Sunday, December 24, 2006

Witness against torture - a campaign of action on 11 January to shut down Gauntanamo

The "Witness Against Torture" group are calling for an international campaign of action on 11 January 2007 to mark the 5 year anniversary of the first prisoners being brought to Guantánamo. In America this action is being coordinated by the Center for Constitional Rights, CodePink, Pax Christi USA, United for Peace and Justice and other groups:

"There is little question of how history will respond to Guantánamo…it will be looked back on with condescension and bemusement. How could we be so foolish, misguided, cruel? How we will respond is a legal question and a political question. But it is most of all a moral question. Will we respond with courage or cowardice? This is our choice."

- Joseph Margulies, a lawyer challenging the indefinite detention of the prisoners at Guantánamo

On January 11th, 2002, twenty hooded and shackled men shuffled off a plane from Afghanistan, arriving at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo. In an attempt to sidestep the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war, the Bush administration created a new category of “enemy combatant” for these men captured in the “war on terror.”

Since that time, more than one thousand men and boys have been imprisoned at Guantánamo. Accounts of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment have been condemned by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and other reputable bodies. The prisoners have resorted to hunger strikes as a way of protesting their treatment. Many have attempted suicide; three men killed themselves on June 10th 2006. Desperation, fear and frustration mark their confinement.

Five years later, not a single prisoner has been charged, tried or convicted of any crime. Many have been released because no evidence has been found against them, but more than 430 men remain in indefinite detention without hope of release. The United States has abandoned law and justice.

January 11th, 2007 marks five years of unjust imprisonment, isolation, beatings, interrogation and abuse for these men. We must say: no more. We must say: no longer. For our nation of laws, for our democracy, for our humanity and theirs, we demand small but essential steps to help return our nation to the best of our own traditions.

We call on the United States government to:

· Repeal the Military Commissions Act and restore Habeas Corpus.
· Charge and try or release all detainees.
· Withhold funds for the proposed $125 million construction of new military courts at Guantánamo.
· Clearly and unequivocally forbid torture and all other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, by the military, the CIA, prison guards, civilian contractors, or anyone else.
· Pay reparations to current and former detainees and their families for violations of their human rights.
· Shut down Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and all other U.S. prisons overseas, including secret CIA detention facilities.

We mark January 11, 2007 as a day of national shame. But we can also mark it as a day of citizen action. How? By acting on behalf of our fellow human beings in Guantánamo, their bereaved families and all victims of the “war on terrorism.”

We declare January 11, 2007 an International Day of Action to Shut Down Guantánamo. In Washington, DC we will march from the Supreme Court to the U.S. Federal Court. At the Supreme Court, Guantánamo Lawyers and others will address the press. Individuals will then proceed to Federal Court, taking on the names and identities of the men in Guantánamo and submitting Habeas petitions on their behalf. With our action and our bodies, we will forge the path that the Center for Constitutional Rights and other legal advocates demand on behalf of their clients. Outside the Federal Court on Constitution Avenue, people will read testimonies and names of prisoners, perform street theater and hand out information. There will be solidarity demonstrations from Amsterdam to Boise, Idaho and a National Call-In Day to Congress.

We invite you to come to Washington and participate, either as an individual or as part of an affinity group. If travel is not an option, join or plan an action in your own community. Around the country, groups are planning vigils and actions at courthouses, federal building and public squares.

In other countries, the focus will be on U.S. Embassies and military facilities. For a full list of both National and International actions, visit

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Alert & Alarmed: Howard & Downer send Xmas greetings...

The brilliant Leunig in The Age

Human Rights in Australia: Spare a thought for those in our gulags

Recent reports of detainees protesting and inadequate mental health support services are reminders that the horrors of the mandatory detention regime have not abated, despite all the hand wringing by Coalition politicians that claim the worst excesses have been mitigated.

As we approach the festive season I'm reminded of that refugee family that is at the heart of the celebration. In the orgy of conspicuous consumption, over-eating and other indulgences it seems to me that the values that we celebrate through the life of Jesus Christ, certainly as they apply to our treatment of refugees, are ignored by the population at large, including by politicians in power who profess to be "Christian" and who are now propounding the cause of "Australian values".

