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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back to the future on boat people - Australia's political culture fails the test of leadership

I am appalled by the decision to reprise the Pacific Solution. On so many levels it is an abject failure of public policy. A legacy of the Howard years is a default toward fear and division on the issue of boat arrivals. It was an easy target for ideologues bent on shoring up the conservative support base with a radical reactionary agenda that lends itself easily to demagoguery.

Although the recommendations of the expert panel point toward a more humane regional framework approach as a long term objective, the reality is that many asylum seekers will be subject to years of uncertainty and an outright violation of their human rights by a Labor Government. A mandatory detention regime is a violation of human rights. To preempt someone's refugee status on the basis of their irregular arrival by boat is illogical and cruel. However, the tenor of public debate in Australia since Tampa has been infused with the kind of hysteria associated with fear politics. We have seen this construct at work all through history and it invariably succeeds for a period, until people wake up to the fact that their prejudices have been manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and their supporters for political gain.

The evil banality of the hypocrisy underpinning the Coalition's stance on boat arrivals is laid bare for anyone with a passing knowledge of refugee matters. You will hear constant mealy mouthed posturings by Coalition politicians purporting to be concerned about the refugee convention and the welfare of children. In the same breath as they plead for off-shore processing to be restricted to countries that have signed the refugee convention, they advocate turning back boats to a country that hasn't signed the convention, putting the unfortunates on board in more harm's way. Where was this great concern for the refugee convention when the Pacific Solution was initiated? No where to be seen.

The media has mainly been a pliant player in prosecuting this nasty farce. It is hard to feel proud of this country when its key institutions are so culpable in enabling this mind-numbing outcome to be foisted on the body politic. Rather than represent the best of us, these politicians have stooped lower and lower to the point where we are plumbing new depths of intolerance, fear and cruelty, with poor neighboring countries active participants in this perfidy. It is truly disgusting and should be condemned in the strongest terms.

I'm ceasing this blog activity as my will to persevere has been crushed by this demoralizing climate of bigotry and 'creeping crypto-fascism'. I find I don't have anything else to add - my previous posts sum it up. I am ashamed of this country's political culture, which routinely rewards the worst political opportunists who dress themselves in the garb of the common folk and who pitch successfully to the lowest common denominator. There are none worse in my lifetime than the current leader of the Opposition. Poor fella my country.....

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Sheridan in trouble over use of the term 'illegals' - what are the odds this pamphleteer would be whipping up fear & loathing?

Crikey reports today that "Sheridan flouts Press Council directive on ‘illegal’ asylum seekers". I put my two bob's worth into the fray, repeating sentiments oft articulated on this site:

"Sheridan is amongst a group of commentators on international affairs who dress narrow polemics up as reasoned analysis. This guy is a propagandist from way back.

The asylum seeker issue is fuelled by hysteria and incendiary demonising by his ilk and finds a largely credulous audience with their ready prejudices (like this twit above), ready to disbelieve the legitimate claims of asylum seekers who didn’t stand in a non-existent queue of orderly people waiting for whichever repressive regime they are escaping to allow them to migrate, or a third world stopover suffused with social and economic disadvantage. The silliness of this position overwhelms me at times.

The history of propaganda reveals you can package lies very successfully if they play to irrational fears and prejudices – it is especially difficult to counter when cloaked in the garb of ‘border security’. So the term ‘illegals’ is tailor made for the job!

The Coalition’s constant vilification of Labor for being weak on border protection has now morphed into a hypocritical concern for the rights of refugees. These of course - yes, you guessed it - will be protected on Nauru.

But how can anyone forget the Libs’ response to Tampa and kids overboard? Blame the victims for their own plight, extract as much sensationalism out of the role of people smugglers, put words in the mouth of ADF personnel who cannot answer for themselves, and then whip up public sentiment against refugees. Throw in dollops of confected outrage over your political opponents complete lack of preparedness to face down the ‘threat’ and you have your stock in trade ‘dog whistle’ response to the terrible plight of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Oh, I forgot - then you can set about making weak neighbouring countries complicit in policies that violate human rights! Sadly, the Labor government fell in behind this construct too easily! It now has an opportunity to put things right.

Is it possible that our general decency might be something Australians can be proud of again? A sensible, humane and orderly approach to offshore processing, which involves regional partners to their benefit, could be a crucial element to stymie the smuggling trade, whilst enabling on-shore processing within the community after mandatory health checks are completed in short-term detention.

