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Tag Archives: stop the boats

Confusion in the Turnbull Government

Much about the Turnbull Government confuses me. Either I don’t know what they’re talking about, or they themselves have no idea what they’re talking about.

I’m convinced it’s the latter.

They say one thing while clearly meaning something else. I could write a book about the subject, but for the sake of a talking point I’ll limit it to the few examples below:

Shortly after being installed as our new you-beaut Treasurer, Scott Morrison says “we had a spending problem, not a revenue problem, and that he wanted to cut taxes further”. Yet his boss Malcolm Turnbull wants to raise the GST by five percentage points (effectively raising it 50 per cent). Malcolm Turnbull also wants to raise the revenue the government needed to provide services but it in a manner that “backs Australians rather than holds them back”.

One of them has no idea what they’re talking about. One of them is lying.

But of course we have an unfair tax system. That’s why Malcolm Turnbull has money invested in the Cayman Islands, where companies and individuals pay no direct tax.

If only our tax system was fair. No wonder he wants a tax reform that “backs Australians rather than holds them back“. Don’t hold back, Malcolm.

Speaking of Malcolm, and speaking of investments, it was he who was the most vocal critic of Labor’s fibre to the home NBN yet “it was revealed … that Mr Turnbull owns shares in France Telecom, which plans to connect 60 per cent of French households to fibre by 2020”. Yet he still tells us that Labor got it wrong. So he destroyed it. Fortunately the French have a good NBN.

We are told ad-nausem by the proud and boastful government that they have stopped the boats. So why has Transfield – who operate the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres – had their contract renewed for another five years? One would expect that if the boats had stopped then all of the detainees would shortly be either settled in Australia (unlikely) or sent to some miserable hell-hole elsewhere in the world. (Oh, I know, if Labor wins the next election then all the boats will start again. Good forward-thinking by the government).
And of course there’s the obvious: if the boats have stopped then why have detention centres!

Confusion reigns supreme in the Turnbull Government, and the Turnbull Government confuses me.

What is better than drowning, according to the Australian Government?

The Federal Government is determined to stick to its policy of torturing innocent people to deter criminals. Apparently the only way to take power away from people smugglers is to ensure that perfectly legal asylum seekers who previously made it safely to Australia by boat are treated in the most barbaric way possible. In some kind of twisted Coalition logic, it asserts by its actions that the most effective way to prevent people drowning at sea is to torture those that survive.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton appears to understand that actions are more important than words, as does former Immigration Minister and current Treasurer, Scott Morrison. Both have made it clear that it’s not acceptable to simply intercept boats making their way to Australia, remove asylum seekers and detain the people smugglers. No, the only way to save lives is to detain and subject every man, woman and child to the cruellest, most inhumane treatment possible. The Coalition has a strong message for asylum seekers, “Dare to flee war, persecution or genocide, and we will make your lives so rotten you’ll beg to return to where you came from.”

According to the Coalition, there is nothing worse than drowning at sea. According to the actions of Dutton, Morrison, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, sexual abuse, violent assaults, and denial of medical treatment are all better than drowning.

In some respects, they have a point. Death is final. It is the end. There is no return from death. Drowning really is a final outcome.

Torture, on the other hand, rape, sexual abuse, violent assaults, denial of medical treatment; none of these things results in immediate death. No, these things, continuously supported by the Australian Government by its lack of action, ensure that people stay alive; although not so much alive as a lingering, painful existence from which there is no escape. Asylum seekers who attempt to escape by ending their own lives, are subjected to more pain and torture.

It seems the Australian Government is determined to stop people drowning at all costs.

Based on the events of the past few years, the Government has demonstrated a number of things that it believes are better than drowning.

  1. Being bashed to death by security guards who are meant to protect you.
  2. Dying a slow, lingering death from septicaemia from an untreated foot infection.
  3. Housing a five month old baby in a stinking hot, rat-infested tent without access to appropriate formula, hygienic facilities to prepare food, and placing her mother in so much stress she can’t breastfeed properly.
  4. Being so suicidal you can’t be trusted to be left alone for five minutes with a lawyer or husband, but considered well enough to be flown to detention in Nauru.
  5. Depriving women of basic sanitary items and forcing them to ask male security guards for pads while blood clots run down their legs.
  6. Leaving a young child with a broken arm untreated for weeks.
  7. Being brutally raped as a 23 year old, and denied medical treatment for weeks, if not months, and forced to continue a pregnancy that is making you physically sick.
  8. Having medical treatment delayed after being brutally raped and attempting suicide.
  9. Young boys being attacked, beaten and robbed.
  10. The sexual abuse of children.
  11. Sending children who are suffering from serious mental health issues back to detention where they won’t have access to proper treatment and their condition will worsen.
  12. Waterboarding and being cable-tied to a bed and dropped from height.
  13. Dying after being denied medical treatment for two weeks.

Astoundingly, while on one hand declaring that the arbitrary and indefinite detention of asylum seekers is necessary to deter the people smugglers, and proudly boasting of its cruel policies, the Government’s main defence in a High Court challenge to offshore detention was that it has no control over the detention centres and besides, there is now no detention after the Nauruan Government coincidentally opened up the centre several days before the challenge was to be heard. This is not the first time the Government has changed the rules at the last minute to thwart any attempts to test the legality of the offshore detention policy and hold it accountable.

The Australian Government behaves as though what happens on Nauru is not Australia’s responsibility. It deliberately and publicly sends men, women and children, including tiny babies, into torturous conditions, yet steps back and says, “its not our problem.” It says the detention centre is not “controlled” by Australia.

The Government’s defence amounts to “it’s nothing to do with us”. At least in this respect the Government’s words and actions are consistent. It continues to fail to act on mounting evidence of appalling conditions for asylum seekers and refugees on the remote island prisons, despite Turnbull recently expressing “concern”, as though the barbaric treatment of innocent people is news to him.

The Government uses the harsh treatment of asylum seekers detained in a third world shithole to attempt to deter people lawfully seeking asylum. It actively sends people to Nauru and Manus Island, and uses tax payer money for the management of the facilities, visas, and the security of the detention centres, yet absolves itself of all responsibility.

The Forgotten Children Report from the Australian Human Rights Centre provides clear evidence of the abhorrent conditions of immigration detention.

The United Nations has found that Australia’s immigration policy and conditions in detention centres amounts to torture.

The Moss Report, commissioned by the Government itself, found that there is evidence of rapes, sexual assaults and drugs for sexual favours in the Australian run centre on Nauru.

A Senate Committee Inquiry found that the Nauru detention centre is not safe for children.

United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants cancelled a visit as the Government could not guarantee that people who spoke with him would not be prosecuted under the Border Force Act.

Despite ongoing criticism, the Government insists on promoting the same tired line that anything compassionate, humane and in line with the basic standards of human rights expected in a Western democracy will lead to more deaths in Australian waters.

It seems that it’s not the deaths the Government fears; it’s the method of death and the publicity surrounding it. Heart wrenching images of children washed up on beaches turns asylum seekers from illegal immigrants to be feared into humans who deserve care and help. Instead, the Government supports the slow, lingering, torturous death of innocent people in detention, which it does everything to hide, threatening two years jail for doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals for publicly disclosing the appalling treatment of asylum seekers, including the sexual abuse of children.

“You’re going to die from a hunger strike protesting your inadequate treatment after being bashed in immigration detention? You shouldn’t have sought asylum by boat”, will be the next heartless press statement from Dutton. “If we relax our draconian policies, people might drown”.

Apparently anything is better than drowning.

 

“Tony” – A Case Study in Radicalisation

Apart from Karen’s case study, there are many others. Take “Tony”.

As a young man, Tony had the simple ambition of becoming the Pope, but the demands of celibacy combined with a demand that he cover his chest led him to drop out of the priesthood and before long he’d left the country to train overseas where he studied hand to hand combat at Oxford.

