Thursday, June 30, 2005

Amnesty slams Australia again

SBS reports Amnesty International has again launched a scathing criticism of Australia's policy of indefinitely locking up asylum seekers who arrive in the country illegally, calling it a violation of human rights.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Cherry picking global laws

Yesterday on Radio National’s Perspective, Philippe Sands talked about his book, Lawless World. He makes the telling point that “seen from abroad, John Howard’s government has given a pretty good impression of having scant regard for global rules, whether they relate to the treatment of refugees, the use of force in Iraq, or international efforts to address the potential threats posed by global warming. But ignoring international law – or choosing to opt out of bits of it – is not without its costs. For a start, it affects your reputation internationally, with your neighbours and globally”

A key concern of mine is the long-term damage Australia will do to its standing in world fora as an upholder of international laws and agreements by thumbing our nose at these same laws and agreements. The most glaring examples are complicity in the treatment of detainees in Iraq and mandatory detention of asylum seekers. When our government contravenes international law and human rights conventions it is not in our national interest, though done in our name.

Palmer report begins to leak out...

Leaked Rau report slams 'inadequate' Baxter

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Making a mockery of virtue

The Taipei Times carried an article by Martin Williams on Thursday. He explains to the Taiwanese that “long experience has shown that it is pointless discussing ideology or morality with the Australian government, so one should not waste any more time with Canberra harping on the democratic ideal”.

Virtue may beget democracy, but Australia under Howard has demonstrated over and over that a democratic state can make a mockery of virtue.

Read the full article.

Friday, June 24, 2005

time to be alarmed...

Chas Savage, talking on Radio National's Perspective, makes a convincing case for why Australians have been dudded by our political leaders on attitudes to human rights.

Howard has adopted the Bush approach - that is, we are part of an empire creating its own reality - we are supposed to move on from issues of principle because they do not apply to this new reality. As Chas put it - this is "wrong, wrong, wrong".

A lot of journalists and political commentators (who should have put this Govt's human rights record under closer scrutiny) appear to fall into this mindset and get irritated when people like Chas remind them that this reality is seriously flawed and that principled government is central to a decent society. I frequently hear the line that this is what the Australian electorate voted for and we should all move on. Thankfully a good many decent Australians refuse to bow down to a majority opinion that tolerates human rights abuses, and their voices will only get louder.

I am reminded of a quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

"It is a superstition and ungodly thing to believe that an act of a majority binds a minority. Many examples can be given in which acts of majorities will be found to have been wrong and those of minorities to have been right. All reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities...So long as the superstition that men should obey unjust laws exists, so long will their slavery exist."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Asylum seekers get familiar treatment in the U.S.

It is no surprise that our powerful ally also struggles with the notion of natural justice when it comes to asylum seekers. Most refugees spend lengthy time in detention awaiting hearing.

Petra Cahill, reporting for MSNBC, paints a familiar picture of abuse. Following is an excerpt:

“Detention is devastating to our clients," said Eleanor Acer, Director of the Asylum Program at Human Rights First, an advocacy group that provides pro-bono legal representation to refugees. "Many come here to the United States because they believe that this country is the land of freedom and liberty and a place where they will find protection. They are often shocked to find themselves greeted with handcuffs and shackles and put into prison garb and held in jail,” she said.

...and in that other gulag

PHOTO Christmas Island Detention Centre's last 13 Vietnamese asylum seekers from the Hao Kiet.

On 22 June 2005, 19 detainees fly to freedom on Australia's mainland. These recognised refugees leave behind these brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunties. Even a newly-wed bride will be separated from her husband.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Ferguson should go

The Shadow Minister for Immigration, Laurie Ferguson, has again demonstrated a poor understanding of refugee issues and keeps letting his own prejudices show. His view that Peter Qasim's release sets a "worrying precedent"is proof positive that Beazley should replace him at the first opportunity.

Read Michelle Grattan's analysis of the political implications of the Qasim case.

a politiking I will go...

Moir in the SMH

The protest continues...