For those that follow these issues I am linking back to an article by Russell Skelton in The Age ("It's time to admit we've created a Gulag"). It seems to me that little has changed.

I am signing off from the blog for the next few weeks along with the rest of the country.

I will spare a thought for sanctuary seekers spending this time behind barbed wire, struggling with their hold on reality and in despair over why they are being treated worse than hardened criminals...

Cartoons by Kudelka & Nicholson in The Australian

Monday, December 18, 2006

Human Rights in Australia: Sudanese not wanted in Tamworth, but welcome in Canberra

Chief Minister John Stanhope has indicated he will be writing to the Immigration Department to advise the ACT would welcome the Sudanese refugees being rejected by Tamworth.

I have recently met young Sudanese men who have come to Australia as refugees. They and their families have experienced dreadful hardship and trauma in reaching our shores. Some of the Sudanese young men find it difficult to settle, just as young men all over the world. They need friendship and support from within our society to find their feet. Some of their stories would horrify Australians unfamiliar with horrendous persecution.

On ABC talk-back in Canberra this morning the majority of callers were supportive. One man trotted out the Howard dog whistle line, accusing the Sudanese of being "Muslims" and unable to integrate with our culture. Of course, as usual, this kind of attitude reflects the narrow world view of Howard and his surrogates. This type of reflex response does not let the facts get in the way of prejudice. The religion of these people should be irrelevant, but, for the record, the Sudanese refugees are mainly Christians escaping persecution from Muslim militias. Human suffering is universal - it is shame that human compassion is too frequently qualified by religious, racial and ethnicity considerations.

Plaudits to CM John Stanhope and the Opposition Leader in the ACT, who has offered his bi-partisan support. It is time this country stood up for human rights and that the values underlying the dog whistle are relegated to a small but well lit corner of our national consciousness.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Shame about Tamworth - "You're not welcome, town tells refugees"

News reports this morning that Tamworth City Council has turned its back on Sudanese refugees. The home of country music will decide whom will be acceptable to the good folk of Tamworth and the manner of their coming. Hmm, has a ring about it...where I have heard similar sentiments before?

The SMH reports "At a meeting where the poll was conducted, several residents had said they did "not want the refugees coming and drinking our water supply, or taking our jobs, that sort of thing", Cr Woodley said. "I think you would have to say there was a racist element at play there."

Another councillor and local publican, Robert Schofield, agreed that racism had to "be a part of it. These are people escaping war and persecution. "I'm sickened by the lack of compassion," he said.

The Department of Immigration has recently embarked on a program of resettling refugees directly into rural and regional areas. A spokeswoman said the department had offered to fund the settlement at Tamworth over five years with the help of agencies such as Anglicare.

The Oxley Vale Anglican Church raised $10,000 to bring the families to Tamworth. Its minister, the Reverend Jon Cox, said he was deeply saddened by the lack of compassion shown by the council."

More Aussie values on show....?

Ten questions for the PM (Citizen Howard) about Iraq - Scott Burchill

In The Age Scott Burchill puts ten questions to Citizen Howard on Iraq:

"1. Australia's Iraq policy resembles a rudderless ship at the mercy of three prevailing winds: increasingly hostile public opinion, capricious politicians in Washington and unpredictable but decisive events on the ground.

In this policy climate, does it make sense to run a vicarious foreign policy in the Middle East when the Bush Administration has proved so incompetent, and has even asked a congressional committee - the Iraq Study Group - to propose policy options?

2. Given your noble intentions and the promise of being welcomed as liberators, why has the coalition of the willing faced stiffer resistance in Iraq than either the Nazis confronted in occupied Europe or the Soviets found in the East?

3. If highly trained and well-equipped Western armies are unable to quell the insurgency and sectarian violence unleashed by the occupation, why will inferior Iraqi troops be more successful?

4. Just before the recent Hanoi Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum summit, you and Alexander Downer said you would propose "some ideas and information" to the Americans about how to reduce the violence they have unleashed in Iraq. What were these ideas and why did you wait three-and-a-half years to share them with your ally?

5. The occupation is now justified on the grounds that withdrawal would be a disaster, not that its continuation will lead to success or victory - whatever they might mean. What then are your specific criteria for withdrawal?