On his return to Australia he became involved in politics where he joined Hewson’s radical “Fightback” program, which had introducing the regressive GST as one of its aims. It also had a plan to make it too expensive for poor people to go to the doctor, which would hopefully reduce the numbers of them voting in elections.

When this was defeated in a popular vote because of the plans being accidentally released during a campaign launch – a mistake Tony was determined not to repeat – Tony decided that he was no longer satisfied with being behind the scenes and began his strategy for ensuring this plan didn’t die with Hewson’s de-radicalisation. He joined a sect with the oxymoronic name of the “Liberal politicians”. Claiming to be the love child of two of the senior members of this sect who had never had carnal relations,Tony subtly suggested that it was a virgin birth and that he was the messiah.

While such a claim may seem ludicrous to us, members of this radical cult found the claim to be plausible and were convinced by his claim that he could outdo the miracle of the loaves and fishes by returning the Budget to surplus while removing taxes with no significant spending cuts.

His capacity to reduce complex problems to three simple words impressed many, but ultimately this led him thinking that his followers would be satisfied with this when it became clear that the “plan” to which he constantly referred, consisted of nothing more than repeating the same simple slogans whatever the question. After a particularly tricky encounter where the ABC ambushed him by asking about the economy when he’d been practising, “stop the boats” all day, Tony was on a slippery slope.

Tony eventually relalised that he was on the wrong path when his colleagues voted in a new leader. Since then Tony has been helping to undo the damage that his group has done by giving beachside interviews to explain that his former colleague, “Scott” has been lying, as well as undercutting the new leader by saying that nothing’s changed.

Tony is expected to a great help to the other side of politics over the coming months.

 

Immigration Detention: try living with the life changing effects

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

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

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

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

Source: The Forgotten Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Jen Bethune.

Arise Scott Morrison, Lord Sixwords of Cronulla!

There’s little doubt that Scott Morrison is the Abbott Government’s most notorious minister. We read about him almost daily, largely about his hard-line towards asylum seekers, and given his new portfolio we await similar stories about a hard-line attitude towards welfare recipients. But apart from his regular appearances in the media we know little about him. George Venturini sheds more light on the man, taking us through a four-part series about the enigmatic Scott Morrison.

Arise Scott John Morrison, Lord Sixwords of Cronulla!

But why Sixwords? Simple: Eine Sprache, ein Gezetz, ein Kultur – translated into ‘One Language, One Law, One Culture’ for the benefit of the ‘boys of Cronulla’, Morrison’s grand electors.

Scott John Morrison, born on 13 May 1968, is a member of the Australian House of Representatives for the Liberal Party. He was elected in the 2007 for the federal Division of Cook, an electorate in the southern suburbs of Sydney, which includes Cronulla, Caringbah, Miranda and Sylvania. After the Liberal Party was elected to government at the 2013 federal election, Morrison was appointed the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

At age 46 he became the most powerful person in the Australian Government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

When on 8 December 2009 Morrison became Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship he won the accolade from the newly elected Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who referred to Morrison as “a great talent who was one of the bright new stars of the new generation of MPs.

Five years later no other minister, not the Prime Minister himself – or his Deputy, the Foreign Minister, not the Attorney-General, reached the same unchecked control over the lives of other people. He became the only minister not answerable to anyone for his decisions – a dictator within the most Right-wing government in Australian history.

At 8.06 in the morning of 8 December 2014 the House of Representatives passed the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill, which had been approved in the early hours of the day by the Senate and returned to the House as amended, into Act 135/2014.

The Act is a very complex, lengthy piece of legislation, which restores the failed policy of temporary protection visas introduced by the Howard Government – a process which, once lifted, increased the number of boat arrivals. The resolution of “Asylum Legacy Caseload” refers to the failure by the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments to “stop the boats” – which would become one of the slogans of the Liberal/Country Party Opposition during the electoral campaign concluded with victory of the Coalition in September 2013.

“Stopping the boats” of the Orwellianish described as ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’ has been for years ‘the policy’ of both wings of what passes for a tropical rendition of the Westminster System in Australia: the Conservative Coalition and the Australian Labor Party. It was to become the ultimate step of cruelty to asylum seekers which began with the introduction in 1992 of mandatory detention of such arrivals.

In fact the new Act will go much further than what appears as a house-cleaning operation. It frees Australia from any obligations associated with the Refugee Convention and half a dozen of other international treaties or conventions to which Australia is a party – but by which it has long ceased to abide.

The Act confers upon the minister, Morrison until 21-23 December 2014 and after that his successor, and his Department of Immigration and Border Protection the power to return people to persecution, torture and possibly death; that decision is not subject to judicial review.

For all practical purposes Morrison would become and his successor will henceforth be effectively above the High Court.

How did Morrison get there?

As Nick Bryant, a former BBC correspondent from Australia, noted in The Monthly of February 2012, Scott Morrison was born and grew up in Bronte, one of the affluent eastern suburbs of Sydney, now one of the wealthiest enclaves of Australia’s richest parliamentary constituency. His family background, however, could hardly be described as part of the élite. Rather, Bryant wrote, “it was strongly Christian and communitarian.”

His father was a police commander who founded the local Boys Brigade in Bondi Junction, played rugby for the local Randwick team and was an active member of the local Returned and Services League of Australia. His mother worked in administrative positions. Outside their day jobs, Morrison’s parents ran youth programmes for the local church. His father was involved in aged care and served as a local-government councillor for 16 years.

Scott Morrison was an active member of the Uniting Church in Bondi Junction, and became “a dedicated Christian”. He is now a Pentecostal, a member of the most rapidly growing denomination in Australia. He worships at an American-style mega-church called ‘Shirelive’ in his constituency, where the ‘gospel of prosperity’ is preached in an auditorium which can accommodate over 1,000 members. With its water baptisms and designer-shirt pastors, ‘Shirelive’ has close ties with the better-known ‘Hillsong’ community. The founder of Hillsong, Harley Davidson-riding pastor Brian Houston, is one of Morrison’s mentors.

In Who’s Who Morrison lists the church as his number one hobby. The inaugural speech that he delivered on 14 February 2008 reads in part, as will be seen, like a personal testimony delivered on the last night of a church retreat. It is heavily larded with passages from Jeremiah and also from the Book of Joel: “Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Maybe there was not enough money in the family to send young Scott to one of those (too many) private schools which are designed to instil ‘the values’ of Australian society in young aspiring leaders: conformity, a ‘Christian’ education, ‘good manners’ and the feeling that a ridiculous and backward looking uniform, cadet training, a traditional tie, a fanciful head-cover, and plenty of money would ‘buy an education first’, and the entry into the better-offs later. Still, Morrison’s formal schooling was privileged: he was sent to Sydney Boys High School, one of the best in the public sector. He proceeded to the University of New South Wales, where he received an honours degree in applied science, studying economics and geography. It is there, perhaps, that young Scott established his values and aspirations in life – officially: marketing, tourism, property, politics. [Emphasis added] The Italics seem critical. The official Parliamentary page describes his occupations before entering Federal Parliament: National Manager, Policy and Research Property Council of Australia 1989-95; Deputy Chief Executive, Australian Tourism Task Force 1995-96; General Manager, Tourism Council 1996-98; Director, NZ Office of Tourism and Sport 1998-2000; State Director, Liberal Party (New South Wales) 2000-04; Managing Director, Tourism Australia 2004-06; and Principal, MSAS Pty Ltd 2006-07.

After graduation he was fortunate, despite some ‘rough seas’: while in the employ of the Tourism Task Force he found a way of jumping ship to its main rival, Tourism Council Australia. Afterwards, the Tourism Task Force changed its employment contracts to prevent others from “doing a Morrison”.

When the New Zealand government looked around to set up an Office of Tourism and Sport, it favourably considered an application by Morrison. He distinguished himself for promoting the highly acclaimed ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign, but also came under fire from the Labor Opposition for acting as a sidekick to the tourism minister who had appointed him. When his benefactor was forced to resign for corrupt practices, Morrison lost his protector. He turned that to his advantage and was able to terminate in advance his contract, at a price – in his favour of course.