Protesters demonstrate in Fitzroy against the Federal Government's policies on asylum seekers. Yesterday was World Refugee Day. Anyone who heard Howard on the 7.30 Report last night, justifying his 'position' on asylum seekers, was left in no doubt that he will continue to play grubby politics with refugees' lives and that the struggle to end mandatory detention has a way to travel yet.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Longest-serving detainee offered visa

Peter Qasim

Australia's longest-serving immigration detainee, Peter Qasim, could soon be freed. Mr Qasim has spent almost seven years in detention and is now in a psychiatric hospital in Adelaide.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has invited another 50 long-term detainees to apply for the revised Removal Pending Bridging Visa - for detainees who cannot be returned to the countries they came from.

Senator Vanstone has confirmed Mr Qasim is one of them and he could be released within days.

"It depends on Mr Qasim accepting the visa and I assume it would depend on what arrangements he wants to make with his health advisers," she said.

"There's no delay in any of these. These are offers if they're accepted. Well there's health and character checks, so there's that delay, but we hope that won't take long," she said.

The Minister says she is very happy with the negotiations between the Prime Minister and a group of rebel backbenchers, leading to changes to immigration detention.

She says she cannot say exactly when changes to the Migration Act negotiated by Liberal backbenchers last week will come into effect.

But she says the bill will be drafted and introduced to the Parliament this week. The changes will mean families with children are released from detention and a speedier processing of all detainees.

Senator Vanstone says the legislation will be introduced as soon as possible. "This has got the highest priority for drafting that I've seen, but the detail needs to be just polished and put in before Parliament and then it's up to Parliament," she said.

It begs the question, what is the rationale for anyone in Peter Qasim's situation being in detention?

Friday, June 17, 2005

PM announces major changes to migration laws...

Ever the savvy politician, and listening to the whisperings of the tea leaves, Howard has announced a shake up of mandatory detention, along the lines projected in the Private Member's Bills that were to be introduced to Parliament on Monday.

Read the story.

Liberal MP Petro Georgiou has welcomed the deal, saying he will withdraw his Bills. Howard calls these changes a sensible advance on the existing policy and has stamped his 'ownership' on the shift. And spare a thought for Sophie (oh dear!).

It is far from where we need to be but it is a positive step in that direction...The ALP will keep pushing for a Royal Commission (and this is needed) but the changes wrought by a few Govt backbenchers showing some backbone sees Labour playing catch up on refugee issues.

Who's a terrorist then...?

Liberal backbencher Sophie Panopoulos, left, in Parliament yesterday, and Petro Georgiou, front right, the MP she labelled a political terrorist for his proposed immigration bills.

Media reports today suggest the Prime Minister is now facing the possibility of one or more Liberal senators crossing the floor if he cannot settle the backbench revolt over the Government's detention policy. For such a cunning politician it must be galling for Howard to see such a successful wedge coming apart at the seams, but that's the danger of opening the Pandora's box of racism and fear - it can come back to bite you.

Did they queue?

Vietnamese asylum seekers

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Now it is 'political terrorism' to stand up for human rights

Howard's troops are out in force today, condemning the efforts of Liberal MPs prepared to make a stand on the injustices of mandatory detention. We have seen how easily the currencies of intolerance and racism can be put in play to bolster a political wedge. When a mirror is put up to our collective face the holders of the mirror are attacked for reminding us of our humanity. The use of the term 'political terrorist' to describe Liberal politicians defending the dignity of the individual and calling for decency in politics is an indicator of how diminished we have become by the tragedy of mandatory detention.

This should set off alarm bells that we can slip a lot further if good people don't stand up.

Tandberg in The Age

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Whose culture at fault?

As we get closer to the Private Member’s Bills on mandatory detention coming before Parliament (Howard having failed in a bid to dissuade the LIB rebel bankbenchers to back off), the latest strategy of Vanstone et al is to blame the culture of DIMIA for bungles and botch ups.

On-Line Opinion has a piece on "stereotyping asylum seekers" by Stuart Rees, which also examines the issue of culture.

