission. Only people of immense stupidity or immense, unspeakable cruelty could fail to appreciate this reality.
What Turnbull and Dutton have done is truly horrific. It ought to make every woman tremble in fear and rage. This is what powerful men can do and will do to women, in the pursuit of their own interests. This is how they still despise us, devalue us, abuse us and use us. This is a war on women, expressed today and in this manner against a Somali refugee, expressed tomorrow against whichever woman who in some way they fear presents a threat to their hold on power.
I happened to be at Question Time yesterday when Turnbull gave a splendid performance of urbanity, sophistication, confidence, superiority, authority, intelligence and charm, self-deprecatingly admitting his financial privilege which he attributes to fate, and nurtures in the Caymans. Hockey and Abbott sat side by side on the back benches, grim as the two evil fairies at the christening. The contrast between Turnbull and Abbott could not have been greater.
And yet . . . Abbott was the iron fist in the iron glove. Turnbull is the iron fist in the velvet glove. Turnbull denigrates woman as much as does Abbott. He’s simply a lot more sophisticated in his ability to conceal the denigration. He’s simply a great deal better at paying lip service to women he believes will further his cause than Abbott ever was. Turnbull has as much of a double standard towards women as did his predecessor. There are still women of calibre, and then there’s the Somali refugee.
I can only hope the feminists in this country will stop fighting about who is allowed to call herself a feminist and who isn’t, and the eternally fraught questions of body hair and breast implants as symbols of hard-won choice, and instead turn their energies towards fighting Turnbull. With Abbott we at least knew where we stood. Turnbull will trash us with charm and blinding eloquence, and we won’t even notice until it’s too late.
This epic howl of anguish came from the RPC on Manus via the internet today.
Mourning and Weeping From Hell
These words are coming from hell. There are many broken hearts screaming with heartache because we have been kept for such a long time, with nothing except failing lives …
Our stories might not be interesting to you. If you spend lots of time doing nothing, please listen to our voices and try to feel what these voices and what this letter tells you. It is not magnificent, it’s pain, yes extreme pain. That pain makes tears for all and everyone’s tears have made this letter for this beautiful nation.
Yes, our dreams are failing, we are failing with our hopes and we are failing with our future too. Our lives were set on fire by inhuman politics, that fire burns us little by little every single second.
Those who can feel our bodies and souls burning with our dreams … you’re the real Australians and great humans.
We can’t imagine why humanity is disappearing from this Nation…Waiting and waiting, but there is nothing, just a little bit of hope in everyone’s deep hearts, that the disappearing humanity will return back to everyone. Then we can see that humanity will feel our pain and extreme grief and share our feelings.
let’s see … we are waiting.
We have kids. We can’t think about our future. We can’t do anything for them, even their smallest wish. Our kids are dying slowly in front of us. We can see it with our own eyes, every second our hearts are crying so badly about our kid’s futures. Where are they going to go, what they are going to do? All these questions are killing us. You also have kids, you’ve made plans for when they are growing up. But what can we do? Just one thing: dying all together slowly, day by day, every single second.Please give us your hand to get us out of this deep dark hell. We are so broken. Our souls are crying silently every night. Only our pillow and bed knows. We can’t share our pain with each other here because everyone is in the same boat. We are travelling into the deep darkness, with extreme pain … we can’t smile, we can’t be happy, these things are all gone. Our mind is melting away from us.Now our heads are empty, our lives too. Oh our Nation, many fathers and mothers have children and babies … yes … they are all happy with their freedom and they trust in their lives but we are wasting our lives inside the fence. Our joy and freedom is locked up in this hell. Still, we can’t start our life.
We are asylum seekers. Sorry but we have forgotten our names because now we are just called by our boat numbers. We have been in detention for years in this hell you call offshore processing centre. We cannot describe our suffering. We are tired of being tired. We are dying every single second because of your inhumane treatment. Our presence is burning here. How can we have a future? All you give us is extreme pain and grief …
When we came here we became the victims of your policy. Sent to offshore processing centres and kept there with 2000 people. By the end of 2012 almost 27000 asylum seekers reached your country by boat. Where are they now? You know well some are unlucky and innocent and are still kept in the hell of offshore processing centres. All the time we are sorry about our life inside the fence on this dry land. We are coping with time and emptiness day by day you make life hard every second and cause us pain too.
Wondering why our lives were saved in the ocean, if we died in the sea it would be wonderful because we can’t cope with your inhuman actions. You took our joy, you took our hope, dreams and locked us up inside the fence … We can’t breathe freely.
844 people from Manus an Nauru signed this letter (but because of our fear we just sent the signatures to one Senator).
The Guardian is reporting this morning that yet another boatload of Asylum Seekers has been intercepted. This time off Java’s South coast. In Indonesian waters.
From the Guardian report, “The 21 asylum seekers, including children, on board were taken to the southern Javan port of Cidaun, where they have been detained by immigration officials. Some of the group are understood to hold UNHCR refugee cards. The asylum seekers, reportedly from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, were found off the coast of Java by fishermen, who towed their vessel to Jayanti beach, Cianjur.
It is understood the asylum seekers had set out for Christmas Island three days ago, but were hampered by difficult weather and large waves.They had been floating without fuel for three days, and were running low on food and fresh water. “When we found them, they were lacking food and drink,” a fisherman named Mamun told news website Okezone. [Indonesian site] “Most of them are adults and some brought kids. We took them to the beach and then they were secured in Cidaun police station.”
It is understood the asylum seekers had set out for Christmas Island three days ago, but were hampered by difficult weather and large waves.They had been floating without fuel for three days, and were running low on food and fresh water. “When we found them, they were lacking food and drink,” a fisherman named Mamun told news website Okezone. [Indonesian site] “Most of them are adults and some brought kids. We took them to the beach and then they were secured in Cidaun police station.”
Not that this could have happened.
After all, our Australian Government has STOPPED THE BOATS!
So we have been told for the past twelve months.
Just what does “Stopping the Boats” really mean?
It means: “Go and die somewhere else.”
It means: “Go and die out of our sight.”
It means: “You may as well die before we see you.”
It means: “How dare you leave the home where you were going to be killed!”
It means: “How dare you come to our notice with your needs.”
It means: “We Australians couldn’t care less about human suffering.”
It means: “We don’t care.”
We have seen the political demise of four Prime Ministers who created, supported and extended the rolled up welcome mat on the coast of our nation. Not one of them thrown out because of that policy.
I wonder if Malcolm Turnbull will see the light and return us to some semblance of collective humanity.
There is still the unanswered question: How many refugees have dies at sea this year?
Australia has failed to change human nature.
Australia has failed to stop the boats.
They may not be getting far, but escapees from oppression are still setting out or planning on setting out.
Our fears towards asylum seekers are unfounded, but they are enough to sway elections writes Professor Emerita Marian Quartly.