6. You oppose a "precipitive" withdrawal of troops because you claim it would lead to further chaos and violence. But the occupation has produced both a violent insurgency and a sectarian civil war. Whether The Lancet's figure of more than 650,000 excess deaths is accurate or the Centre for Strategic and International Studies' more conservative estimate that between 2 per cent and 5 per cent of Iraq's 27 million people have been killed, wounded or uprooted since the invasion, it is difficult to see how much worse things could get.

Given your shared responsibility for this slaughter, are you in a credible position to warn about a post-withdrawal bloodbath?

7. You argue that a withdrawal would embolden terrorists worldwide who could then claim "victory". Surely the war was lost two years ago, and the insurgents have been celebrating their victory ever since by attacking coalition troops and tormenting the civilian population. It cannot be won now by extending or intensifying the occupation. Many insurgents presumably want US, British and Australian troops to stay on where they can be further humiliated.

Do you agree with US General George Casey that the presence of coalition troops in Iraq fuels the insurgency but that a withdrawal actually removes its raison d'etre?

8. A withdrawal, you claim, would inflict enormous damage on the reputation and prestige of the United States. And yet it is difficult to see how either could be further tarnished. Subcontracting foreign policy to Congress is about as embarrassing as it gets in Washington. With a Secretary of State so marginalised she can't get an audience in the Arab world, a new Defence Secretary who concedes the war is being lost, and a President who seems oblivious of the mayhem he has caused, Washington's foreign policy stocks - domestically and globally - have plummeted to unprecedented depths.

Why do you speak as if the Unites States' image in the Middle East hasn't already been destroyed by its recklessness in Iraq?

9. You have been forced to reverse the moral polarities of the Iraq debate and it is only the fortunate absence of Australian casualties that has allowed you to get away with it. However, the burden remains on the occupier to justify the impact of the occupation, especially its human costs. There is no equivalent requirement on those wanting to end the occupation to prove that its termination will make matters worse. On what basis - three-and-a-half years after invading - do you defend the continuing immiseration of Iraq?

10. Despite overwhelming opposition from the Iraqi people, US troops will almost certainly stay in Iraq until a reliable Vichy-style dependent client willing to protect Washington's regional strategic and economic interests is securely in place. Dependable collaborators are proving hard to find.

What lessons have you learnt from the Iraq catastrophe and how will these be reflected in future defence and foreign policy settings for Australia?"

Good question....

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Human Rights in Australia: Muslims fear being used as scapegoats in next Federal election

The Age reports "ISLAMIC leaders believe the Federal Government will use the community as scapegoats in next year's federal election campaign.

Their fears are heightened by the Government's failure to release the report of Prime Minister John Howard's hand-picked Muslim advisory group examining how to tackle extremism, terrorism and other issues facing the Muslim community.

Muslim Reference Group member Yasser Soliman said the Government was holding back the group's report while sending critical messages to the wider community, and "some people can read between the lines".

Mr Soliman, the past president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said he was baffled at the delay. "It is commonly said, and not only by Muslims, that the reason is, they want to position the Muslim community as refusing to integrate and not contributing to the nation, and this report might challenge a few of those perceptions," he said."

This blog has been alert & alarmed over Howard's strategy of demonising the Muslim community under the guise of 'integration' and by setting up a straw man that migrant groups should inculcate Australian values through some form of bizarre osmosis. The values of market fundamentalism and socially engineered monoculturalism are taking this country in directions that will damage our social and cultural fabric.

Short-term sloganeering to ramp up fear and loathing of minority groups is as low as it gets in the pantheon of political demagoguery. It is bleeding obvious the Government has taken this path to shore up political support. History will not be kind to the key perpetrators.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Violence against women in Australia: A hidden reality

While Australia is one of the most liveable and wealthy countries in the world, violence towards women continues to exist and at alarming rates:

* One in three women who have been in a relationship have experienced violence by a partner;
* 57% of women have been subjected to violence at some point in their lives;
* 10% of women have experienced violence in a 12 month period;
* Domestic violence contributes to more ill-health and premature death than any other single cause for women aged 15 - 44 years.
* A Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) study concluded that domestic violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women between the ages of 15 - 44 years.