In March 2000 Morrison returned to Sydney, where the Liberal Party offered him an appointment as State Director. The Liberal Party prides itself on being a ‘broad church’. It is quite possible that in Sydney Morrison came into contact with one sample of such ‘liberality’. One comes to think of one Lyenko Urbanchich, or Ljenko Urbancic. The precise name is of no importance. His activity in the Liberal Party is. Arriving in the l950s, Urbancic found his natural den in the Liberal Party in Sydney. It was he who invented ethnic branch-staking in Australia. Through that every aspect of nefarious activities took place, particularly the profound hatred for Jews which had become one of Urbancic ‘specialities’ as broadcaster of Radio Ljubljana, in that part of Yugoslavia which was occupied by Fascists and German troops.

Having joined the pro-Nazi party Zbor in early age, while at university Urbancic became a capable organiser and propagandist. In early October 1943 he wrote his first pro-Nazi article and organised the first SS-supported Home Guard volunteers – the Slovensko domobranstv, Slovene Home Guard. Domobranci Urbancic wrote for Jutro newspaper, another source of collaboration with the Fascist-German occupiers. From the very beginning of his career he had pledged his blind loyalty to General Leon (or Lav or Lev) Rupnik, Slovenia’s puppet ‘president’. At the end of the war Urbancic fled from Slovenia, was later arrested but released from British custody in 1948, and arrived in Australia as a Displaced Person in late 1950.

For over two decades he stacked Liberal branches along the eastern sea-board part of New South Wales. His control of the Liberal Ethnic Council of New South Wales, set up in 1977, was absolute. His faction was openly called ‘the Uglies’. It did not die with the death of Urbancic in 2006; on the contrary, it continued by the care of an Upper House’s member – with quiet success. The key to that is anti-Semitism – broadly defined, and most of the time discreet, whispered, nudge-nudged and wink-winked. The transfer of that prejudice was to embrace in an attitude of diffidence, in time mounting to hatred, for most people from the Middle East (in a convenient Anglo ‘definition’): ‘the Arabs’, the Turks – who won at Gallipoli, the Lebanese – often lambasted as ‘bloody Lebs’, the Iraqis attempting to take refuge after ‘the good, real-Australians’ had recently invaded and devastated their country, and of course the Israelis, and the Palestinians. So Morrison was, quietly at first, in his comfortable milieu.

Morrison presided over the organisation of the Liberal Party in New South Wales, earning the praise by future Prime Minister John Howard, who said that he had never seen the state party better organised.

In 2004 Morrison landed the position of Managing Director of the new government tourism body, Tourism Australia. The Federal Member for North Sydney, Joseph Benedict “Joe” Hockey – who since his re-election in 1998 held a number of ministerial portfolios including Small Business and Tourism, Human Services and Employment and Workplace Relations, who was later made Minister for Financial Services and Regulation, and since the return of the Coalition to government in 2013 has been Treasurer – secured for Morrison the position of Managing Director of Tourism Australia 2004-06. The salary was a not insignificant: $350,000, yearly. Morrison gained a tremendous success, in Australia, with the campaign based on the slogan “Where the bloody hell are you?” Abroad he encountered considerable troubles, particularly in England, where the adjective ‘bloody’, so commonly used in Australia, is considered ‘not kosher’ according to the advertising regulations, which incidentally had not been read and/or understood by the enthusiastic Morrison. Americans and Germans had no problem with the word. The Japanese, to whom the publicity was principally directed, did not understand a word of the slogan. As far as they were concerned the campaign flopped.

There were also problems with the board of Tourism Australia, the nine members unanimously regarding Morrison as aggressive, intimidating, arrogant, authoritarian, secretive and exclusive. The matter was settled by allowing Morrison to resign, quietly but under no uncertain pressure. The matter carried a tag of $300,000 for a ‘gentlemanly separation’.

The time was not too far for Morrison to demonstrate “through [his] actions his Christian faith and the value [his] family placed on public and community service.” and to declare, as he would in his inaugural speech in February 2008, that: “In our family it has never been what you accumulate that matters but what you contribute.”

It was probably after the ‘separation’ that Morrison turned his attention to securing a seat in the federal Parliament. He had taken up residence in the seat of Cook. The Division of Cook, an Australian electoral division in the state of New South Wales, was set up in 1969 and is named for Captain James Cook, who mapped the east coast of Australia in 1770. The division, located in the southern suburbs of Sydney, includes the suburbs of Cronulla, Caringbah, Miranda and Sylvania.

The seat was held by the mild-mannered Bruce Baird from October 1988 to November 2007. Baird had held seriatim the posts of Minister for Transport, Minister for Sydney’s Olympic Bid and Minister for Tourism between 1988 and 1995, in a New South Wales Coalition government. He had an interest in Tourist Training Australia and the Tourism Education Service. But that was the only thing that Morrison and Baird had in common. Baird along with fellow Liberal members of parliament Russell Broadbent, Petro Georgiou and Judith Moylan would actively oppose mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

In April 2007, when Baird announced that he would retire at the next election, a fierce battle over his successor ensued. One Michael Towke was initially pre-selected as the Liberal candidate, but allegations surfaced that Towke had engaged in branch-stacking and had embellished his résumé. The allegations were subsequently proven false. But the damage had been done – by careful arrangement.

The ‘Right’ and the ‘Left’ in the Liberal Party engaged in one of the most vituperative pre-selection campaigns in the State history.

Morrison was not supported by either side, Baird remained decently neutral, and Morrison – who ostensibly had remained out of the fray – finished a long way back on the first ballot, receiving just 8 votes, against 82 to Towke.

It was then, and because of the arranged allegations, that the state executive of the New South Wales Liberal Party rushed to dis-endorse Towke and to hold a new pre-selection ballot. Morrison won the seat at the election; he is the current sitting member.

Scott Morrison presented himself as a Liberal moderate in his first speech to
Parliament.

As Julian Burnside, a prominent Melbourne barrister and human right advocate, recently pointed out, once in government, Morrison unrelenting, programmatic cruelty to asylum seekers, “sat oddly with his avowed religious views, and his maiden speech in Parliament, delivered on February 14, 2008.

Among other things, Morrison said: “I turn now to the most significant influences on my life – my family and my faith. Family is the stuff of life and there is nothing more precious … For me, faith is personal, but the implications are social – as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message …”

He drew on the example of William Wilberforce (the great English anti-slavery campaigner). He quoted Desmond Tutu as saying: “we expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked” and was inspired to add: “These are my principles.”

It is lucky he identified his principles so clearly, because no one would be able to discover them by watching his behaviour as immigration minister.

As minister, Morrison was more concerned to ensure boat people were treated so harshly that the prospect of being locked up in Manus or Nauru would act as a “deterrent”: it had to look more alarming than the risk of dying on the sea in the attempt to reach safety. He was responsible for holding more children in detention than any previous government. He presided over a system that was calculated to humiliate, degrade, damage and break people. And, worse than all that, Morrison deceived us into thinking that all this was being done for the benefit of the Australian public.

Morrison’s conduct as immigration minister is impossible to reconcile with his stated Christian beliefs. He visited the detention centre at Manus Island on September 26, 2013, and delivered a clear message that the transferees would remain at the centre until they went home or resettled in a country other than Australia. This stands awkwardly alongside a passage from Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”, a message at the heart of the Christian teaching he claims to embrace.”

Morrison was not destined to stay on the Opposition backbench for long. The Leader of the Opposition in 2008, Malcolm Turnbull, believing that he would recognise a fellow traveller from the ‘moderate wing’ of the party, elevated him to the Shadow Ministry as the spokesman for Housing and Local Government. But it was the immigration portfolio handed to him by the new Leader, Tony Abbott, in 2009 which provided the vehicle for his rise to prominence.

Some of his colleagues have criticised such rapid move to ‘the right’ under Abbott and have accused Morrison of “supreme opportunism”. The test was not long a-coming.