Psychologists argue that the world is suffering from compassion fatigue – secondary traumatic stress caused by overexposure to suffering. That’s got to be a first world problem! The poor worked out long ago that compassion was an emotion enjoyed by the rich. Compassion for the sufferings of the poor allowed the rich to gain the kingdom of heaven by helping the deserving – just a bit – without doing anything about the cause of their problems. To do that would have meant stopping being rich. Compassion was a way of allaying the guilt and fear that went with unacknowledged power. What Gramschi called ‘false consciousness’. And it still is.
Let’s look at compassion and refugees. Let’s acknowledge first up that we have a huge problem world-wide: wherever the borders of a stable, prosperous nation state are accessible to people from failing states stricken by poverty and conflict. From Mexico to the Mediterranean. Everywhere poor and oppressed people are moved by hope, desperation and envy to try to share the privileges and liberty of the rich. Who respond with fear, anger, guilt and compassion. OK, compassion is a better response than fear and anger. But these emotions are all of the same cloth, they all work to hide a basic contradiction. Failing states – failing for whatever reason – cannot satisfy the hopes of their citizens. And stable states cannot open their borders to all comers without self-destructing. Without getting into the issue of how far the west is actively exploiting the east and the south and the middle, it is clear that compassion is again closely allied with guilt.
Let’s look at Australian compassion and the refugee problem. Hardly a numerical problem in world terms, but enough to sway elections. Enough to rouse passionate anger amongst those who feel that their hold on the good things of Australian life is too tenuous to share. And angry compassion amongst those who cannot bear to hear yet again about drownings at sea and riots at so-called detention centres.
The compassion that focuses on individual suffering is blind. Blind to the motives driving the refugees: pity makes victims out of women and men who are in their own terms heroes seizing every opportunity to shape their fate. Blind to the political, social and economic ills that make possible death at sea the best option. Blind to the other half of the contradiction: the good things about Australian life are only ours because they are defended by means that cause suffering to would-be Australian citizens. Means like turnback, detention, deaths at sea . . .
Compassion is clearly a better response than anger. But a clear-sighted compassion should recognise that the immediate problem of the people trade requires some form of deterrence, and the longterm problem requires action to improve the political, social and economic conditions that drive people to become refugees. Not to mention the need for regional action, additional support for UN action, and an increase in the Australian intake of refugees, however they come.
And what about the angry Australians who fear the competition of newcomers for those good things of life that are not fully theirs? Their fears are not unfounded. Australian schools, hospitals, roads, public transport – all these are overcrowded and underfunded, and the economically vulnerable are the first to feel the loss. Once again it appears that the poor are always with us. Once again compassion is the easiest option for the powerful.
The following is a guest post by the Alexandria ALP Branch.
There’s an anger in Western Sydney that could cost us the next election – “our schools, trains, roads, hospitals are full of refugees”.
We allowed and encouraged this anger to focus on how refugees can be stopped, a good Liberal issue. We ignored and continue to ignore the underlying issue of our schools, trains, roads, hospitals being full. We allowed a single Liberal issue to displace a suite of good Labor issues.
In 2010-11, a total of 4828 Humanitarian Program visas were given to onshore applicants, not all maritime arrivals. That number is from a total of 13,799 visas granted under the Humanitarian Program, itself a number out of a total of 158,943 new immigrants. Putting that number in wider perspective, new immigrants were part of a total population growth for 2012 of 394,200 people. Australia’s population is 22.32 million. Boat people are about 1-2 per cent of annual population growth which is about 1-2 per cent of our population.
In real terms, the nation is reducing government spending. You cannot have a decade and a half of income tax cuts without consequence. It has been a bipartisan squeeze. The squeeze hurts everyone who depends on public facilities and public services.
This is true not just in the western suburbs. There are stations in the inner city, near where I live, at which peak-hour trains are too full to board. We have kids commuting to nearby suburbs because the local schools are full. I don’t need to tell you what our roads are like. Here in the inner city we blame developers rather than refugees, but the anger is just as real. There’s a reason we’re nimbys. We’re being squeezed. Successive governments have contrived to squeeze public spending. Squeeze spending and you are squeezing the people. The people are the public. That understanding was basic to our civic culture. Used to be.
Here is the problem. Not the one that some people would like to have us believe, not that we have too many refugees, not that we have too many people. No, our problem is we do not have enough infrastructure per person. We are not investing in infrastructure. Cut taxes, you cease investing in infrastructure. That is the basic problem that this government denies.
The UN estimates that about 1% of ‘ irregular maritime’ travellers drown, and this may be an underestimate. Presumably, a similar percentage of turned-back boats sink. A person who chooses not to become a refugee will not die at sea, but they may instead die at the hands of their own government. The calculus is complicated, and we do not have enough information to be sure that turnbacks do more good than harm.
We do know that turnbacks are damaging our relationship with Indonesia, and we know that they are illegal. We also know that refugees, after balancing the risk of drowning against the risk of staying put, sometimes chose the risk of drowning. It is no surprise that, when assessed, almost all maritime refugee applicants are found to be ‘genuine’ refugees – no one takes lightly to these boats.
We don’t need to spend billions on concentration camps. We need to spend billions on rail lines and on schools and on hospitals and on roads. It is not going to be cheap. It is necessary.
Having an adequate revenue base to facilitate spending is a debate we need to have, a debate we will win. Despite our record in recent government, the electorate perceives us as weak on refugees and economic issues, but strong on health and education and public transport. Why then should we indulge the Liberals in a debate on the refugees when we could be having a debate on health and education and public transport?
There is no arguing, Australia’s policies for dealing with refugees cost us a fortune. Off shore detention costs about $3750 per day, per person. Disposable orange life boats cost us a fortune, (about $7.5 million). To put that in a budget context that’s over $3billion of savings we could make right now, and that’s before one even begins to calculate the resettlement costs promised to Papua New Guinea or Nauru for taking on our responsibility.
But for all the talk of the persecuted innocents incarcerated or tax dollars squandered, there is a cost to us, as Australians, that is rarely spoken of; the cost to our collective humanity. The stories a nation holds about its self are a powerful force. It’s how we define our identity; it’s who we are as a people; and like most stories, tales of national identity usually contain a small grain of truth, mixed with a hefty dose of myth, metaphor and allegory, all neatly tied together with a sparkly bow of pure fiction.
While most of our stories are rousing, feel good little fables like, “Aussies believe in a fair go”, “Australians are great sports”, or “Aussies are an honest, down to earth, no bullsh*t lot”; many of our more common, jingoistic spiels are notedly less charming, such as; “asylum seekers are criminals”, or “asylum seekers are queue jumpers”. (These examples come courtesy of google auto fill).