Read more about why Australia needs a National Plan of Action

Read some fact sheets about violence towards women

Watch a new Amnesty International video clip: Up to 69

Citizen Howard - the great integrater and the "English test"

As predicted by this blog on more than one occasion, Howard is setting up a false dichotomous argument on integration versus multiculturalism to fine tune the dog whistle and wedge what he refers to as the "soft left" (code for a more pejorative term) on his version of "Australianess".

As Kevin Rudd correctly identifies in his recent article in The Monthly, "Howard’s culture war is in large part an electoral strategy drawn straight from the Republican Party’s campaign manual. Its organising principle is fear, and it is deployed in two parts. The first of these is the conscious exacerbation of fear, anxiety and uncertainty – all of which are powerful (though, in effect, disempowering) emotions capable of overriding everything else in the human mind. The second part is to proffer the healing balm of “certainty” in the midst of all the anxiety-inducing “uncertainty”, by running a series of falsely dichotomous arguments in the public debate: tradition versus modernity; absolutism versus moral relativism; monoculture versus multiculture."

Malcolm Fraser took aim at Howard's populist and exclusionist demagoguery in a recent speech, in which he warned "There are already suggestions that this next election will be a 'Muslim election', as a while ago it was the Tampa election...It would create a terrible and unnecessary divide between Islam and the rest of the community."

Eva Sallis nailed the problems with the new citizenship test in a recent article, concluding that "Far from 'helping' Australians be better citizens, this proposed test could signal the end of an Australia that is unique and precious, in which the members of our many communities have equal rights and value before the law."

I have recently started assisting teach English to migrants and refugees through government supported programs. The funding and other resources provided these programs is inadequate, with considerable reliance on volunteer tutors. So, while much is made of the importance of English to "good citizenship", the key vehicles for upgrading English skills are starved of adequate teaching resources. It seems that many people are being set up to fail, through lack of access and bias in the citizenship stakes toward those groups with English language proficiency. This is an exclusionist migration policy by stealth and deceit, and should be condemned.

A few Coalition politicians are worried about the implications of the Testing regime. It will be interesting to see what traction they get within government circles.

The ALP has indicated the next Labor PM will take responsibility for multiculturalism, which is an appropriate response given its core role in achieving social harmony.

Monday, December 11, 2006

"Nobel laureate condemns 'war on terror'"

I blogged at the time of the G20 Summit that it was urgent that world leaders focussed on the eradication of poverty as the key to global security.

Now "Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus has urged world leaders to get on with the fight against poverty, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

He has called on world leaders to stop spending money on wars like the one in Iraq.

The 63-year-old and the Grameen Bank he founded have won the peace prize for their work to lift millions out of poverty by granting tiny loans to the poorest of the poor, especially women in rural Bangladesh.

Mr Yunus and Grameen Bank representative Mosammat Taslima Begum have received gold medals and diplomas at a ceremony at Oslo's City Hall to applause from about 1,000 guests.

The prize created by the Swedish philanthropist Alfred Nobel comes with a cheque for 10 million Swedish crowns ($A1.85 million) to be shared by the prize winners.

In the prepared text of his acceptance speech, Mr Yunus says the link between a peaceful world and fight against poverty is clear.

"Poverty is a threat to peace," he said.

He says the new millennium began with a dream to cut poverty in half by 2015, as agreed by world leaders in the United Nations millennium goals in 2000.

"But then came September 11 and the Iraq war, and suddenly the world became derailed from the pursuit of this dream, with the attention of world leaders shifting from the war on poverty to the war on terrorism," Mr Yunus said.

"I believe terrorism cannot be won over by military action."

I said in my earlier piece that "In some countries the poor do not register on the human development index. They have dropped off the statisticians’ radar. They leave so little evidence of their daily struggle to exist.

We urgently need a leadership that has the vision to make bold decisions and to bridge the dangerous north-south divide in ways that reflect the principle that poverty is anathema to human rights."