Arrangements with key community groups to manage welfare, work-for-allowance strategies and language training could be developed to integrate asylum seekers in the larger society soon after their arrival. Regional areas with labour shortfalls could be targeted for short-term settlement in this respect.

The UNHCR & IOM could be brought in as partners in the process to lend their mandated legitimacy to the exercise. Isn’t it time to stop playing the narcissistic school-yard drop-kick with the bullying posture and derogatory language and start behaving like responsible grown-ups?"

What are the odds?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Media nasties getting warmed up on carbon tax and asylum seekers

Occasionally I wander off the reservation into hostile territory to see how the restless are behaving. Today’s sojourn was Ackerman’s blog on the Daily Telegraph, with the catchy title, “Carbon tax is like a stink bomb in a very small car”, a nasty little polemic which can be read at:

http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/piersakerman/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/carbon_tax_is_like_a_stink_bomb_in_a_very_small_car/

The comments section were like a tea party picnic convention, with the only thing missing being confederate flags, pit bulls and attack rifles. I left the following comment & withdrew to higher ground:

“Wow, what a grizzle fest.! This should be called Ackerman and his acolytes. Hey, you all trying to out do each other in the ‘who can be the most gratuitously vacuous and obnoxious’ stakes, you are no doubt frothing with excitement at the prospect of a political shock-jock like Abbott break dancing his way into office. Be careful what you wish for.

We get a daily diet of reactionary, simple minded drivel on issues such as immigration & asylum seekers and important areas of public policy are ‘spun’ through the lens of media pamphleteers like this author, who knows how to pitch to a well-worn prejudice and who survives on a dumbed-down strategy of sound-bites, ‘gotcha’ moments and limpid sensationalism. This is political analysis reduced to talk-show patter and infotainment for a presumed audience with a knowledge base and the concentration span of a distracted gnat. Oh, that’s right, I forgot, its a conspiracy of latte-sipping left wingers in inner city suburbs – spare me!! If you believe that drivel you and this author are made for each other.

Under the ‘great con’ Abbott has replaced the biking lycra with reflective lime industrial tops & roams bloke dominated small businesses and mining enterprises, filleting fish, carrying cartons of stuff, digging up stuff, butchering meat, rolling in oats and wheat, etc etc etc, pretending to care about working people and announcing the end of civilization as we know it. A true ‘man of the people’ with an eye to the big end of town (nudge, wink) …Howard battlers should be checking their back pockets because they’re being shafted again.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - can Australia 'grow up' and confront its past failings in this area of human rights?

The Howard govt turned itself inside out to excise huge slices of the migration zone as part of its manic determination to repel 'boat people'. The Pacific Solution fiasco underpinned the 'illegal boat people' wedge Howard launched in 2001. I was part of the PM's task force that worked on these issues.

Sadly, the 'dog whistle' has been sounded loud and clear by Abbott and his conga line of wing nut mates, and the 'xenophobe' crowd have responded with alacrity. Within their simple-minded construct it's all the Gillard government's fault! Labor instigated a more humane approach to refugees, although it would have been improved by taking the Christmas Island stopover out of the equation and emphasising community processing. Rudd abolished the egregious TPV regime, which was a violation of refugee rights and a nasty scar on our human rights landscape. Having explored regional offshore processing options to negate the people smuggling trade, Gillard is now flagging a shift toward a more reasoned approach, having failed to get bi-partisanship on offshore processing!

The Coalition's constant vilification of Labor for being weak on border protection has now morphed into a hypocritical concern for the rights of refugees. These of course - yes, you guessed it - will be protected on Nauru.

But how can anyone forget the Libs' response to Tampa and kids overboard? Blame the victims for their own plight, extract as much sensationalism out of the role of people smugglers, put words in the mouth of ADF personnel who cannot answer for themselves, and then whip up public sentiment against refugees. Throw in dollops of confected outrage over your political opponents complete lack of preparedness to face down the 'threat' and you have your stock in trade 'dog whistle' response to the terrible plight of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Oh, I forgot - then you can set about making weak neighbouring countries complicit in policies that violate human rights! Sadly, the Labor government fell in behind this construct too easily!