Very rarely do we question where these ditties actually come from; they seem to just mysteriously appear in zeitgeist as fully formed epithets of some larger, unassailable truth. Without a second thought we attach them to our national identity and begin repeating them amongst ourselves ad nauseam. And what’s more, we are very attached to our little yarns about who we are and how it is; in fact a quick glance through history would suggest that we humans can be willingly led to the depths of hell in defence of our precious national narratives.
But every now and again some nebulous, imperceptible thing shifts; a tipping point is reached, and even the most rigidly defended of our stories give way to a new paradigm. It’s as if the vast majority suddenly wake up one day to realise the world is not as they thought it was; and they are not who they thought they were. This is rarely a pleasant phenomenon; for most nations it is usually the crystallising realisation that they are, (as a nation), significantly less good and right than they thought they were. Admittedly this doesn’t happen often, (most countries would rather wage bloody wars of attrition than accept that they may be on the wrong side of a long held ideology), but when it does happen its effect on the national psyche can be both persistent and profound.
To me Germany is one the most fascinating examples of this. In the early 2000’s I spent a few months writing in Berlin, and was really struck by the enduring resonance of WW2, a war that had ended some 58 years earlier.
While cities like London have long since cleansed all traces of the war from their streets, Berlin -with an unassuming humility- bares her scars for all to see. From the holocaust photos on the remnants of the wall to the bombed out remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, from the Jewish war museum to the rebuilt synagogue of the infamous crystal nacht, from her ubiquitous machine gun scars to check point Charlie, Berlin – for all her art and culture- provides her citizens with a constant, sobering reminder of the darkest aspects of their human potential.
Even though most Germans today where not even alive at the time of the holocaust, the war seems to have infected their national narrative with such a deep and abiding shame, (and the subsequent need for redemption) that their national discourse still remains largely dominated by ethical and moral imperatives.
And then there’s the USA. It’s over one hundred and fifty years since slavery was popularly considered a good idea, and yet the American story remains blighted by its legacy. To this day the anguish of slavery stalks the American psyche like a cancerous shadow that can never be fully excised..
While many Australians feel personally distanced from the stain that is the Tasmanian genocide, or the stolen generation, (probably because the vast majority of us are not actually descended from those responsible); I sense that we, as a nation, are starting to wake up to the fact that we can not shield ourselves indefinitely from responsibility for what is happening to innocent, persecuted refugees on our watch.
I feel the worm is starting to turn and it will not be long until we reach the tipping point. Our rhetoric is changing. Even the most fearful and ignorant among us are starting to realise that the callous disregard with which we treat our refugees is extracting a price so high that it can not be measured or quantified; a cost far more profound than dollars spent, or the blow to our international reputation, (although that is undoubtedly taking a pummelling).
As the government’s veil of secrecy is slowly being prized off we are now starting to hear of our wilful neglect of sick children, of babies kept in scorchingly hot dormitories with not even enough room to learn to crawl, of the removal of medicines, spectacles and hearing aids, the reports of rape, torture, piracy and imprisonment in inhumane conditions.
With the UNHCR up in arms over such barbarity – even China is waving a disproving finger at our flagrant disregard for human rights and international law – the reality of what we are doing is starting to feel deeply and profoundly wrong, even to the most ignorant and cruel among us.
photo by daily telegraph. christmas island
Never in my life have I heard so many people declare that they are ASHAMED to be Australian, although this is hardly surprising. Given our current treatment of refugees there is no measure by which we can convincingly place ourselves on the right side of history/humanity, and deep down we all know it. People are waking up to the fact that we have, with our unbridled selfishness and cruelty, stabbed deeply at the heart of our nation; and in so doing we have inflicted a wound so egregious that our national sense of decency is now slowly bleeding out.
What both Abbott and Shorten fail to realise however, is that their current refugee policies are firmly aligned with yesterdays spin, a story born of Howard’s post 9/11 political opportunism, and supported, up until now, by fear mongering, ignorance and misinformation. But the tide is turning, today that story is vacillating, tomorrow it will be outright rejected for the shamefully barbaric atrocity that it is.
While I hold little hope that the coalition will shift on this issue, there is still time for Labor to cast a finger to the wind and feel the coming change in public sentiment. I for one hope that Labor can find the courage to come out swinging with a strong policy that favours decency, coupled with a powerful rhetoric that dispels the fear and economic irrationality that has surrounded the issue.
“The facts about ‘boat people’ – The government and media are lying” is a title that perfectly sums up the emphasis in this guest post byGlennMurray. This was first published onGlenn’s blog in October last year, but it is such a powerful exposé of the extent of the lies that we need to keep disseminating Glenn’s message. We would urge you all to share this widely. The lies can only be fully exposed if more people were aware of the truth.
Who are ‘boat people’?
‘Boat people’ are asylum seekers who arrive by boat, without a valid visa or any other appropriate authorisation. They’re seeking protection (asylum) because they fear persecution in/from the home country (torture, murder, illegal imprisonment, etc.).
Are ‘boat people’ doing something illegal?
No. Asylum seekers are NOT illegal. They’ve broken no laws at all. Under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
The terms, ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘illegals’, etc., are completely incorrect.
“Every person has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution, serious human rights violations and other serious harm. Seeking asylum is not, therefore, an unlawful act… In exercising the right to seek asylum, asylum-seekers are often forced to arrive at, or enter, a territory without prior authorisation. The position of asylum-seekers may thus differ fundamentally from that of ordinary migrants in that they may not be in a position to comply with the legal formalities for entry. They may, for example, be unable to obtain the necessary documentation in advance of their flight because of their fear of persecution and/or the urgency of their departure. These factors, as well as the fact that asylum-seekers have often experienced traumatic events, need to be taken into account in determining any restrictions on freedom of movement based on irregular entry or presence.” (p.12)
Is Australia obligated to help them?
Yes. Australia has a legal obligation to assist ‘boat people’ whether or not they follow our polite protocol. We signed an international law called the Refugee Convention.
Are most ‘illegal immigrants’ boat people?
No. According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, in 2012-13, 25,091 asylum seekers arrived by boat, more than 8,308 arrived by plane, 2,813 visa overstayers were detected, 2,328 immigration clearances were refused at air and seaports, and 15,077 other ‘unlawful non-citizens were discovered in the community.
And according to the Advertiser, that doesn’t even include all the illegals who fly in and are caught in the first two weeks. Another 200,000 or so!
Do all asylum seekers arrive by boat?
No. Since 2003, only 42% of all asylum seekers have arrived by boat.
In 2012-13, the rate was higher than that due to a spike in boat arrivals:
Are asylum seekers who arrive by boat treated the same as asylum seekers who arrive by plane?
No. Those arriving by plane aren’t detained. Plus, they can immediately apply for a protection visa, and are typically given a bridging visa while their application is processed. Boat people, on the other hand, are immediately moved to a detention centre, and they can’t immediately apply for a protection visa. Instead, they’re screened into a refugee status determination process to determine whether they’ll be allowed to apply.