The war on terror increases global insecurity, whilst a concerted war on poverty that departs significantly from the charity mindset would reduce tensions exponentially.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Iraq - a view from India

The South Asia Analysis Group comments regularly on Middle Eastern affairs. The writer, B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He writes:

"The US continues to find itself between the devil and the deep sea in Iraq. It is like a man who has unthinkingly mounted a tiger to ride. It is dangerous to continue riding and it is even more dangerous to dismount. How to save Iraq from the depredations of international jihadi terrorists of Al Qaeda brand on the one side and seeping Shia extremists of Iranian inspiration on the other? The victory of either will mean continuing instability and threat to peace and security There will be no peace and security unless and until both are countered effectively----politically, ideologically and professionally. Professionally does not necessarily mean militarily. It means through a mix of covert, para-military and military methods----with the military component more sophisticated than at present.

Unfortunately, the Iraq Study Group of the US, headed by Mr. James Baker, former US Secretary of State, has failed to address this question. Its report is a ill-cooked hotch-potch of suggestions lacking coherent analysis. The only new recommendation is the involvement of Iran and Syria in the search for a resolution. It is like Gen. Musharraf's suggestion for the involvement of the Neo Taliban in the search for a solution in Afghanistan.

Iraq is in the grip of a four-in-one war---- the US-led forces vs the Al Qaeda-led terrorists; the Iraqi opponents of the occupation vs the US-led forces; the Iraqi nationalists vs the Iraqi Quislings; and the Shias vs the Sunnis. There cannot be an end to the blood-letting in Iraq without the co-operation of the Iraqi Sunnis. The Sunnis might constitute only 20 per cent of the population, but they are responsible for nearly 75 per cent of the violence. They have shown a ferocity, self-motivation and determination much, much beyond their number. Their anger has to be mitigated and their co-operation enlisted to isolate the foreign terrorists on the one side and the Iranian cat's paw on the other.

The Iraq Study Group has left it to the present Iraqi Government led by Mr. Nuri al-Maliki to work for a reconciliation with the Sunni Arabs. It won't be able to do it. It is hated by the Sunni Arabs as strongly as they dislike the Americans. It is looked upon by large sections of the people---Sunnis as well as Shias--- as the Government of the Green Zone. An army raised, trained and controlled by it will not be able to either put down or placate the Sunnis.

Reducing the anger of the Iraqi Sunnis and making them part of the solution has to be the task of the international community in general and the regional Sunni powers in particular. More important than interaction with Iran and Syria is interaction with the Iraqi Sunni leaders including the leaders of the Baath party. The USA's original sin was to have prematurely transferred power to a group of Shia leaders, who are largely surrogates of Teheran. It will be compounding that sin by making the Shia-dominated Government responsible for dealing with the Sunnis. They will make a blood-bath of the Baathist leaders and their supporters.

While there would be no harm in trying to enlist the good offices of Iran and Syria, it would be an illusion to think that they would be able to deliver or even try to. This is the time to give the Sunnis of Iran a role in helping their Sunni brethren in Iraq. This is also the time to give the Mujahideen-e-Khalq a role in countering any over-ambitious role by Iran. This is also the time to encourage the reformist forces in Iran to re-assert themselves.

Unfortunately, US policy-makers and analysts have not been able to get out of the military box into which their minds have got stuck. Most of the so-called new ideas and suggestions coming out of them are permutations and combinations of various military options. They are juggling with troop figures and time-tables.

While briefing the media on their report at Washington on December 6, 2006, the members of the Iraq Study Group described it as the last available option to make Iraq work. Juggling with figures and time-tables won't make Iraq work. Nor will giving the present Government in Baghdad total responsibility.

Iraq is in such a mess that one is doubtful whether any exclusively military option can make Iraq work. At least non-military options plus a healthy dose of humility might. Humility means the US admitting its wrong-doings to the Iraqi Sunnis, particularly the Baathists, and seeking their co-operation.

Rally for David Hicks

Bring David Hicks Home for Christmas!

Five years detention without trial is five years too long!

David’s tiny solitary confinement cell; locked in 23 hours of every day; lights on 24 hours of every day; this is mental torture!

Parliament House Federation Lawns
Saturday9 December
12 pm

Every Canberran who cherishes our current freedoms has a stake in seeing that David Hicks is treated according to the rules of natural justice.

News Alert & Alarmed: Downer urges Fijians to adopt passive resistace, Iraqis advised to pray for a miracle!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Towards an Australian Human Rights Act

As the human rights misdeeds of the Howard government get more airing by mainstream media (belatedly one might think!) the momentum toward state and national human rights legislation is building.