In December 2010, 48 asylum seekers died while attempting to reach Christmas Island by boat. Morrison’s attitude to the event was bitterly criticised by both the government and his own party for comments he uttered after the tragedy.

On 15 February 2011 the then Shadow Immigration minister questioned the decision of the Gillard Government to pay for relatives of the dead to attend funerals in Sydney.

Afterward fellow Liberal and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey denounced Morrison’s statements, saying that that he would “never seek to deny a parent or a child from saying goodbye to their relative.” Morrison acknowledged that the timing of his comments might have been insensitive, but did not recoil from the comments themselves.

“Do you think you run the risk of being seen as heartless on the day of these funerals to be saying – to be bickering over this money?” asked ABC reporter Barbara Miller, whose report that morning was broadcast on the programme AM.

Here is what Morrison replied: “When it comes to the question of do I think this is a reasonable cost then my honest answer is, ‘No, I don’t think it is reasonable.’ ”

The Fairfax press published a column which called him a “cheap populist”, with the outburst “harmful to the national interest”.

Caught unawares and always prone to equivocation, the Leader of the Opposition gave the remarks a lukewarm endorsement during the course of an interview with a notoriously Right-wing radio station. He said: “It does seem a bit unusual that the government is flying people to funerals.” Morrison’s comments were met with condemnation from former Liberal leaders. One called the comments “inhumane”. Another expressed his hope that “Scott Morrison is just a fringe element in the party.

Morrison was actually meaning what he said – and much more. In a very short time, understanding how quickly and conveniently the Liberal Party was lurching to the extreme right, he readied himself to become the hard-Right’s poster boy. It did not matter that he would associate with the militantly illiterate loud-mouths of re-emerging Australian racism. He thought it convenient, nay dutiful, that he should speak for his electors, no matter how degrading their views.

Within the Liberal Party it was not outrage to motivate criticism of Morrison’s attitude; rather it was fear that the mouthpiece of such vileness was being too ambitious and going too fast in the quest for ‘higher duties’.

Reaction to Morrison’s utterances encouraged leaks from party proceedings. One came from a Shadow Cabinet meeting in December 2011. In Abbott’s absence, Julie Bishop had been chairing the meeting. She had opened up a discussion on which issues should be prioritised the following year. The record of the meeting showed that Morrison had asked, in an agitated fashion: “What are we going to do about multiculturalism?” The question could be interpreted either way, but then Morrison made his position clear: “What are we going to do about concerns about the number of Muslims?”

For a long time multiculturalism had been a word of contempt in Cronulla, and Morrison was assuming the position of spokesperson for the people in his electorate.

There had been sectarian clashes and violent acts in 2005 in Cronulla, and they had subsequently spread to nearby suburbs. The situation became particularly tense on 4 December 2005 when a group of volunteer surf lifesavers were offended by a group of young men of Middle Eastern appearance, with several other violent assaults occurring over the following week. These incidents were widely commented on in the Sydney media and are considered to be a key factor in a racially motivated confrontation the following weekend. Racial tension was already prevalent among the two racial groups due to the Sydney Gang Rapes of 2000, among other social incidents. The Sydney gang rapes were a series of attacks committed by a group of up to fourteen Lebanese Australian youths against real-Australian women and teenage girls, as young as 14. Described as ethnically motivated hate crimes by officials and commentators, the crimes were covered extensively by the news media, and prompted the passing of new laws which likely contributed to the degree of the escalation, even though a later review by New South Wales Police found that the initial incident was no more significant, of itself, than other fights between the two racial groups.

A crowd gathered on the morning of Sunday 11 December 2005 and, by midday, approximately 5,000 people gathered at Cronulla beach to protest against the recent spate of violence against locals. Fuelled by alcohol, the crowd turned to violence when a young man of Middle Eastern appearance was spotted on the beach. He was surrounded by a crowd outside a local hotel and attacked, along with similar attacks later that day. Retaliatory riots also took place that night and on subsequent nights, resulting in several more assaults, including one stabbing and even some attacks against ambulance and police officers, and extensive property damage.

The attacks were widely condemned by local, state and federal members of parliament, police, local community leaders, and residents of Cronulla and adjacent areas. A large number of arrests were made over the subsequent months, from both the initial riot on 11 December and the retaliatory riots held over the subsequent nights. Travel warnings for Australia were issued by some countries.

Morrison had not yet reached federal parliament.

But he was there in February 2013 when he was accused of vilifying asylum seekers with his hard-line reaction to the charging of a Sri Lankan man living in Sydney on a bridging visa with the sexual assault of a university student. He said that the police should be notified of where asylum seekers are living in the community if any anti-social behaviour has occurred, and that there should be strict guidelines for the behaviour of those currently on bridging visas while they await the determination of their claims.

Image from radioaustralia.net.au

Image from radioaustralia.net.au

The new code of conduct was released by the Immigration Minister for more than 20,000 ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ living in the community on bridging visas. Before the end of the year the government announced a new rule which requires asylum seekers who arrive by boat and are in Australia on temporary visas to sign this code of conduct. Morrison repeatedly defended the use of the term “illegal arrivals” to describe asylum seekers and he had earlier said that asylum seekers have been referred to as “illegal arrivals” who “turn up illegally” on “illegal boats”. He further said that “I’ve always referred to illegal entry” – as opposed to claiming asylum, which is legal – commenting “I’ve never claimed that it’s illegal to claim asylum.”

On 18 September 2013 Morrison launched Operation Sovereign Borders, the newly elected Coalition government strategy aimed at stopping unauthorised boats departing for or reaching Australia. The practice has been controversial as it violates, amongst others, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In February 2014 Morrison was accused of “bungling” and “desperate cover ups” over the release of information about the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati on Manus Island. Initially Morrison had claimed that Barati was outside the boundaries of the detention centre when he was killed. Morrison subsequently retracted that claim following reports confirming that Barati was in fact murdered inside the detention centre, and therefore while under his duty of care as minister of immigration.

In September 2014 another Iranian asylum seeker, Hamid Kehazaei, was pronounced brain-dead as a result of severe septicaemia, after reportedly seeking treatment on Manus Island for days. Scott Morrison’s policies and perceived negligence have been the focus of numerous protests against conditions in detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

To be continued . . .

Updated 4/4/2016. Click on the links to access Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Dr. George Venturini has devoted sixty years to the study, practice, teaching, writing and administering of law in four continents. He is the author of eight books and about 100 articles and essays for learned periodicals and conferences. Since his ‘retirement’ Dr. Venturini has been Senior Associate in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash; he is also an Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University, Melbourne. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.

The Abbott Government has been an easy one to predict

On the eve of the 2013 election I wrote a piece titled, of all things, The 2016 Election. It was my prediction of who would win the 2016 election and why. Twelve months into Abbott’s (first and only) term the predictions have been spot-on. I don’t claim to have a crystal ball or have the ability to glimpse into the future. Rather, the future can be easy to predict when we are dealing with the predictable.

The Abbott Government have helped because they are just so damn predictable. Here is the article from September 2013:

Let us indulge ourselves and assume that Rupert Murdoch’s shonky Newspolls are correct and the incompetent, gaffe prone Tony Abbott wins the job of leading us after Saturday’s election and look ahead three years: what would happen in the 2016 election?

What would have voters learned after three years under Tony Abbott (and his moguls)?

The first thing they’d have learned would be the obvious: the Tony Abbott Government they voted in will in no way resemble the government they voted for. What they wanted, looks nothing like what they got. But I don’t think this will be the key issue so I will not adress it here. The issue will be about where the country is going, which would be nowhere, rather than how badly Abbott has been guiding it.