What does ‘refugee’ mean?
A refugee is a person who has fled their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution (torture, murder, illegal imprisonment, etc.).
Are all ‘boat people’ actually refugees?
9 out of every 10 ‘boat people’ are eventually found to be genuine refugees. They have a genuine reason to fear persecution in their own country (as assessed against the regulations set out in our Migration Act).
According to the Department of Immigration and Border Control, since 2008, 92% of all considered asylum cases relating to people arriving by boat were granted (p.30).
As a graph:
But even if they weren’t, it still wouldn’t change Australia’s legal obligation. We are legally obliged to accept asylum seekers.
Are they ‘jumping the queue’?
No.There’s no such thing as a queue. Anyone who wants to claim asylum must leave their home country first. So all asylum seekers flee to other countries. Some overland, some by plane, some by boat. Some come to Australia, some go to other countries. This is the standard way to seek asylum. These people are called ‘onshore applicants’.
Sadly, a lot of refugees are very, very poor, so their only option is to travel overland to a neighbouring country. That’s why countries like Kenya and Ethiopia have huge refugee camps (because of trouble in neighbouring Somalia).
Sometimes refugees are resettled in a country other than the one they fled to. E.g. Someone might be resettled from a refugee camp to Australia. These people are called ‘offshore applicants’. This is something we voluntarily do to supplement the standard ‘onshore’ process. Again, resettling refugees from refugee camps is a voluntary act. Australia does it to share the refugee load with other countries. Accepting asylum seekers who come directly to Australia is our legal obligation.
Unfortunately, Australia’s policy is that when we accept an onshore refugee (i.e. an asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by plane or boat), a place is deducted from the offshore program (i.e. there’s one less place for people being moved from refugee camps). No other country in the world does this. In other words, it’s policy that takes places from camp refugees, not ‘boat people’.
Are they still genuine refugees if they can afford boat passage?
Yes. The manner of an asylum seeker’s arrival isn’t what makes them a genuine refugee (or not). They’re judged to be a genuine refugee if they have a well-founded fear of persecution at home.
And although the poor are often the victims of persecution, middle-class and wealthy people are persecuted too. In fact, because these people tend to be well educated, they are often persecuted for speaking out against oppressive government regimes. So just because someone can afford (or scrape together the funds) to make it to Australia, that doesn’t mean they’re not a refugee.
And remember, 92% of boat people since 2009 have been found to be genuine refugees, as assessed against the regulations set out in our Migration Act.
But even if they weren’t, Australia’s legal obligation remains the same. We are legally obliged to accept asylum seekers and process their claims.
Are they still genuine refugees if they don’t look battered, bruised and hungry when they arrive?
Yes. The Refugee Convention doesn’t say they have to look battered, bruised and hungry. It says they have to have a well-founded fear of persecution at home.
Out of interest, here’s a photo of some Jewish refugees who fled to Australia at the end of World War II (courtesy of The Australian). They don’t look particularly battered, bruised and hungry.
Are they still genuine refugees if they come via another country (e.g. Indonesia)?
Refugees are not required to have come directly from territories where their life or freedom was threatened… Article 31(1) was intended to apply, and has been interpreted to apply, to persons who have briefly transited other countries or who are unable to find effective protection in the first country or countries to which they flee.” (p.2, 10b, 10c)
Because Indonesia hasn’t signed the Refugee Convention, they’re not obliged to protect asylum seekers. As a result, asylum seekers who arrive in Indonesia live in constant fear.
Are they still genuine refugees if they don’t just flee to the closest country? Aren’t they cherry-picking?
Yes, they are still genuine refugees. There’s no law that says refugees must flee to the nearest country. In most cases, this would simply land them in a poverty-stricken, dangerous refugee camp for years. Nor is there any rule that says refugees can’t flee by plane or choose their destination.
It seems odd to me that some Australians want to vilify these people for using commonsense and, in the process, reducing the load on the desperately poor countries that are actually being flooded by refugees.
Do they have passports to prove their identity? And do they burn their passports?
People (and the media) often get this confused. Boat people come by boat because they don’t an Australian visa, not because they don’t have ID. Many (perhaps most) do have passports and other identifying information, just don’t have an Australian visa.
There are reports of asylum seekers destroying their documents prior to interception by Australian Navy vessels. There are a number of reasons this could be happening: 1) As asylum seekers, they fear capture at home, so they have to destroy their real passports before they leave their home country; 2) They then use fake documents to leave their home country; and 3) They destroy these documents before arrival in Australia because they’re fake and don’t accurately represent their identity or situation, and would, therefore, impede their asylum case. I’ve also heard that people smugglers tell them to burn them as it will aid their asylum claim.
Some people smugglers also claim they sell fake passports and visas, which enable asylum seekers to fly into Australia, after which they’re advised to rip up their passports and claim asylum. But these asylum seekers often end up on dangerous boats anyway. No doubt this is another reason some boat people tear up their passports.
If they can afford boat passage, why don’t they just fly in?
Flying to Australia would definitely be cheaper and safer, and I’m sure all boat people would do it if they could. But the fact is that they have to get an appropriate visa first, and this isn’t always possible. The Australian embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, don’t issue Australian visas. And that’s where 39% of our boat people since 2008 have come from!
What’s more, even when an embassy does issue visas (e.g. Sri Lanka, Iran & Pakistan, where 47% of our boat people have come from since 2008), the application process and requirements for an Australian visa are quite rigorous and time consuming. And if you’re fleeing for your life, you don’t usually have time to complete the application, have your documents certified and wait around for a visa to be approved.
No doubt there are also some boat people who destroy their passports. There are a few reasons this might happen: 1) As asylum seekers, they fear capture at home, so they have to destroy their real passports before they leave their home country; 2) They then use fake documents to leave their home country; and 3) They destroy these documents before arrival in Australia because they’re fake and don’t accurately represent their identity or situation, and would, therefore, impede their asylum case. I’ve also heard that people smugglers tell them to burn them as it will aid their asylum claim.
Do we get more asylum seekers than other countries?
No. In 2012, we ranked 20th overall, 29th per capita and 52nd relative to GDP. And remember approximately half of those people did NOT come by boat.
“Poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier ones. While anti-refugee sentiment is heard loudest in industrialised countries, developing nations host 80 per cent of the world’s refugees.”
Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon
And again, no matter what our ranking, we’re still are legally obliged to accept asylum seekers.
Do harsh border protection laws deter ‘boat people’?
No. There’s no evidence to suggest our harsh policies on ‘border protection’ reduce the number of boat people trying to get to Australia. Here’s a timeline showing when Australia introduced its harsh asylum seeker policies…
June 1989 – Prime Minister Hawke introduced changes that included mandatory deportation, and allowed for the recovery of funds from asylum seekers to pay for the costs of their detention and deportation. The number of boat people continued to increase after these changes were introduced.