AI reports: "Activists in Tasmania have actively supported steps towards a Charter of Rights and in New South Wales, Amnesty International Australia is part of an alliance pressing for a Charter of Rights. Nationally we are supporting New Matilda's campaign for a national Human Rights Act. Details of these campaigns and our reasons for supporting the adoption of Human Rights Charters and Acts can be found on our website."

This is a positive trend and one that is vigorously opposed by Howard. I wonder why?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

News Alert & Alarmed: Downer condemns Fiji coup, reaffirms military invasion preferred method for removing govts we don't like!

Australia's disgrace - "Immigration Dept errors highlighted in detention cases"

The ABC reports "Commonwealth Ombudsman John McMillan says there are serious issues that need to be addressed in the way the Immigration Department deals with people who have mental health issues.

He has released three reports into the detention of 20 people between 2000 and 2005.

Ten of those detained were Australian citizens and Professor McMillan says in all cases the Department of Immigration made significant administrative errors.

Professor McMillan says a training program and decision making system with far more rigour is needed.

"The officers can certainly be better trained in what the requirements of the law are," he said.

"Officers in many of those cases have too easily jumped to the conclusion that a person who was quite obviously born overseas was an unlawful non-citizen," he said.

The department has announced it will implement all the recommendations.

These include better training for department officers in citizenship law and developing more appropriate ways to deal with people who have a mental illness.

The department's secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, says there could be payouts.

"We would clearly be highly responsive if any people sought to pursue compensation claims," he said.

The Ombudsman is still investigating more than 200 more cases.

Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone says the department has already made changes in several areas.

"Why this is a good day is it's a confirmation of open government," she said.

"An example of problems being spotted and instead of a Government saying, 'well I hope there's no more', actually saying 'it's our job to go and find them'."

The Herald Sun reported on specific tales of woe, including:

"a mentally ill Australian resident, originally from East Timor, was detained by the Immigration Department for six weeks despite having held a valid visa for eight years."

"In many cases in which mentally ill people were detained, immigration officers had too easily jumped to the conclusion that a person who was born overseas was an unlawful non-citizen."

"The report on the detention of 10 children found DIMA officers had not considered the children's best interests and failed to consider that a child's immigration status could be different to their parents.

In eight of the 10 cases of children being detained, the child was either an Australian citizen or lawful visa holder"

"The reports come just days after the federal Government agreed to compensate Ms Solon for her wrongful deportation in 2001."

"Howard's Brutopia" - the thoughts of Kevin Rudd

In a recent article published in The Monthly, Kevin Rudd discussed Howard's political offensive on thinking people who see through his simple minded pitch to fear and exclusion, and set out an alternative template based on principles of decency, fairness and compassion.

In "Howard's Brutopia" he takes aim at Howard's "culture wars", which he sees as "essentially a cover for the real battle of ideas in Australian politics today: the battle between free-market fundamentalism and the social-democratic belief that individual reward can be balanced with social responsibility. Howard’s culture war is in large part an electoral strategy drawn straight from the Republican Party’s campaign manual. Its organising principle is fear, and it is deployed in two parts. The first of these is the conscious exacerbation of fear, anxiety and uncertainty – all of which are powerful (though, in effect, disempowering) emotions capable of overriding everything else in the human mind. The second part is to proffer the healing balm of “certainty” in the midst of all the anxiety-inducing “uncertainty”, by running a series of falsely dichotomous arguments in the public debate: tradition versus modernity; absolutism versus moral relativism; monoculture versus multiculture."

Mr Rudd is calling for a broad based movement to re-capture the centre ground of Australian politics.

I think many people will be attracted to this idea, as they become increasingly uncomfortable with the subliminal dog whistling of Howard and his "mates":

" Working within a comprehensive framework of self-regarding and other-regarding values gives social democrats a rich policy terrain in which to define a role for the state. This includes the security of the people; macro-economic stability; the identification of market failure in critical areas such as infrastructure; the identification of key public goods, including education, health, the environment and the social safety net; the fostering of new forms of social capital; and the protection of the family as the core incubator of human and social capital. These state functions do not interfere with the market; they support the market. But they have their origins in the view that the market is designed for human beings, not vice versa, and this remains the fundamental premise that separates social democrats from neo-liberals.