I argue the culture of DIMIA and other areas of the Public Service has responded to the macho, bullying style of the government with like management approaches. Certain ambitious public servants have seen a way to further their careers by shaping this response. Having experienced this phenomenon, I can assure you that the impetus for cutting corners, aggressive prosecution of policies and callousness towards clients comes from Howard’s frontbench.

We now learn that a senior immigration official says the Federal Government is trying to cover up the bungling of up to 200 cases of wrongful detention, which are currently being investigated by the inquiry headed by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer.

On ABC TV's Lateline program last night, the anonymous official known as "Jamie, said the Federal Government and its tough tactics are to blame for the Immigration Department's culture of hardline treatment of illegal immigrants.

Jamie says immigration officials are now dealing with five times as many cases as they were a decade ago.

The official says there has been major staff movement in the section responsible for the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau and the deportation of Vivian Solon.

"That means if someone gets called, they might have only been in the job for a few weeks," Jamie said.

"They can only report on the systems they have now - they won't have any idea about what's been going on in the past."

Jamie says there is now a culture of getting numbers up and rewarding officials for being tough and brisk.

"That has basically meant not having to take so much care with day-to-day checks and balances that normally happens," Jamie said.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says the department's culture is troubled.

"I do want to make it clear," she said. "You can make changes to policy, to processes and legislation but these will be of little benefit without some cultural change."

A report from the Palmer inquiry is due to be handed to the Government soon.

The farce played out over the defection of a Chinese diplomat is another example of public servants running around trying to cut bureaucratic cloth to match Government policy made on the hop – ergo the nasty mess surrounding the Chen issue.

Bill Leak in the SMH

Monday, June 13, 2005

Rally behind Petro...

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr addresses a rally outside the Camberwell office of Liberal MP Petro Georgiou. The rally was held to support Mr Georgiou's private member's bill, which attempts to soften Canberra's policy on mandatory detention of asylum seekers. "I never thought that I would be standing outside a Liberal office in support," Ms Curr said

Reward for DIMIA Head

Like senior public servants before him who had a leading hand in the implementation of the Government’s asylum seeker policies and who received awards and promotions, the head of DIMIA, Bill Farmer, has been rewarded with a Queen’s Birthday honour.

The disclosed mismanagement of key areas of the immigration portfolio has had no influence on this decision. The Government again signals that it considers DIMIA is doing a great job!

Writing in The Age yesterday, Russell Skelton paints a bleak picture of how this ‘great job’ is impacting the lives of those caught up in the immigration system. Following is an excerpt:

“While debate rages about the injustice of locking up asylum seekers for years, serious issues remain about the department and the conduct of its officers and service providers. The culture created by Howard and Ruddock survives, despite the embarrassments of Solon and Rau and the declining numbers in detention.

The culture is embedded in the Immigration Act, in the actions of officers and in the suspicious, authoritarian mentality that has developed. This has resulted in heartless and baffling decisions…There are many other instances of this, including the way "illegals" are rounded up, the treatment of emotionally disturbed detainees at Baxter and the splitting up of families.”

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Can Libs change direction?

Writing in The Age, Shaun Carney ponders whether Costello can wring changes in Liberal Party strategy and whether he will seek asylum on the backbench. Is the current debate on mandatory detention a fingerpost to a new political landscape? If strategists on both sides of the political fence are not reading the tea leaves on mandatory detention I would be surprised. Following is an excerpt from Carney’s article:

“Before Liberal and National MPs discussed Petro Georgiou's mandatory detention bill on Tuesday of last week, backbencher Bruce Baird had some extraordinary things to say. Not in terms of the sort of things that are said across the community, but extraordinary as far as a federal Liberal MP - and, crucially, a member of a Government led by John Howard - is concerned.

"There's lots of myths that are associated with (mandatory detention)," he told reporters. "There's the myth that because we've been tough on asylum seekers that the boats have stopped; they've stopped around the world. There's the myth that the rest of the world is following us. Nonsense! I've been to seven countries and nobody follows the same policy we do. There's the myth that these people are just economic refugees. The fact is that most of them have been found to be genuine refugees."