His term as leader would have reinforced our perception of him as he was in opposition. Tony Abbott would not have provided one tiny morsel of evidence that he had any plan of moving this country forward, let alone managing it. This was apparent in his term as Opposition leader. The preceding Labor Government focused fairly and squarely on moving forward but it was stalled not just by sorting through the mess left by the Howard Government, but also amid screams of horror from the opposition that the government was doing absolutely nothing. And as the Government’s term progressed during a period when it could have been meeting its commitments to the electorate and moving this country forward, it was further stalled by an obstructionist opposition, again, amid screams of horror from those causing the obstructions. Plus of course a fair amount of chest beating.

And by 2016 we would have learned that chest beating about stopping the boats (which will not be stopped) does not move the country forward. Unplugging the national broadband network does not move the country forward either. Nothing he has offered will.

There will be a different demographic in three years time and they will want to see the country move at a pace that keeps up with the rest of the world. And this new demographic is the key. In the three years leading up to the 2016 election youth will have become a powerful electoral tool. Boxlid, who has been a guest poster here commented that:

Our current youth is far more aware than generations before us, they don’t fall for spin and media proclamations, they know how to access information and share it between everyone else.

Ask the teachers in high school about their level of understanding of the students they are teaching. From what I hear, they have to spend extra time to keep up because they don’t have adequate resources available to them.

Our youth are adults at a younger age and capable of making decisions for themselves regarding their own lives. Difficult to accept isn’t it?

Our younger generation are not dumb and stupid. They are creating our future and from my interaction with them in many ways they are remarkable, skilled, talented and forward looking not just two years, not just five years or ten years: they are looking at fifty years or more and embracing all of the potential opportunities that the future has to offer.

The Abbott Government hasn’t offered this new demographic the possibilities of the future. By 2016 there will be hundreds of thousands of new voters demanding it. Hundreds of thousands of voters unhindered by the influence of a declining media and discontent with the country’s stagnation. They will have a voice.

Tony Abbott would have given no indication that he has any idea of what’s happening in the rest of the world. He would have shown also he has no idea that the mind-set of most people in the Western world has been dragged out of the 1970s. The world is not flat and we now live in a global society.

Furthermore, we are in a new environment of border-less or global economies and markets. One major challenge he faced in this global economy was to think, plan and act globally as well as domestically. He will have failed. He remained entrenched in his 1970s mindset. He failed to develop an international focus amid the diminishing influence of domestic markets in the face of the competitive global economy and global ideas (think technology and climate change). This global village provided an opportunity he overlooked. In 2016 we would have expected that a successful government recognised it as an opportunity and would have initiated changes in response to those opportunities.

Mr Abbott didn’t have a global mindset and he failed to move the country forward. The new demographic will recognise this far more than the rest of us and their vote will be influential. More so than ever before. The older demographic that Tony Abbott has appealed to will have diminished significantly.

What, then, would happen in the 2016 election?

My prediction: possibly Bill Shorten to lead Labor to a win over an out-of-touch Tony Abbott.

I may have erred on the latter. Tony Abbott and his government are living down to all expectations, but I’m not sure that Bill Shorten is living up to those expected of him.

Protesting for protesting sake?

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

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.

What’s there to crow about?

Image by imgur.com

Image by imgur.com

Tony Abbott is gleefully crowing about “100+ days without a boat”. What Mr Abbott seems oblivious to is that he has closed yet another door on people fleeing persecution and human rights abuses in places like Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The Taliban just fired rockets at the Electoral Office in Afghanistan so the upcoming election doesn’t look like it will make everything tickety poo over there either. Things don’t seem to be getting any better in Syria though the government haven’t done any mass gassings lately, not in the open anyway.

And it isn’t as if we have increased our humanitarian intake or processed any of the people already being illegally held in detention. This has cost us a fortune, subjected our navy to allegations of abuse, seen us internationally condemned, caused enormous mental and physical harm to vulnerable people, and Australian guards are now implicated in the death of a man who was under their protection. Yet this is supposed to be a success?

Tony’s team are also pushing very hard for the repeal of the carbon tax but it is becoming harder and harder to drown out the chorus of condemnation for such an act from world leaders, the UN, climate change bodies, scientists, economists and the citizens of the world. He accused the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, of “talking through her hat”, and said he doesn’t want to “clutter up” the G20 agenda with talk about climate change. Can you imagine how that was received?

Blatantly sacking scientists and advisory bodies to appoint climate change deniers to every position might allow you to fool people in Australia in the very short term. It will not change the science. This headless chicken (Prince Charles) flat earth (Barak Obama) denial is wasting precious time and shows us globally as unwilling to do our bit – something Australians have always been respected for in the past.

The Senate inquiry into the Direct Action Plan has released its findings and they are damning. If this process is to have any credibility, the Coalition must drop this idea and agree to move to an ETS with higher targets for emission reduction and renewable energy. It is what every expert recommends, especially the economists.

Greg Hunt must be the only Minister for the Environment who would be bragging about approving billions of dollars of new coal mining and port expansion which will unquestionably lead to the degradation of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. He has also advocated the removal of marine park legislation to allow for commercial fishing, removal of world heritage listing to allow for logging, and the building of dams in our ecologically sensitive pristine North. With an Environment Minister like that, who needs natural disasters?

And then there is the mining tax. On the 7:30 report, Abbott claimed that the mining and carbon taxes were partly to blame for BHP Billiton’s decision to delay the expansion of its huge Olympic Dam mine despite the fact that Marius Kloppers said it had nothing to do with the mining tax which doesn’t even apply to the copper, uranium or gold extracted from the site.

Mining profits worldwide have slumped by half since 2011 as the mining boom comes off its highs according to a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers which says that higher costs, more writedowns and fluctuating commodity prices have hit the fortunes of the top 40 mining companies including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

PwC Australia’s head of energy and mining, Jock O’Callaghan, says the possible repeal of the mining tax in Australia is unlikely to have much impact on Australia’s appeal to investors. Not surprisingly, the government has failed to take note of this advice.

Mr O’Callaghan says he expects more mines to close, including in Australia. “Certainly if we see a further downturn in commodity prices that is going to put more pressure on marginal mines,” he said. “There is no denying that and again that is not just an Australian phenomena.”

As Ross Gittins explains,

“For the income earned by an industry to generate jobs in Australia, it has to be spent in Australia. And our mining industry is about 80 per cent foreign-owned. For our economy and our workers to benefit adequately from the exploitation of our natural endowment by mainly foreign companies, our government has to ensure it gets a fair whack of the economic rents those foreigners generate.

Because Labor so foolishly allowed the big three foreign miners to redesign the tax, they chose to get all their deductions up-front. Once those deductions are used up, the tax will become a big earner. Long before then, however, Tony Abbott will have rewarded the Liberal Party’s foreign donors by abolishing the tax.

This will be an act of major fiscal vandalism, of little or no benefit to the economy and at great cost to job creation.”

Mining currently employs about 2.4% of our workforce but this is set to drop as they move into the less labour-intensive production phase. As we saw during the GFC, they are not altruistic benefactors and have little loyalty to their employees. According to Richard Denniss

“When commodity prices fell during the global financial crisis the first thing the mining industry did was sack thousands of their workers. Indeed, according to Treasury, if all industries had been as quick to punt their employees as the mining industry the unemployment rate would have hit 19 per cent rather than its peak of 5.9 per cent.”

Penny Wong described Abbott’s rhetoric regarding the mining tax as “one of the most dishonest, self-interested fear campaigns that we have seen in Australian politics” and I can only agree.

After saying there was no difference between Liberal and Labor on education, we have seen billions cut with a backing away from the bulk of the Gonski funding, the abolition of trades training centres, and cuts to the before and after school care program despite childcare being identified as far more important in improving productivity and workforce participation than paid parental leave.

We have also seen the Coalition attempt to repeal Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act in a bizarre attempt to “protect the rights of bigots”. Countless journalists have said they have not felt constrained in any way by this section of the act and do not see the need for its repeal. This is purely and simply a pander to Andrew Bolt and Rupert Murdoch. Promoting hatred under the name of free speech is a truly cynical exercise which has left many Australians feeling very uneasy about what is happening to our country.