It is no coincidence that when the government’s entirely self-regarding asylum-seeker legislation was recently blocked by the parliament, it was blocked by a coalition of political forces, including a conservative Christian from the National Party, long-time social Liberals, several community Independents, Democrats, Greens and the Labor Party’s full complement. Given that John Howard’s neo-liberal experiment has now reached the extreme, the time has come to restore the balance in Australian politics. The time has come to recapture the centre. The time has come to forge a new coalition of political forces across the Australian community, uniting those who are disturbed by market fundamentalism in all its dimensions and who believe that this country is entitled to a greater vision than one which merely aggregates individual greed and self-interest."


The ACT Refugee Action Committee is calling on Australians to protest to stop the war on civil liberties and to seek the closure of Guantanamo prison camp.

Australian David Hicks has been held without trial for five years in Guantanamo Bay.

The Australian Government must insist that David, an Australian citizen, be returned to Australia immediately by the US Government.

Please join with us outside the ACT legislative Assembly building on Thursday 7th. of December at 12.30pm.

Chair Sister Jane Keogh.
Speakers including Senator Kerry Nettle


People who like can consider wearing orange in solidarity with David or orange ribbons will be given out at the rally.

Phone Enquiries : 0413387915

On and around 9 December 2006, five years since the capture of David Hicks in Afghanistan, rallies and events will be held around Australia to call for him to face justice or be released.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Loneliest refugee finds a home

Keeping up his focus on refugee issues, Michael Gordon of The Age updates us on the 'saga' of Mohammed Sagar:

"MORE than five years of offshore detention, most of it on the tiny island of Nauru, is almost over for Mohammed Sagar, one of the world's loneliest refugees, after a Scandinavian country agreed to resettle him.

The last of about 1500 asylum seekers who tried to come to Australia by boat in 2001 to still be detained offshore, Mr Sagar is undaunted by the prospect of having to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture.

"I am just glad I will be able to get my life back," he told The Age yesterday. "I feel like it is an imaginary thing and cannot take it as reality." After four rejections by countries deterred by a disputed adverse security assessment by ASIO, the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, negotiated a new future for Mr Sagar, who has always maintained he is no threat to anyone."

At the start of my blog in April last year I wrote, "The more we shed light on our government’s treatment of asylum seekers, the better equipped we are to raise awareness of the violations perpetrated in our name. Of late, the mainstream media has been revisiting asylum seeker issues because of the wrongful detention on an Australian resident. This is encouraging as the majority of journalists appeared to swallow the government’s line in the wake of Howard’s ‘boat people’ election, despite the revelations on ‘children overboard’. Few commentators drilled down to unearth the human rights abuses underlying Australia’s detention of asylum seekers. I think this is changing."

To his credit Michael Gordon is a mainstream journalist who has stayed the course in terms of reporting this ongoing violation of human rights. Not only is the Pacific Solution a dark chapter in the management of refugee policy, but it is a clear indicator of the predilections of the government on governance, accountability and human rights. The score card is dreadful on all counts.

I also wrote back then that "When some of their (ie asylum seeker) stories come to be written in detail, Australians will be shocked at the brutal treatment meted out by a government with a manic determination to manage the boat people phenomenon as a political wedge issue.

What happened to that freedom loving social democracy built on universal human rights; a nation at ease with itself and welcoming to those who face persecution on political, religious or ethnicity grounds? Do Australians remember how we welcomed Vietnamese boat people in their many thousands?

Now we are looking more and more like a xenophobic client state of the US, an uncompassionate society 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. The silliness of this position overwhelms me at times.

The history of propaganda reveals that you can package lies very successfully if they play to irrational fears – it is especially difficult to counter when cloaked in the garb of national security. Are Australians prepared to allow their government to continue to ignore human rights and refugee conventions – to sit by while basic rights are suspended, or as Noam Chomsky put it, ‘democracy is deterred”?"