Then Baird moved from the practicalities to the morality of the policy. "You cannot listen to the anguish of people who've been involved in long-term detention without seeing this is a matter of conscience. It's not a question of saying 'Look, this is a party policy' . . . this involves people's lives, this involves people's mental state, and you just can't stand back and say this is not an issue of conscience."

Spooner in The Age

Friday, June 10, 2005

Vanstone's vision splendid...

Malcolm Brown, writing in the SMH, tells the story of our whimsical Minister for Immigration and the turned sod, and the flowers and the birds. All that was missing was a little quartet made of asylum seekers playing ‘happy’ music.

“Wattle, wattle, more wattle - bottlebrush, too - anything to attract birds, chirped the Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone, turning the first sod in the newest immigration detention centre.

There had to be fauna, plenty of birds. "You can hear them chattering away now," she said yesterday.

Outside in Miowera Road, Chester Hill, near the present Villawood detention centre, protesters such as Alanna Sherry, of Children Out of Detention, and Greens Senator Kerry Nettle had a different view of the proposed centre for up to 40 mothers and children.

Ignoring protesters' cries of "shame", Senator Vanstone described the centre, although guarded by security cameras and alarms, as utopian, upholding Australia's commitment to "border protection" but "softening the impact" on women and children.

The four duplex houses, each with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and two living and dining areas, are planned to be completed in March and ready to open next June.

Detainees would look out onto lawns, a barbecue area, a play area, a communal hall and inconspicuous fences instead of razor wire.

Senator Vanstone said the detention centre for children up to the age of 18 and women would provide facilities "much better than many, many Australians are able to access".

The concept was a success in Port Augusta and the Government had decided on similar centres at Villawood and Perth. Mothers would be better able to care for their daughters. Partners, although not allowed to live with them, could have frequent access. The children could go to schools and the families could go shopping.

Senator Vanstone said people smugglers should realise there was no point taking children on boats to smooth the passage into Australian society. The children would also be detained.

But Ms Sherry said such an argument meant the children were in effect being used as human shields.”

Wilcox in the SMH

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Rebel Libs need support…

The Refugee Action Committee is encouraging opponents of mandatory detention to support Petro Georgiou, who is building support for a more compassionate approach to asylum seekers in the community. Build the groundswell! Let the politicians know.
Go to an online petition from Rights Australia by clicking here ..

Senator Marise Payne has agreed to present those signatures in favour to the Australian Senate in the form of a petition. Links to the two proposed bills are in the petition.

The two Private Members Bills are proposed to replace mandatory, indefinite detention with a more compassionate policy. Contact your local member NOW and encourage them to support these bills!

Emails are counted! 5,000 came in last week to Petro Georgiou's office. Over 500 to Bruce Baird. Keep them coming! (make it thousands!)

Email members of the House of Representatives. then phone fax or write to them:

Read Petro Georgiou, the Federal Liberal MP for Kooyong on "Why we need a new policy on refugees".

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

‘As you sow’ ... a letter from Mudgee

Bruce Haigh's letter in the Canberra Times today caught my eye. I assume it is the same Bruce Haigh who served as an Australian diplomat in South Africa during the Apartheid years:

“John Howard, “As ye sow shall ye reap”. Having unleashed the rabid dogs of xenophobia and racism in the so-called war on terror, Howard can hardly be surprised when it appears that many Australians have followed him after all. That’s what leadership (or lack of it) is all about.

Schappelle Corby is now a metaphor for the failed relationship between the Australian Federal Police and the Indonesian Police. This relationship was forged in corruption and as a means of ending the flow of refugees to Australia.

Howard has failed to draw a distinction between the corrupt military and police and ordinary long-suffering Indonesians.

Angry Australians and angry Indonesians have much in common.”