The cruel stupidity of processing asylum seekers in excised areas (unable to access the same legal rights as those who reach our migration zone by air) or in countries unwilling to treat people humanely, must end. Either by default or Machiavellian manoeuvring, Labor can now align our Migration Act with international law and refugee conventions and kick the Howard construct to the 'shit house' of history.

Asylum seekers in Australia - New approaches to onshore processing



Cabinet ministers have begun discussing whether to send asylum seekers to regional areas in need of workers.

Anyone who reads this blog (at least 5 people) will know I put a number of points to the PM recently on ways and means of managing onshore processing. Trawling through Poll Bludger this morning I stumbled across a comment that quotes Misha Schubert's piece in The Age, entitled 'Off the boat, into the bush'.

It seems these ideas are percolating around policy makers in the immigration area!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - PM moves to treat asylum seekers more humanely


Writing in The Age, Michael Gordon, reports on the sharp shift in the Gillard Government's approach to asylum seekers:

"PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has conceded defeat on her asylum seeker policy, forcing her to signal a shift to more community-based processing of people who arrive in Australia by boat.

In a humiliating admission of failure, Ms Gillard finally conceded last night her asylum seeker legislation had collapsed - but insisted she remained committed to the Malaysia people-swap plan that the bill aimed to legalise.

In the meantime, the government says it will process more asylum seekers arriving by boat in the community to stop an expected increase in numbers overloading the immigration detention system."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - Open letter to the Prime Minister

Prime Minister, I'm one of those rusted on Labor supporters who let my membership lapse prior to the last election because of disillusionment with the drift away from core Labor values in the 'business' of politics.

Under the Howard government mandatory detention of asylum seekers evolved into a tragic farce. Australians were alarmingly sanguine about the travesty. Its worst manifestation was the Pacific Solution, which I became embroiled in as AusAID Director of the Nauru aid program. Of particular concern to me were the tawdry misuses of official aid under the Pacific Solution and the downstream implications of the strategy, which was made up on the run by bureaucrats doing their level best to engineer good outcomes from bad political motives. The perfunctory official approaches adopted toward self-harming detainees were another disturbing aspect.

As the Party responsible for the legislative framework (in particular 'mandatory detention') within which Howard evolved his refugee 'house of horrors', it is appropriate that a Labor Govt put Australia's human rights compliance at the top of the international agenda and put our domestic laws ‘house’ back in order."

Tragically, the failure to shine a light on the true mentality behind the prosecution of these earlier policies saw the ghost of the Pacific Solution and the shop of horrors that was the Howard Govt's refugee program continue to linger in the corridors of power.

As an erstwhile member of the Howard Government's task force on 'illegal' migration I am completely cognisant of the issues surrounding the Bali framework process. I am supportive of a regional approach that stops boats but does'nt breach the UN convention on treatment of refugees. Your current brinkmanship is no doubt good politics, but it fails to satisfy the requirements of a progressive charter in this area.

The mandatory detention regime opened a Pandora's box of opportunities for low rent political agendas, which politicians like Howard and Abbott have exploited ruthlessly. Labor is continually playing catch up, rather than biting the bullet by re-examining the rationale for long-term mandatory detention and changing the tenor of the whole debate.

The unedifying sight of Labor politicians jumping on the xenophobia bandwagon was one of the key reasons I left the party, as I saw defenceless people used as betting chips in a nasty bidding war.

Labor could re-capture the high ground by reviewing mandatory detention and off-shore processing policy and wring the necessary changes? A public information program to explain the reasoning behind the changes, including Australia's obligations under international refugee and human rights instruments, could usher a new awareness of our collective standing and responsibility as a defender of human rights.

This would be attractive to the progressive side of the Labor support base and small 'L' Liberals. Maybe its time to make our general decency something Australians can be proud of again! A sensible, humane and orderly approach to offshore processing, which involves regional partners to their benefit, could be a crucial element to stymie the smuggling trade, whilst enabling on-shore processing within the community after mandatory health checks are completed in short-term detention.

Arrangements with key community groups to manage welfare, work-for-allowance strategies and language training could be developed to integrate asylum seekers in the larger society soon after their arrival. Regional areas with labour shortfalls could be targeted for short-term settlement in this respect.

The UNHCR, IOM could be brought in as partners in the process to lend their mandated legitimacy to the exercise. Isn't it time to stop playing to the reactionary's game book? I for one would rejoin the ALP if this approach was followed.