October 1999 – Prime Minister Howard introduced temporary visas (TPVs). Instead of getting a permanent protection visa, refugees were instead given only temporary protection (a 3 year protection visa). After that, their case would be reviewed. Also, their protection could be revoked if they left Australia during the 3 years, and it didn’t allow their families to settle in Australia. The number of boat people continued to increase afterwards.
August 2012 – Prime Minister Gillard reintroduces the Pacific Solution. It didn’t slow the boats. In fact, the number of boat more than doubled.
It’s clear these hard-line policies can’t be claimed as deterrents. In all but 2 cases, the number of boat people increased afterwards. Once it remained unchanged, and once it was already going down before the policy was introduced. So if we’re to believe that Australia’s harsh policy has any significant impact on boat people numbers, we’d have to deduce it’s often an incentive!
How many ‘boat people’ resettle in Australia? Won’t we be over-run?
No we won’t be over-run. Not even close!For the 2012-13 period, Australia makes available 190,000 places for immigrants. During the same period, 4,949 ‘boat people’ were granted refugees status in Australia. So refugees who arrive by boat make up just 2.5% of all immigration.
Let’s look at it another way. In 2012, only 4,949 boat people were granted refugee status in Australia. That’s one person per 4,718 Australians. You might just be able to see the thin line representing approved boat people in the graph below…
Don’t boat people get more social security?
No. Asylum seekers aren’t entitled to the same welfare as citizens and permanent residents. They get Asylum Seeker Assistance (ASA), which covers basic living expenses, at a rate below Centrelink benefits.
Once an asylum seeker’s claim is processed, and they’re judged a refugee, they receive the same amount of social security as a citizen or permanent resident. They “apply for social security through Centrelink like everyone else and are assessed for the different payment options in the same way as everyone else. There are no separate Centrelink allowances that one can receive simply by virtue of being a refugee.” (http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/f/myth-long.php#centrelink)
Unfortunately, the Australian government doesn’t allow asylum seekers to work. Nor does it allow refugees to work until they become permanent residents (which can take years). If they were allowed to work, the burden on our welfare system would be far less.
Doesn’t it cost a lot to keep asylum seekers detained?
Yes. That’s another reason why we should stop doing it. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, it costs approx $225,000 to detain a person on Manus Island or Nauru. If they were were allowed to live in the general community (say, in specified rural areas in need of a population injection), it would cost only $35,000.
But aren’t they all Muslims who’ll want us to submit to Sharia law?
No. In 2012-13, only about half (57%) of asylum claims are were from Muslim boat people fleeing countries that follow strict Sharia law. That’s just 1.4% of all our immigrants. And remember, these people are fleeing those Sharia law countries!
Doesn’t Tony Abbott have a mandate to stop the boats?
Arguably. But he does NOT have a mandate to stop them by breaching international law. Some voters definitely agreed with the stop the boats policy, and Abbott won the election on the back of that policy. But he didn’t mention breaching international law during his campaign, so he does not have a mandate to do so.
Abbott decided to breach international law, not voters.
In fact, only 45.6% of Australians actually voted for Abbott. Yes, he still won the election on preferences, and yes, ‘stop the boats’ was AN election campaign, but there’s a big divide between claiming a mandate on an issue and assuming the majority of Australians support it. And that 45.6% includes people who voted for Abbott based on other factors, such as hating Rudd, hating Labor, being over Labor’s idiotic back-room bickering, and supporting any one of the LNP’s other policies.
Is Australia breaching international law?
Yes. We’re breaching all of the following (see below list for details):
UN Refugee Convention
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR)
Except where this Convention contains more favourable provisions, a Contracting State shall accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to aliens generally” (Article 7, 1)
And that we must not send them anywhere where they’ll be unsafe or imprisoned:
No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” (Article 33, 1)
Importantly, it also says we must not penalise people who arrive without the appropriate visa or other paperwork:
The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence” (Article 31, 1)
It also says we must not detain them longer than is necessary for their asylum claims to be processed:
The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country.” (Article 31, 2)
But by locking up asylum seekers in detention centres, we’re not treating them as we do other foreigners. Nor are we detaining them merely for the time necessary to assess their asylum claims. Instead, as a direct penalty for the way they arrived, we’re detaining them indefinitely in order to deter other asylum seekers from coming to Australia by boat. Not only are their movements being restricted, but the conditions of their imprisonment are terrible – another penalty and deterrent.
The UNHCR Guidelines are very clear on this:
Detention must not be arbitrary… Mandatory or automatic detention is arbitrary as it is not based on an examination of the necessity of the detention in the individual case… Detention that is imposed in order to deter future asylum-seekers, or to dissuade those who have commenced their claims from pursuing them is inconsistent with international norms. Furthermore, detention is not permitted as a punitive – for example, criminal – measure or a disciplinary sanction for irregular entry or presence in the country. Apart from constituting a penalty under Article 31 of the 1951 Convention, it may also amount to collective punishment in violation of international human rights law.” (pages 15 – 18)
Also, by pushing/towing asylum seeker boats back to Indonesian waters from Australian waters, we’re once again restricting their movements unnecessarily and penalizing them. We’re also returning them to a place where the lives and freedom of many would be threatened. Many asylum seekers are Shia Muslims who are fleeing persecution by Sunni Muslims in their home country. Indonesia is 88.2% Muslim, and the majority of those Muslims are Sunni. So Shia Muslims face persecution in Indonesia just as they faced at home.
There are obligations as a signatory to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 protocol, which say: if you intercept in your territorial waters, you should allow those in need of protection to have access to the asylum system”
UNHCR would be concerned by any policy or practice that involved pushing asylum-seeker boats back at sea without a proper consideration of individual needs for protection… Any such approach would raise significant issues and potentially place Australia in breach of its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and other international law obligations.”
What’s more, Article 16 of the Refugee Convention also stipulates that asylum seekers must have access to free legal assistance:
A refugee shall enjoy in the Contracting State in which he has his habitual residence the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the Courts, including legal assistance and exemption from cautio judicatum solvi“
Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) says that:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.” (Emphasisadded)
By arbitrarily detaining asylum seekers, we are violating their fundamental human rights.
Other human rights conventions
According to Julian Burnside QC, by “using arbitrary detention for asylum seekers, and subjecting people (including children) to conditions which put their physical and mental health at risk in order to persuade them to return to their homelands, and deter further people from seeking asylum in Australia”, we’re breaching the following international conventions:
What’s more, recently a Sudanese asylum seeker claimed he was deliberately burned by Australian Navy personnel. Yet despite being legally obligated to investigate the matter, the Australian government is investigating the ABC, for reporting the claims! Under the United Nations Convention against Torture, which we voluntarily signed, we agree to “ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.” (Article 12, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).