And we will soon have another ‘facility’ to help manage 'who comes to Australia and the manner of their arrival', whether their flight to our shores was in search of genuine sanctuary or not. Christmas Island will build a reputation that surpasses Baxter in notoriety - as you sow John as you sow…

During an early part of my career with AusAID I worked on a program to assist black South Africans seeking refuge from the Apartheid regime to receive training in various disciplines such as teaching and journalism. These young asylum seekers, who had fled to the front line states and elsewhere in the face of persecution at home, were destined to play an important part in the emerging South African reality. Australia stood with them in their time of greatest need and peril.

Now we have become the persecutors of people in similar cicumstances and I still can't believe how low we have stooped...and how quickly we got there.

Monday, June 06, 2005

A view from Washington

Read an article by Janaki Kremmer in the Washington Times on the growing disquiet over Australia's mandatory detention system. An excerpt follows:

“The Australian government has started an investigation into revelations that its immigration department has mistakenly deported Australian citizens and placed some of them in razor-wired detention centers. More than 200 cases are under scrutiny in what is being viewed as the worst bungle by an overzealous immigration department...

Did they queue?

Vietnamese boat people in the late '70s

Chen Yonglin blows a whistle - DIMIA cozying up to the Chinese Govt. on asylum seekers

The SMH is reporting today that claims the Chinese Government has kidnapped dissidents in Australia have added to concerns about Chinese detainees held incommunicado at the Villawood detention centre.

Chen Yonglin, China's consul for political affairs in Sydney who has defected, told a democracy rally at the weekend that the Chinese Government had "kidnapped dissidents here", including the son of a dissident deputy mayor, who Mr Chen said was forced onto a fishing boat and taken to a ship offshore.

About 25 mainly Chinese detainees in Villawood have been held separately from other inmates. According to refugee advocates, the detainees have been refused visitors or phone calls for the past two weeks. A letter from one of the detainees to the NSW Refugee Action Collective said Chinese officials had been given access to detainees to interview them.

The letter's author said he was a Falun Gong asylum seeker and that on May 16 he had been called for an interview with three "Chinese middlemen".

The Refugee Action Collective said the Immigration Department had placed asylum seekers at risk by allowing Chinese Government representatives to obtain information on them.

An Immigration Department spokesperson said the Villawood detainees had been separated while arrangements were made for their deportation and they were now back with the general detention population.

Golding in The Age

Saturday, June 04, 2005

and in another part of the refugee world…

Yesterday the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the closure of the Tibetan Refugee Centre and on refoulement of Tibetan refugees to the Chinese authorities by the Kingdom of Nepal. Adopting a concluding observation on Nepal's second report to the Committee, the body regretted that there was no domestic legislation in the Kingdom that covers the rights of refugees and asylum-seeking persons.

As to the situation of Tibetan refugees the Committee expressed concern over "the reports of deportation of Tibetan asylum seekers to China by Nepal, including unaccompanied minors, and the closure of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office in January 2005."

In the 26-page concluding observation on Nepal, the Committee highlighted the importance of the role of civil society in the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and recommended that Nepal "remove all legal, practical and administrative obstacles to the free functioning of civil society organizations" in the country.

On refugee status determination, the Committee expressed concern about "the rule that refugees status can only be sought by certain categories of asylum-seekers, specifically, the Tibetan who arrived in Nepal before 1990." The Committee also urged Nepal to "as a matter of priority, review its policy regarding birth registration of refugee children and ensure that all children of refugees and asylum seekers born in the State party are issued with birth certificate."

The 34th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child which took from 17 May to 2 June, 2005, at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, also recommended that the Kingdom of Nepal, "ratify, as a matter of priority, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness."

the plight of refugees a universal problem

Friday, June 03, 2005

A press release by Arnold Zable on behalf of International PEN

The next two weeks are vital in our efforts to secure a change to the cruel system of indefinite mandatory detention, and to the temporary protection visa regime. The issues raised by Petro Georghiou's private members bills are being discussed at Prime Ministerial level. It is a rare opportunity to put pressure on the Howard Government.

This is the ideal time to write to MPs, both in the House of Representative and Senate, to your local member, or directly to the Prime Minister's office. Past experience has shown that the most effective letters, emails, faxes and so on, are those that are written with genuine feeling, and with reference to individual experience. Write about what you have seen and heard, about your direct contact with asylum seekers who have suffered from being in long-term detention, or on Temporary Protection and bridging visas.