According to the Coalition, our debt and deficit are a real problem and spending must be reined in. While listening to a relentless barrage softening us up for the cuts that are to come, we watch Tony Abbott spend money hand over fist on his Paid Parental Leave scheme, orange life rafts, unmanned drones, planes both for the Air Force and himself, grants to polluters, gambling on the foreign exchange market, tax concessions for the wealthy, subsidies to profitable mining companies, marriage guidance counselling vouchers, and gifts to pollie pedal sponsors.

We are also going to sell everything we own and spend billions to build roads.  Public transport and high speed rail will receive no funding.  I am sure the fact that cars rely on fossil fuels hasn’t entered into the decision making.

With the rollout of the NBN in limbo, Malcolm Turnbull has admitted that he cannot keep his pre-election promises. His inferior offering will take much longer and cost much more than he led us to believe and will be outdated before it is even completed.

Abbott’s rush to sign free trade agreements which include ISDS clauses with all and sundry (No. 87 on the IPA’s wish list), has put our nation at sovereign risk where we will risk being sued if we introduce laws to protect our health and environment. It will almost certainly lead to a huge increase in the cost of medicine as pharmaceutical companies block the release of generic medicines, and a host of other repercussions that we can only anticipate with dread.

We have the Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews, winding back gambling reforms and disbanding the oversight of charitable bodies. We have the Environment Minister disbanding climate change advisory bodies and removing environmental protection laws. We have the Health Minister disbanding bodies like the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, the Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia, and attacking Medicare with offices closed on Saturdays and co-payments likely. We have the Assistant Health Minister blocking a healthy eating website and the Assistant Education Minister asking childcare workers to give back their pay rise. In fact, I cannot think of one act or one piece of proposed legislation that has been in the best interest of the people of Australia.

With cuts to foreign aid, indigenous affairs, charities, and asylum seeker advocacy groups, it is increasingly obvious that the vulnerable can expect no protection or assistance from this government. They have made their agenda patently clear. Buy a ticket on the Good Ship Rinehart and lift with the rising tide, or be left to drown as the wealthy stand on the shoulders of the poor to board the corporate gravy train.

 

The boats have ‘apparently’ stopped, but are any of us actually better off?

Image courtesy of globalvoicesonline.org

Image courtesy of globalvoicesonline.org

What issues are important to Australians?

I don’t speak for all people but I’d suggest that if I said the issues included rising unemployment/job security, education, health, income inequality, aged care, climate change, the cost of living, adequate infrastructure, essential services, 21st century information technology or housing affordability it would be safe to say that I’ve covered one issue that would be important to (collectively) more than 95 per cent of us.

Now I would ask, “What has the government done to address any of these?” The answer to that is all too obvious.

All they’ve harped on about is that they’ve stopped the boats. Whether they have or not . . . is another matter. Oh, and they did mention education reforms, briefly, but stopping boats is their only claim for bragging rights.

And so what if they have stopped? Shane of Café Whispers asked:

How has this effected you personally? How has this effected the Aussie citizen? How has this effected jobs? How has this effected any of our personal lives? It hasn’t!

So true.

Shane has only just scratched the surface. I’ll continue to scratch away with more questions.

Is it going to bring relief to the workers at Qantas, SPC or anybody worried about their job security knowing that some wretched asylum seekers have been forced into a big orange life boat and sent back to Indonesia? Will that make their lives any better? Will it bring back Ford or Toyota? Does saving our borders save our jobs?

Will a better life await struggling pensioners because another boat has been stopped? Is the shopping dollar easier to stretch every time a boat is towed away? Has it done anything for the homeless Australians because a lifeboat has been set adrift?

And when the orange boat slips across the white sands of some Indonesian beach will it give us higher Internet speeds? Will it make housing, health care or education more affordable?

Each time Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison front up to the nearest microphone to proudly bleat that their government has lived up to its core promise of protecting our borders (from starving women and children) do you think it’ll mean more hospitals will be built? Or will it save another school from closing?

The boats have ‘apparently’ stopped, but are any of us actually better off?

Are houses more affordable because billions of dollars are being spent on ‘border security’?

No, no, no and no.

I return to Shane for my closing comment:

Honestly, if the only success this current government can come up with is stopping the boats then they will be a one-term government, because it has done nothing for the voters and their lives at all.

 

Are Tony Abbott’s matters of public importance still important?

With thanks to Open Australia here are the Hansard transcripts from 18 June on Tony Abbott’s matters of public importance. The then Prime Minister had already called the election for September 14 and Tony Abbott had submitted to the House a matter of public importance. The importance, of course, being the election of an Abbott Government. The following is self-explanatory:

Photo of Ms Anna Burke Ms Anna Burke (Speaker)

I have received a letter from the honourable the Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The urgent need for stable government to build a stronger economy for all Australians.

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition)

With the standing of the government and respect for this parliament at near record lows I regret to say that this parliament, the parliament now drawing to its close, has been a low and dishonourable one.

At the beginning of the life of the current government, the Prime Minister stood and said to the Australian public that she would be:

… faithful to the trust that has been extended to us.

In 88 days time the public will finally have their chance to pass judgment on just how the Prime Minister has been faithful to the trust that was placed in her. I suspect that that will be a critical judgment because, wherever you look, this is a parliament which has let down the Australian people and a government which has betrayed the trust that the people extended to it—only just, nevertheless, they did extend to it—at the last election.

There is the carbon tax that was never going to happen, which did happen. There was the surplus—the ‘no ifs, no buts surplus’—that would happen come hell or high water and that has never happened. Instead, we have a debt that is now racing towards $340 billion. There is the mining tax, which has achieved the extraordinary outcome of damaging investment, damaging confidence and employment, without actually raising any revenue.

There was the live cattle ban, in panic at a television program—perhaps the most disastrous decision ever taken towards one of our near and important neighbours in our country’s history. There was the political execution of an excellent Speaker because it suited the political convenience of the Prime Minister. We have had three leadership challenges in three years. We have had the protection racket that has been extended towards the member for Dobell by a Prime Minister only too familiar with the operation of union slush funds.

There was the Australia Day riot, which turned out to have been orchestrated out of the Prime Minister’s office. But, above all else, there was the failure that will haunt the memory of this parliament and this government: the ongoing disaster on our borders, a disaster that the Prime Minister promised to fix on 24 June 2010.

We have had almost 45,000 illegal arrivals by boat—more than the population of Gladstone, more than the population of Coffs Harbour, more than the population of Shepparton and more than the population of Mount Gambier. No-one wants to see any Australian government fail. No-one wants to see any Australian government give up on governing but that, I regret to say, is what this government has done.

We have 88 days until the election. The people will then have their chance to pass judgment on this government. They will have a choice between an incompetent and untrustworthy government and a coalition that will stop the boats, that will repeal the carbon tax and that will get the budget back into the black. That is the pledge that we make to the Australian people and that is a pledge that we will honour.

As things stand, the Australian people are frustrated and angry. They are frustrated and angry with a government that has let them down and a government that has repeatedly betrayed them. Indeed, Labor people—decent, honourable Labor people—are embarrassed and even ashamed at the performance of this government. I am pleased that the member for Hotham has stayed in the House to listen to this MPI, because the member for Hotham called it for Australia. That is what he did: he called it for Australia when he said he could no longer serve on this Prime Minister’s frontbench. I regret to say that this particular government is now beyond cure. This particular government is now past the point of no return. The poison is so deep, the division and dysfunction so deep that there is nothing that can save the contemporary Labor Party except time out to decide what it actually stands for and what it now believes.

The Australian people are an optimistic people. We know that better times can come. We know that better times are ahead of us but what we need is a government that you can trust and a government that is competent to deliver effective administration. I want to say to the Australian people: I am proud of the team that I lead. I am proud of the fact that the team I lead is representative of the breadth and depth of the Australian people. I am confident that there would actually be more former tradesmen on this side of the parliament these days than on that side of the parliament. I am proud of the fact that the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives is sitting on this side of the parliament for the Liberal Party. I am proud of the fact that, if every coalition candidate in this election were to come to this parliament, the most common name in the Liberal Party party room would be Nguyen. It is a sign of just how much the modern Liberal Party is standing foursquare with the decent people of our country.