Australia was also strongly criticised by independent organisation, Human Rights Watch, in its 2014 World Report (p.292):
Successive governments have prioritized domestic politics over Australia’s international legal obligations to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, many of who have escaped from appalling situations in places like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Too often, the government has attempted to demonize those trying to reach Australia by boat and has insisted that officials refer to all asylum seekers who do so as illegal maritime arrivals.”
Laws of the sea
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires contracting states to:
…ensure that necessary arrangements are made for distress communication and co-ordination…”
The 2012 Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, interprets this to mean “Where assistance has been provided to persons in distress in a state’s SRR, that state has primary responsibility to ensure that coordination and cooperation occurs between governments, so that survivors are disembarked from the assisting ship and delivered to a place of safety. ” But Australian defence personnel are not helping asylum seekers disembark or otherwise reach safety. Instead, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requires contracting states to:
… promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the sea and, where circumstances so require, by way of mutual regional arrangements co-operate with neighbouring States for this purpose.”
But Australian defence personnel are not co-operating with Indonesia to ensure the safety of asylum seekers. Instead, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.
The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) requires contracting states to:
… ensure that assistance be provided to any person in distress at sea … regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found” and to “… provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety.”
But Australian defence personnel are not delivering asylum seekers to a place of safety, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.
What’s more, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), we’re also breaching:
Amendments to the SOLAS and SAR Conventions, which require contracting states to: “… arrange disembarkation as soon as reasonably practicable”; and
Guidelines on the Treatment of Persons Rescued at Sea, which state: “The government responsible for the SAR region in which survivors were recovered is responsible for providing a place of safety or ensuring that such a place of safety is provided,” where a ‘place of safety’ is defined as “… a location where rescue operations are considered to terminate, and where: the survivors’ safety or life is no longer threatened; basic human needs (such as food, shelter and medical needs) can be met; and transportation arrangements can be made for the survivors’ next or final destination.”
But Australian defence personnel are not arranging disembarkation of asylum seekers, nor providing or ensuring a place of safety, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.
Article 9 of the Covenant prohibits arbitrary detention, yet people sent to Nauru and Manus Island, by Australia at Australia’s expense, are being arbitrarily detained in disturbing conditions. The refugees without ASIO security clearances are also being arbitrarily detained. This then constitutes a crime against humanity, according to the Criminal Code in section 268.12.”
So here’s what the facts tell us:
‘Boat people’ are not breaking any law, so they’re not ‘illegal’.
Australia has a legal obligation under international law to accept asylum seekers.
Less than half of all ‘illegal immigrants’ are ‘boat people’.
Only about half of all asylum seekers arrive by boat.
92% of ‘boat people’ are genuine refugees; they have a genuine reason to fear persecution in their own country.
‘Boat people’ are not jumping the queue.
They’re still genuine refugees if they can afford boat passage.
They’re still genuine refugees if they come via Indonesia.
51 other countries get proportionally more asylum seekers than Australia (relative to GDP).
‘Soft’ border protection laws did NOT cause an influx of ‘boat people.
Refugees who came by boat make up only 2.5% of all of Australia’s immigrants.
Only 1.4% of all our immigrants are Muslim boat people from countries that follow strict Sharia law. And they’re fleeing those Sharia law countries!
Abbott does NOT have a mandate to stop the boats by breaching international law.
Australia is breaching international law by detaining boat people unnecessarily and turning them away (e.g. sending them to Indonesia).
In other words, ‘boat people’ are a small issue to Australians. They’re not doing anything wrong, and they hardly make a ripple in our overall immigration intake. We only think they’re a big issue is because the government makes them a big issue, and the media happily plays along because it’s a big story.
In reality, the only people to whom the whole ‘boat people’ issue is a big issue are boat people themselves. And, sadly, the smokescreen created by the government is very effectively obscuring that fact.
Why don’t most people know this stuff?
The fact that most people don’t know this stuff is testament to the dishonesty of our politicians and the brainwashing by or media.
This isn’t a conspiracy theory. It’s all fact on public record. Look it up. It’s another instance of the government and media distracting voters from real issues by pointing the finger and finding a common enemy.
That’s why the Coalition built its 2013 election campaign on the ‘Stop the Boats’ line. And why they changed the name of the immigration department from “The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship” to “The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection”. And why they even changed the processing label applied to asylum seeker boat arrivals from “Irregular Maritime Arrivals” to “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”.
None of this is accidental.
Am I suggesting we should open our borders up completely?
No. I’m saying we should separate our onshore and offshore refugee quotas, so boat people don’t take places of resettled camp refugees. And we shouldn’t be using ‘population’ issues as an excuse to turn ‘boat people’ away. If there are population issues (which I don’t believe there are), curtail regular immigration. At least then the people being turned away will merely be inconvenienced. They won’t be killed, tortured or wrongfully imprisoned.
What can we do about it?
If you feel strongly about this issue (and any other problems being caused by the Abbott government), make sure you write to your local politicians and to Abbott and co. Tell them what you think, and demand they stop.
Beyond that, I think we need a Constitutional Convention. And when we get it, we need to change the system to a vote-for-policies system. No politicians, no parties… And tighter regulation on corporations. I’ll be blogging about my thoughts on this soon, so make sure you subscribe to my blog.
What do you think? Please comment…
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Please add a comment below, so we can chat about it.
Tracie Aylmer attended the Villawood protest yesterday. Tracie is a migration agent and solicitor who comes into regular contact with asylum seekers. In this guest post she expresses her disappointed at the behaviour of many of the protesters whose behaviour, she laments, did nothing for the cause of those in detention.
I have only been to two protests in my entire life.
The first protest was a few weeks ago – the March In March. It was so well organised, that people respected not only themselves, but others and the police. There were no arrests, even with the tens of thousands of people who marched with me.
The second was yesterday – on 5 April 2014 – at Villawood Detention Centre.
Before I go into detail in relation to my experiences of the asylum seeker protest, I think I should explain who the asylum seekers are. I am in constant contact with the Hazara community. They are peaceful, gentle and very respectful members of our community. They do not like to fight, which is why so many are tortured and/or die at the hands of the Taliban in areas such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. They actually refuse to fight back!
My contacts in the Hazara community saw the video (now made private) that was recorded yesterday. Their direct response, and I am quoting, is “it is not good”. They were very disappointed that so many people were behaving as they were in that video.
Due to these very lovely people, who have accepted me with open arms into their community, I respect everything they do and say. They are very gentle, and do not believe that people should be deliberately trying to become arrested in their name.
I cannot say how asylum seekers in Villawood Detention Centre would have reacted to the fact that people were arrested in their name, but if they are anything like my contacts in the Hazara community they would have felt ashamed.
Being vocal would have helped them realise that there are people outside of Villawood Detention Centre who do care for them, but ignoring police direction and going so far as to kick and punch police officers for doing their job goes above and beyond.