If you have not had direct contact with asylum seekers, you can speak about the impact of mandatory detention and treatment of asylum seekers on your own sense of Australia, and of the importance to this country of putting an end to these gross abuses of human rights. Or you may be moved to focus on the issue of children in detention. Express your individual feelings in your own voice. It is not a time for packaged messages. This is the time to make your voice heard in the way you want it to be heard.

Labor calling for Vanstone's head

AAP reports Federal Labor has called for the removal of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone and the head of the Immigration Department (DIMIA) after the latest revelations in the Cornelia Rau matter.

ABC television has revealed the contents of a leaked government document which showed immigration officials believed Ms Rau was an Australian citizen almost three months before she was released from immigration detention.

The Immigration Department memo reportedly warned in November last year that Ms Rau was likely to be an Australian citizen.

Opposition immigration spokesman Laurie Ferguson said both Senator Vanstone and department secretary Bill Farmer should be dismissed.

"The Prime Minister has to seriously consider the situation the minister now (faces)," Mr Ferguson told ABC radio.

"She should be actually kicked out.

"I had a degree of reluctance to push in regards to Amanda originally because most of the events in the department have been covered over the period when there was another minister.

"I thought there was a great degree of responsibility there.

"But after this revelation (it's difficult) to say there's not a fundamental problem at the top."

Mr Ferguson said the problem in DIMIA had become so serious Mr Farmer's position was no longer "tenable".

Meanwhile, an academic assisting the Rau family in its submission to the Palmer inquiry, Newcastle University associate professor of law Ray Watterson, says the memo is a bombshell that will assist in Ms Rau's compensation claim.

Wilcox in the SMH

"The sort of message we've been getting so far from Minister Vanstone and others is that, despite (Ms Rau's) mental illness, she was devious and misleading the government and DIMIA officials about her identity, and because of that they were unable to get to the bottom of things," he said.

"I'm afraid this (memo) gives the lie to that proposition that's been put about."

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Tom Keneally is in town…

Author of Schindler’s Ark, American Scoundrel and The Tyrant's Novel (on asylum seekers), Tom Keneally is in Canberra to berate both sides of politics (and journalists for that matter) about their attitude to asylum seekers.

One of Tom’s central messages is that universal human rights are not matters of convenience – the challenge for leaders (and the rest of us) is to stand up for human dignity when it is unpopular to do so.

a universal striving

The abuse widens…

Natasha Robinson, writing in The Australian yesterday, highlighted the issue of hundreds of immigration detainees who have been "held without trial in the nation's toughest prisons to live alongside hardened criminals, some for years at a time.

The Immigration Department was unable to provide an estimate yesterday of how many cases have passed through the nation's maximum security prisons, but confirmed there were 14 detainees in state-run jails.

The Australian understands the practice has been routine for at least five years. The revelations come as John Howard agreed to consider plans raised by rebel backbenchers to deliver the "speedier" release of long-term detainees and children in Australia's immigration
detention centres.

Despite ruling out an end to mandatory detention, the Prime Minister is considering the release of all women and children while freeing long-term detainees after one year.

But as the political spotlight focuses on those detainees, others have been left languishing in jails. Three detainees are now in prison in Queensland -- the same state in which it was revealed Cornelia Rau spent three months in the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre. Two are in Brisbane, and one is in a north Queensland jail.”

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What is illegal?

Refugee advocate seeks PM apology

ABC Online reports a Perth-based refugee advocate is calling on the Prime Minister to apologise to two Vietnamese asylum seekers who were yesterday granted temporary protection visas.

Hoai Thu Nguyen and Minh Dat Tran are the parents of Michael Andrew Tran, who was born in detention at a Perth hospital last week.

The couple were among 15 asylum seekers granted refugee status after arriving in Western Australia aboard the Hao Kiet ship in July 2003.

Refugee advocate Kaye Bernard says it is ridiculous that Michael will not automatically be granted refugee status along with his parents.
Ms Bernard says the couple deserves an apology.