I know that our team is ready to form a stable and competent government. My team does not need to learn on the job, because my team has done the job before. Sixteen members of the shadow cabinet were ministers in a government that did stop the boats, that did bring the budget back into the black, that did get taxes down, that did abolish unnecessary taxes. We have done it before and we will do it again. We understand in the marrow of our bones that you cannot have a strong society, you cannot have strong communities without a strong economy to sustain them, and a strong economy pivotally depends upon profitable private businesses. We understand this. We get this. We know that it is not government that creates wealth; it is business that creates wealth. No government has ever taxed a country into prosperity. Plenty of governments have taxed a country into the ground. Not one has ever taxed a country into prosperity.

So our economic plan starts with abolishing the carbon tax and the mining tax. We will cut red tape. We will boost productivity so that the creative businesspeople of this country can get a fair go to survive and prosper, and so the workers of Australia can get a fair go to keep their jobs and to prosper. A strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia—that is how this coalition will deliver hope, reward and opportunity should we be entrusted with the government of this country in 88 days time. We will relieve the pressure on families. We will relieve the pressure that we know the families and households of Australia are under. Under us they will keep the tax cuts and pension and benefit rises, but they will most assuredly lose the carbon tax.

This is not just about creating a richer country; it is about creating a better country too. What I want to achieve—what my team wants to achieve—is giving the Australian people confidence that we can come closer to being our best selves. We are all conservationists now. That is why I want direct action to improve our environment, not a great big new tax that will clobber the economy without actually reducing our emissions. As well as an emissions reduction fund for more trees, better soils and smarter technology, there will be a green army 15,000 strong marching to the help of our degraded land and waterways. Anyone who looks at our country knows that land care needs more than the largely volunteer efforts of farmers and of understaffed local councils. We will give our country the workforce it needs if our remnant bushland is to survive and if our creeks are to run clean. We will give idealistic young people and older people a way to turn their environmental commitment into practical action so that our gift to the future will be a country in better shape than that which we inherited.

Should the coalition win the election, I will continue my practice of spending a week a year as a volunteer in a remote Indigenous community. If people are expected to live there, a Prime Minister should be prepared to stay there and senior public servants should be prepared to stay there too. Nothing would focus people’s minds more on the issues of remote Australia than conducting the government from there even if it is only for a week. I do not underestimate the challenges of crafting an Indigenous recognition amendment that will be an advance for Aboriginal people without creating two classes of Australian. No, I do not underestimate the difficulty of this challenge; but, should there be a change of government on 14 September, we will persevere and get this right. In so doing, this nation of ours—this great nation—will finally be made whole.

Everyone knows that I am a late convert to the cause of a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme. I am a late convert, but I tell you I have a convert’s zeal. Why should people get their full pay while on holiday and on sick leave and just a welfare wage while on parental leave? If blokes had babies, this never would have been tolerated. I did not always understand this, but I do now. A fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme is an important economic reform. It is good for population, it is good for productivity, it is good for participation—in fact, all three of the Ps which economic strength requires. Most of all, a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme is an issue of justice—justice for the women of our country that will finally be delivered under a coalition government.

I know I surprised people three years ago with this commitment to a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme, but serious people do have the capacity to grow and I am pleased to say that I understand this issue much better now than I did a decade ago. I have learned from watching the example of good leaders—people like Bob Hawke as well as John Howard, who made the transition from tribal chief to national leader. I understand that a Prime Minister should never set out to deliberately divide one Australian from another, as we have seen in this current parliament. A Prime Minister should never think that he or she is somehow bigger than the party or the country. Prime ministers must always be the servants of their party and, above all else, the servants of their country.

Finally, should there be a change of government on 14 September, this parliament must be a better place. There has been too much venom and too many baseless accusations of bad faith—and I suspect we might even have a few in a few moments. We are better than that, and I hope to have a chance to demonstrate that we are better than that. After 14 September I am confident that the people of Australia will be able to have more pride in their parliament.

So in summary:

Tony Abbott’s team is ready for the job. They do not need to learn anything.

Tony Abbott will be abolishing the carbon tax and the mining tax.

He will cut red tape.

He will boost productivity

He will deliver hope, reward and opportunity.

He will relieve the pressure on families.

He will deliver justice for the women of our country.

He is now a conservationist.

He will have “green army 15,000 strong marching to the help of our degraded land and waterways”.

He “will give our country the workforce it needs if our remnant bushland is to survive and if our creeks are to run clean”.

He will spend a week a year as a volunteer in a remote Indigenous community.

He will craft an Indigenous recognition amendment.

He will make Parliament a better place.

And of course, he will stop the boats.

Let us see if those matters which were of such public importance to Tony Abbott on 18 June are still important from this day forward.

For the Greater Good

greater good

The Greater Good

Predictably today in the main stream media and online people are voicing their opinions about the Government’s decision to virtually cut of access to Australian shores for those seeking asylum. Many supporters of the ALP find the decision an affront to their ideological instincts of social justice. The Greens are outraged and the conservatives outwitted. There is much indignation that we have divorced ourselves of our international responsibilities under the refugee convention.

“There of those who like to opine about politics yet conveniently leave out the political consequences when forming it?”

I have read with sympathetic eyes the discourse of people on this subject. I understand the principles with which they argue and I fall into the same category of moral indignation. Where I differ though is that I take into account the politics of the argument. Others see things purely in black and white terms or in simple solutions to highly complex problems. For example do I stand on my soapbox of idealistic belief in the knowledge that it might cost government? How does one measure the cost of a principle against the loss of government?

For me the extension to an argument is ‘’how does this fit into my theory of the greater good?’’ The first rule of politics is to attain power and the second rule is to retain it. Otherwise your ideology is worth nothing. You can do much for the greater good in government but little in opposition.

It’s all very fine to bath in the waters of idealism but sometimes we have to dry ourselves with a towel of political compromise and pragmatism.

So if at the heart of this matter is the altruistically paramount concern for saving lives then surely the Prime Minister should be applauded. Wasn’t it all about that? If it wasn’t and it was about winning government then those of that ilk are now revealed.

Tony Abbott’s mantra or three word slogan of ‘Stop the boats’ has for three years rung in the ears of Australians and entered the labyrinth of our conscience and abused it. With the use of language unbecoming of decent men he and Scott Morrison have demonised those seeking asylum disgracefully. The result being that they ran from man’s grace and benevolence into the arms of unrighteousness. They and the likes of Howard turned our cherished belief of everyone’s right to a fair go into a draconian pit of racism. And all for a few votes. May the conscience of human rights be upon them? One of my facebook friends Brendan J Kelly had this to say. He should have included the opposition in his summary.

”Unfortunately, there are a great many Australians who have been driven to a xenophobic frenzy by the MSM. The fears of these people have been fed by media bias and by shock jocks who care more about ratings than the truth.
The problem is it exists. We cannot destroy it through our ideals or even, it would appear by sound argument. How can sound argument stand against emotionally charged, fear-filled rhetoric?”

The political consequences of this decision (and others) are enormous. In the space of three weeks Kevin Rudd has turned the political discourse on its ear. The opposition have been forced to accept this solution because of its previous intransigence and has taken away a major part of its electoral platform. Tony Abbott’s belief that oppositions are there to oppose has come back to haunt him where as being constructive might have benefited him. The same can be said for the problem of Climate Change. His negativity has spread like rust through the community but Rudd has politically outfoxed him and the ALP have more than an even chance of winning this election.

No, I will never always agree with every policy of the party I support but I know that having them in office is one hundred per cent better than having a person of such little character like Tony Abbott in the lodge.

Therefore I am prepared to compromise my idealism. Not easily but I do.