I believe some police officers do create ‘ultra vires’ moments. There’s little doubt of that – particularly considering why ICAC was formed.
But, the directive to move the asylum seekers came from far higher than the authority given to the police officers who were there yesterday. They obeyed orders. They did not make the orders. The buses were going to leave anyway. No matter what.
This government cannot ‘stop the boats’. That much is obvious, even if we now don’t hear about it. So what makes anyone on that day think they can ‘stop the buses’? Especially those officers that were there yesterday.
The police asked for people to move to the footpath. Considering the footpath is quite large, it sounded like a reasonable request. People could have been just as vocal on the footpath, as they were on the road. It didn’t matter where, as long as the people were vocal.
The police then said to the mothers for asylum seekers group that if people did not move onto the footpath, there would be every reason for the police to move people to the end of the street. Since the mothers were there to say goodbye to their long time friends (the asylum seekers), people should have listened to the mothers. The mothers were gentle and caring ladies, who deserved respect. They were near tears, as the connections formed were bonding. They saw the writing on the wall – the buses were going to leave anyway, and this was their last chance to say goodbye.
As it happened, no one was moved to the end of the street. Everyone stayed where they were.
People started speaking about their experiences. One of the mothers told about her experiences. Everyone was quiet and respectful for each person on the microphone. Then, a police officer wanted to talk. He was drowned out by protesters chanting the same chant over and over.
A short time later, a man came up to us and told us that people should have a right to be on the street if they wished. He said the protest was proper and people also had a right to talk. One of the mothers then asked “so why wasn’t the police officer then allowed to talk?”. We both then decided to ignore him.
Shortly after this, and after a few hours of being there, I had to leave for personal reasons. A police officer escorted me to my vehicle. He was kindly and respectful, as I showed respect. He said he was only doing his job, as told by higher authorities. I said I was only there for the asylum seekers.
I was not there at the period of time when the protesters and police clashed. I am grateful that I wasn’t. This was not what I signed up for. I wanted to show the asylum seekers I was there for them. Instead, I had a protester tell me that I was selfish. I was told that I shouldn’t be there for me. It made me wonder – who was I there for, then? Because I certainly wasn’t there for the protesters!
Protesting in order to create ugly clashes with the police does nothing for the cause. It only shows those who vote LNP what they want to hear about asylum seekers – that perhaps they should be feared after all. Showing lack of respect for the police also shows lack of respect for the asylum seekers. They would not want people being injured or arrested in their name. It would make them feel guilty.
So to all the people who showed up to protest, and were in that video kicking, screaming and punching the police, who were you actually protesting for? If the asylum seekers don’t want to see this sort of thing going on, then is it really worth being arrested? Isn’t this the sort of mob mentality that the LNP are notorious for?
Isn’t this the sort of thing that the LNP staunch supporters would want to see?
Perhaps if we all calmed down and became as respectful as the asylum seekers, then all our protests would have the same tinge as one of the most successful protests in Australia in decades – the March In March.
In the aftermath of the 2013 Australian election, I spoke to a variety of my friends and colleagues about the core issues that motivated my voting intention. Chief amongst these was the issue of climate change, and the various parties’ approach to Labor’s ETS or another alternative. I voted below the line and took into account several important areas of policy, to the extent it was known, but the primary consideration for me was climate change.
In many cases during my discussions, I was disheartened to hear that climate change just wasn’t top of mind for these people I valued. For them, other issues took priority: Australia’s budget, its productivity, its two-tiered economy. There were others for whom provision of healthcare, education, housing and social benefits were of higher import. And there were some for whom the key issue was the two parties’ policies on refugees and boat arrivals.
What people perhaps fail to fully understand is that climate change will fundamentally alter every aspect of life and governance in this country and around the world. It is already having adverse effects on health, on productivity, on national economies and on food production. And all the scientists tell us that we are on the cusp of a downward slope, that things will get far worse from here.
Already we can see some of the effects of climate change on the front pages of our daily news. In early 2013, a report was published indicating that the 2012-2013 Sydney summer was the hottest on record. That was before the current summer of bushfires began. When every summer becomes the “hottest ever”, we have to start wondering about where the trend will lead. 2013 has seen climatic extremes across the globe: from floods to blizzards, from droughts to heat waves, from tornadoes to wildfires, all of the linked events are record breaking or without precedent. But climate disasters, even when they directly affect people, are remote in comparison to daily pressures of life. They’re too big to easily comprehend as an immediate and pressing concern.
What seems needed is a connection between the oncoming threat of climate change and the pressing policy areas that do concern people. When the protest is made that money spent on carbon abatement could be better spent on hospitals, real information on the healthcare impacts of climate change is needed. When western Sydney voters are concerned about the tide of boat-borne refugees, a cold-eyed view of the millions of people who will be displaced from our asian neighbours (due more to loss of habitable land and food yields than to rising sea levels, although both are important) might help put the numbers in perspective.
There is one specific objection to prioritising climate change mitigation efforts and carbon abatement policy, and it’s a doozy. Under both Labor and the incoming Coalition government, Australia’s prosperity relies upon a continued efficiency in extracting mineral and fossil fuel wealth from our abundant reserves and selling them overseas. Under the newly elected Coalition, it is likely that this reliance on resource mining will increase, rather than decrease, as the government dismantles Labor’s perfunctory efforts at wealth transfer from the resources sector to high-tech industries and manufacturing. The Coalition’s rabid determination to vilify and destroy the “carbon tax” (more accurately described as an emissions trading scheme) is underpinned by this unspoken need to prop up Australia’s cash cow. Nothing can be allowed to interrupt the gravy train of that lovely, lovely brown coal. If they were to give an inch, to allow the ETS to continue, it wouldn’t be long until greenies were making cogent arguments about Australia’s net carbon export via its sale of coal to China and India. Failing a rational answer to such arguments, and unwilling to be the government under which Australia’s GNP collapsed, the best solution for the Coalition is to keep the fight focused on domestic use of energy.
On the wrong side of history
But the Coalition, as well as Labor and the whole of the nation, are caught up in the march of history. Cutting back on climate change priorities is a false economy. It will hurt us in the long run – not just environmentally, but financially.
Wind-generated power is currently cheaper than coal, and solar is not far behind. A little extra investment and solar power could take care of all Australia’s energy needs. Australia has, or had, some world-leading researchers and companies in the field of renewable energy, and it has wide-open spaces with very few people and plenty of sun and wind. Australia is a prime potential for development of economically viable renewable energy, removing our own need for fossil fuels, but also giving us high-tech energy generation to sell to other countries. Doing so would be costly. But the cost would be borne almost entirely by those energy companies already heavily invested in fossil fuels. Make no mistake: the average Australian would not suffer greatly from an immediate moratorium on coal mining. It is big companies, who hold long-term leases on prime coal-bearing land and whose net company worth is supported almost entirely on the coal still in the ground, which would be most affected. See Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – I’ve linked to this article before but it deserves it.