"The Prime Minister today seems to have a chook pen full of egg on his face after calling Michael Tran, that poor little baby's parents illegals publicly," Ms Bernard said.

"He's denigrated them, he should offer an apology.

"Today I'm calling on the to Prime Minister [to] apologise to the baby Michael Tran's parents, they have been deemed to be refugees."

Petty in The Age

No other Western country has lengthy mandatory detention for asylum seekers

Dr Jane McAdam, a law lecturer at the University of Sydney, writing yesterday in the SMH, makes it clear that, even with the changes flagged under the two private members’ bills, "AUSTRALIA'S laws regulating the reception and processing of asylum seekers are uniquely draconian: Australia is the only Western country with a mandatory detention regime for those who arrive without a valid visa. The detention cannot be reviewed by the courts, and there are no limits on its duration.

Two private members' bills by Petro Georgiou address some of these concerns. However, while the bills represent an alternative to the Government's stance, they are far from radical and still lag behind international legal standards and best practice. They do not abolish mandatory detention, but introduce time limits and a mechanism for the release of asylum seekers into the community.

The first, the Migration Amendment (Act of Compassion) Bill 2005, concerns individuals already in immigration detention. It provides for the release of children and their families, and asylum seekers who have been detained for more than a year. Release is not automatic, but is subject to individual assessment by a judicial assessor - a serving or former judge - who must consider whether the individual poses a danger to the public or is likely to abscond.

The second, the Migration Amendment (Mandatory Detention) Bill 2005, modifies mandatory detention for future asylum seekers. Although the bill does not abolish detention, it limits the time a person may be detained - initially 90 days - and restricts detention to cases where incarceration is necessary to verify an identity, assessing an asylum application, protecting public safety, conducting health checks, or ensuring the person's availability for removal. Children may only be detained as a last resort.

Detainees may apply to the Federal Court for release where there are no reasonable grounds for their detention.

Conversely, should the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs believe it necessary to detain an individual for longer than 90 days, it may apply to the Federal Court for such an order.

Under international law, every individual has the right to seek asylum. Although all countries have the right to control immigration, they are also bound to consider asylum claims and to provide protection for people found to be refugees. As a party to the Refugee Convention and various treaties, Australia has accepted these duties.
Australia's system of mandatory detention violates key obligations under international human rights and refugee law. International law prohibits detention as a blanket response to illegal entry or presence, and requires that all detention be reviewable by the courts.

The Refugee Convention provides that states shall not penalise refugees who enter the country illegally. This principle recognises that asylum seekers are vulnerable and may be at serious risk of human rights abuses, and accordingly cannot always avail themselves of the usual legal channels for securing protection.

Immigration detention is used by Australia as a deterrent and to reprimand those arriving unlawfully, applying only to asylum seekers arriving without a visa. Those who arrive with a visa and subsequently claim asylum may remain in the community while their claims are processed.

Despite receiving about 100 times more asylum seekers than Australia, no country in the European Union employs detention as a standard means of accommodating them pending the outcome of their protection claims. In the EU, individuals may not be detained simply because they are asylum seekers, and anyone who is detained must have access to speedy judicial review.

There, detention is used mainly - if at all - at the beginning of the asylum determination procedure to investigate travel routes and to verify identity, and at the very end to arrange travel documents for deportation or to ensure that the rejected asylum seeker does not abscond. It may also be used where the asylum seeker is considered a potential threat to national security.

In Canada, people may be detained only where it is believed they will not appear at immigration hearings, or because they present a public danger. Such detention is subject to review by a senior immigration officer and the courts, and people may be released subject to conditions such as promises to appear at hearings or bonds.
Furthermore, the EU and Canada place strict time limits on detention. In Spain, France and Ireland, the typical period is about four days; in Austria, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, the maximum is two to three months. In Canada, the average detention in an immigration centre is about eight days.

The two bills would bring Australia more closely into line with international practice, but are not an extreme overhaul of its policies. Australia will remain the only country with a system of mandatory detention for asylum seekers."