As I have written previously Tony Abbott if nothing else is a very colourful character. He is aggressive both physically and in the use of language. His negativity is legendary and he has little consideration for any ideas other than his own and says NO to his opponents policies regardless of their worthiness. He is by evidence and his own admission a liar of some regularity. Added to that he has a political gutter mentality and little respect for the institution of parliament and its conventions.

Would you be willing to turn over government to such a man? Or compromise your idealism?

 

Repudiating the negative of the Coalition’s big budget advertising campaign

theTruth Matters

In his syndicated column this week Laurie Oakes tells us that the Coalition is about to launch a big budget advertising campaign against the Prime Minister. He describes it as an “Artillery barrage”. The campaign comprises both positive and negative advertisements and are based on the results of focus group interviews.

As former marketing man let me tell you a little about my experience with focus groups. Generally speaking they accomplishing little. The people in the groups usually know little about the product or service being discussed. Those that do tend to dominate the others and you end up with a distorted view. When this becomes apparent the convener resorts to questions designed to get the answers they want or what the client expects. A waste of time in my view.

Mr Oakes says that the advertisements will attack Kevin Rudd’s performance in his first period as PM on a number of fronts. They will presented as facts but because Truth Matters I will address them individually.

“Fact: Kevin Rudd was borrowing 100 million dollars every day”.

Malcolm Turnbull the then opposition leader agreed with the borrowing (all be it at a lessor amount) and the reasons for doing so. Conservatives are in complete denial of the fact that a Global Financial Crisis actually occurred. Remember the Treasury advice. Go in big and go in hard. Australians should be thankful Rudd took it.

“Fact: Now we have a 254-billion dollar debt”.

Yes we do. Some is being used to build the NBN and on completion when it is sold will be returned to general revenue and repaid. Most economists and world economic institutions give high praise for the government’s handling of what could have been this country’s greatest ever financial disaster. We had a choice. The disaster or the debt. I for one am glad we chose the debt. And remember that it is as a percentage to GDP almost the lowest in the world.

“Fact: He wasted up to eight billion dollars on school hall rip offs”.

The schools building program was more successful than Tony Abbott would have us believe. Three comprehensive reports from the BER Implementation Taskforce chaired by businessman Brad Orgill showed over 97% satisfaction with the program. The report said: “Overall, the Taskforce found that the majority of education authorities attained value for money and delivered quality education facilities. The Final Report notes that the program has touched every community in Australia, and delivered substantial stimulus.” There was some overcharging, mostly in NSW where the rollout was fastest. There was some waste, but overall there was value for money, not billions of dollars wasted as the opposition asserted. The report said that the majority of those who had children at the schools where improvements had been made were well satisfied with the program.

“Fact: He was the architect of the roof batt’s disaster”.

The much maligned pink bats program was not the disaster the opposition made it out to be. Official records show that there were no fires in 99.98% of the million ceilings insulated. Two in ten thousand (224) had fires and just thirty had structural damage. This rate of fires was less than occurred prior to the HIP So that ironically the scheme in the long term has actually prevented house fires.

Tony Abbott has stated, “No good government would ever spend more than a billion dollars putting pink batts into roofs and a billion dollars to take them out again.” This has been shown to be a lie. The cost of rectification of faulty insulation installation was nowhere near that figure. Around twenty percent of ceilings had inspections but only 4.2% had rectification works to make them safe.

“Fact: In 2008 he dismantled our border protection polices and now 45,000 boat people have flooded in”.

Yes to a degree he did dismantle the policy at a time when Middle Eastern conflict had calmed down. And dismantling the Pacific Solution was a bipartisan decision. The pull factors of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka had not yet begun. Mr Abbotts mantra of “Stop the boats’’ still rings in our ears but if anything, the boats are increasing and Mr Abbott can no longer guarantee anything. He can now only promise to” substantially reduce the flow of boats”.

What has changed?

The Government has adopted most of the Coalition’s policies on boat arrivals – including offshore processing and protection visas – leaving Abbott with just one point of differentiation. He has promised to turn the boats around and added the proviso ‘When safe to do so” in the full knowledge that the navy will not do so.

The truth of what has happened is that Abbott has decided to backtrack on his two and a half-year promise knowing that for this period he has engaged in the most racist vile dog whistling politics focused on people who are politically ignorant and disengaged. All for gaining votes in seats in the Western suburbs of Sydney.

At the time of writing, Abbott and Morrison are running away from their policy of stopping the Boats faster than Usain Bolt over 100 meters. Now they cannot say if or when they might be able to fulfil their long-standing undeniable commitment of the past two and a half years.

On Andrew Bolts 2GB Program Scott Morrison admitted the ‘stop the boats’ promise was something the Opposition would only be ‘attempting’ to do if they make it to government – and he could not say when. In fact, he said a Coalition Government wouldn’t ‘stop the boats’ but rather be ‘aiming’ for the same levels as under Howard.

When repeatedly asked when a Coalition Government could reduce the number of boats to Howard-era levels in their first term, he responded with:

‘I’m not making such forecasts’

‘I don’t put timeframes on it’

Therefore, the leader of the opposition has finally after two and a half years admitted that he has really been taking the Australian people for a ride. He is guilty of playing race politics with people’s lives. And the pity is that had he been following the ministry of his Lord, he could have been part of the solution. He has no more chance of stopping the boats under the current circumstances than does Labor.

Well spending one and a half billion dollars on seven drones so as he knows where they are might help.

“Fact: He attacked our mining industry with a super profits tax that failed”.

The super profits in principle is a sound tax because it produces a more equitable share of the country’s wealth and was designed to be most fruitful at times when excessive profits are being made. Commodity prices dipped and so did the revenues. A smart government would retain it. And it did raise around 250 million.

“Fact: He did a backflip on the carbon emissions trading scheme and supported the world’s biggest carbon tax”.

For a start, it is an ETS with a 3 year fixed price period, but that aside:

“According to a 2009 US Department of Energy report, Sweden applied a “standard” rate of US$104.83 per tonne of CO2 and an “industry” rate of US$23.04 per tonne of CO2, Norway’s tax ranged from US$15.93 to US$61.76 while Finland applied a rate of US$30 per tonne. Earlier this year the Climate Institute released its Global Climate Leadership Review 2012 where Sweden’s carbon price was given as US$130/tonne CO2 — while other sources estimate it as $150/tonne. When calculated on the basis of Gross National Income, Australia’s carbon price is lower even than India.”

The carbon tax has proven to be effective in driving down our emissions. Abbott has in the past even admitted that it was the best method. His direct action plan is nothing more than a joke and commentators are treating it as such. I am firmly of the belief that the LNP are in such denial climate change that they have little intention of doing anything.

“Fact: With five budget deficits and the carbon tax Kevin Rudd and Labor have driven up the cost of living”.

Kevin Rudd and Labor have NOT “driven up the cost of living”. Recent figures show that due to reduced interest rates, changes in tax thresholds, etc, the average family has $7,000 MORE disposable income than in 2007.

The fact is that the carbon tax is responsible for a 1.2% increase in the cost of living. We have a measure called the Consumer Price Index that measures the cost of living. This is in the reserve bank’s target range. I think the conservatives get confused between the cost of living and the cost of lifestyle.

“Fact: Now he’s divided the Labor Party again, with one third of cabinet ministers refusing to work with him”.

There is no doubt that Kevin Rudd has stood on a few toes within the party however when I compare his character with that of Tony Abbott’s I am almost at a loss for words. The people can make that judgement.

I have not seen the advertisements however I would suggest that they may just have a reverse effect. That being that they will continue to brand Tony Abbott in a most negative fashion. A person who is constantly negative with little good to say about anything or anyone. Australians are just sick of all the negative stuff.

“The conservatives would do better to concentrate on why Mr Abbott is so unpopular”.

Fact finders should have a ball with all this.

 

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

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

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

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

TAKE NOTE of this date. 10 April 2013.

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

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

It was nothing short of cringe-worthy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Labor have lost control of our borders.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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