Just because Australia has access to all this lovely, lovely coal doesn’t mean the rest of the world is standing still. As other nations implement carbon trading schemes, as new energy generation methods become available and economical, and as shale gas and other fossil fuels become increasingly exploited, the demand for coal and oil will decrease. Australia faces a growing risk of becoming the kid in the corner hawking his trading cards when the rest of the school has moved on to He-Man figures.
The long-term argument against coal goes along the following lines: the rapid emergence of shale gas, falling renewable energy costs, air pollution regulations, governance issues, action on climate change, changing social norms and worsening water constraints are putting pressure on coal’s competitiveness. – King Coal running out of luck
This may be partly why the Coalition is desperate to clear regulatory blockages to large-scale shale gas (fracking) projects in this country. The writing is on the wall for coal, and Australia will quickly lose its competitive advantage. Then we really will be the poor white trash of Asia.
What would it take?
For every objection to the prioritisation of climate policy (beyond the frankly unworthy “it’s not happening, not listening, nyah nyah nyah”), it is possible to make a case that climate change will have a dramatic deleterious impact.
Regardless, there remain those for whom climate change is not an immediate priority. The question must be asked, what would make it an immediate priority? Will it require the displacement of millions and a logarithmic increase in climate refugees reaching Australia? At what point does the loss of much of Australia’s food production capacity trigger our concern? We’re already facing annual floods/fires/heatwaves/climate events – how far does it have to go before we see the signs? Will the recognition of a “new normal” of climate events and weather spur us to action, or will it simply move us past action to despair? When the tides are swamping our cities and sucking at our toes, will we perhaps think that climate change may be worth our investment?
By the time these things come about, it will be far too late to change them. It may already be too late. Immediate, desperate, strong action may yet provide us a chance to partially mitigate the damage. But we need to make climate change a priority.
Unfortunately those who don’t want to spend money and opportunity now to combat a remote threat from the future are the same kinds of people who don’t want to invest now to build capacity for the future. They’re the economic rationalists, and they’re in charge of the funhouse.
Over the past several years Tony Abbott has electioneered on two platforms: that climate change is crap and that asylum seekers arriving by boats are “illegals”. Abbott also chose to create a sense of urgency, a sense of fear, the fear of the other and an impression that somehow the Australian people were under threat. The nationalistic name which Abbott conjured up, Operation Sovereign Borders consists of the same overblown rhetoric reminiscent of the Bush/Howard era, and is described in the Coalition’s Policy document as a response to “a national emergency”.
With the coming of Tony Abbott to power, Operation Sovereign Borders was described as “gearing up”, and as endorsed by The Australian newspaper, put into action by immediately “shutting down the flow of information on the arrival of asylum vessels and the transfer of people offshore”:
All requests for information from Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Immigration – on issues ranging from boat arrivals, to detention centre capacity levels, the numbers of detainees on Manus Island and Nauru, or violent incidents in the detention network – are now directed to the mobile telephone of Mr Morrison’s press secretary.
This is of such importance, such an emergency that all enquiries must immediately be directed to . . . a press secretary?
The public might never be told whether the Coalition is meeting a key election promise in having the navy turn back asylum seeker boats, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has said.
The above is the entire crux of the matter: we might never be told whether or not Tony Abbott is meeting a key election promise and the very promise which for many, won him the election.
It was 27th April 2012 when the headlines from news.com were ablaze with the following:
TONY Abbott will tell Indonesia that people smugglers “disgorging” asylum seekers are like Australians smuggling drugs into Bali should he win government.
The Opposition Leader today said that, if elected Prime Minister, he would fly to Jakarta in his first week to explain his policy of turning back people smuggler boats.
And he would call a double dissolution election if he can’t get his tougher border security measures, including re-introduction of temporary protection visas, through Parliament . . .
“Every illegal boat marks a failure of foreign policy, a failure of security policy and a failure of immigration policy.”……..
Then Immigration Minister Chris Bowen responded with the statement that Abbott was putting relations with Indonesia at risk by again pledging to turn boats back.
“Mr Abbott’s claim that he will have a ‘Jakarta focussed’ foreign policy is questionable as he rides roughshod over the repeated and clear message from Indonesia that they would not agree to towing back the boats,” said Mr Bowen.
It seems that as a matter of public information this issue no longer exists with the urgency now relegated to weekly information sessions or via Scott Morrison’s press secretary, that every illegal boat which “marks a failure of foreign policy” will be information disseminated perhaps accurately but certainly not in a timely manner. Urgency has drifted to once a week information sessions.
Is it that Prime Minister Abbott has little desire to fulfill his previous commitment to call a double dissolution election on this issue? “Failures” may or may not be known by the public, or even more suspect: Is it that the Abbott government intends to set its own asylum seeker policy up for failure?
By making conditions so onerous and insulting for the Indonesian government is it that Abbott has a ready-made fall guy? The vast majority of Abbott’s rhetoric is that he will tell Indonesia what he intends to do with their country – from turning boats back to their shores, to buying fishing boats (en mass it is assumed) from Indonesians, to setting up “transit ports” on their soil. All rhetoric speaks of infringements against Indonesia’s sovereign rights to do what they want in their own country. For Operation Sovereign Boarders to succeed it needs the cooperation of the Indonesian Government, which has not, and will not be forthcoming. For their failure to comply with Abbott’s infringement upon their sovereignty I can see that they are nicely being set-up as the fall guy.
That is only one are of failure. There are possibly more.
Again from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Under Operation Sovereign Borders two frigates, seven patrol boats and numerous Customs vessels will patrol the seas between Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef and Indonesia.
Anzac Class frigates cost about $207,000-a-day to operate compared with $40,000-a-day for Armidale Class Patrol boats.
Seven frigates at $207,000 a day means that Operation Sovereign Boarders would cost the taxpayer over $520M a year for the Navy’s contribution alone. Then there are the Global Hawke Drones, if he decides to go ahead with them, at a cost of $US218M each. How many might he want? In an environment of a budget emergency, how long before the taxpayers rest a little uneasy about the enormous expense of detecting or intercepting the boats that are apparently going to stop coming?
Then there are other logistics. Officials would conduct health checks on the ship or at the port, and the smuggled people would be taken to nearby airports for charter flights direct to Nauru and Manus Island. They can’t go to Indonesia, of course, because Indonesia have sensibly rejected Tony Abbott’s invasive plan.
And which port, by the way?
So we are now back to where we were at any period over the last six years, but at a higher cost to the taxpayer. However, Tony Abbott can no longer blame Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard so he will directly blame Indonesia. Will this be an excuse to not call a double dissolution? We’ll see.
Operation Sovereign Borders will not only go down as Tony Abbott’s biggest policy flop but one of great expense.