The next election is also a referendum on what type of society we want for our children.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Centres of barbarism - a view from Britain

"We treat asylum seekers as the lowest of the low - while private firms turn their plight into profit." Sound familiar? This article in The Guardian caught my eye. It seems refugee detention centres are managed in much the same way in Britain as they are here. Following is the full article by Melanie McFadyean:

"The riots at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre will surprise no one who knows what goes on behind the doors of privately run detention centres, where some 2,000 asylum-seeking men, women and children are locked up and a level of despair prevails that rarely gets media attention - what an irony that this week's riot was sparked by a custody officer turning off the TV as an item about a damning inquiry into the centre, near Heathrow, was coming on.

Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, has uncovered human-rights abuses time and again in more than 40 reports into immigration detention. But she described her new report on Harmondsworth as "undoubtedly the poorest ... we have issued on an immigration removal centre".

UK Detention Services, which runs the centre, recently rebranded itself as Kalyx - derived, the company explains, from "calyx", the name for "the protective covering of a flower bud". Protective covering? In Harmondsworth five people have killed themselves since 1989 - four since 2000. Despite this, Owers noted, suicide and self-harm work was weak. Moreover half the detainees she canvassed reported victimisation, and more than half said they felt unsafe.

Driven to Desperate Measures, a recent report from the Institute of Race Relations, catalogues the deaths of 221 asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers in the UK in the past 15 years -suicides, racist attacks and accidents in the hidden economy account for many. In the past five years alone, as immigration legislation has got increasingly tough, there have been 41 suicides, 17 in detention centres and prisons.

Nobody, besides Home Office officials, ministers and the companies themselves, knows what profits are made out of locking up asylum seekers. Questions under the Freedom of Information act meet with the response that disclosure would discourage companies from dealing with the public sector and might "damage them commercially". You can see why, when some of the truth emerges as it has this week.

But what has come out under FoI are Home Office figures for self-harm and suicide in immigration detention for the 10 months up to the end of January 2006: 185 people had "attempted self-harm, requiring medical treatment" (how many were attempted suicides isn't known) and 1,467 were put on self-harm watch. Research by Medical Justice suggests the numbers could be higher: of 56 "failed" asylum seekers in four detention centres whom the group examined, 33 showed evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression; many had harmed themselves or made suicide attempts; and nearly half had been tortured.

Torture victims, according to the Home Office operating enforcement manual, should not be considered suitable for detention except in "very exceptional circumstances". In a report published in the British Medical Journal last February, Mina Fazel, an Oxford academic, and her co-author Derrick Silove found that refugees "warehoused" and confined for long periods in immigration detention suffered from hopelessness, despair and suicidal urges.

It's our money that is spent on this barbarism, a barbarism most of us are happy to ignore while private companies fill their coffers. In its mania for privatisation the government is planning to sell us shares in the new prisons it is planning to build, while Britain now has the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe. It gets away with it because asylum seekers are the lowest of the low - and so-called failed asylum seekers are our version of the Untermensch, the expendable."

One of the comments received from readers went as follows:

"We started this cruelty in Australia with private jails in the desert where tear gas is used on children, handcuffs to go to the doctor or dentist and people were beaten by batons and Woomera became more notorious than any place in Australia.

Who in the world could forget a young man flying off the 25 foot razor wire fence to have his sister and her children released because their dad was in Sydney?

Who could forget the BBC's and David Fickling's world wide coverage?

Woomera is supposed to be closed but my sister took photos last month and it is intact waiting for the man on the stairs. He wasn't there today and he won't be there tomorrow.

We are now building a high security prison for refugees on Christmas Island. Electronic gates, electric fences, sensor pads, prisons for babies and children.

In 1951 the west wrote a superb human rights instrument called the refugees convention in response to the horrors we helped to inflict on the Jews, the gypsied, the disabled, the homosexuals and communists sent to the gas chambers and death camps by Germany.

Today we have thrown that convention in the bin - article 31 says that punishment is forbidden - for political expediency and fear mongering.

The terrible irony of it all is that the very people the convention was written in response to are now treating the Palestinians in precisely the same way the nazis treated them. They haven't build the death camps in Israel yet but they don't need to. They are committing genocide without them and the west applauds them loudly.

It is disgraceful that Australia and England have gone down this road - article 1 of the Universal declaration of human rights says that we are all born equal in dignity and should be treated in a spirit of brotherhood.

We have failed refugees, failed migrants, failed the civilians of the countries we invade without cause, failed ourselves and most of all failed our own humanity.

Shame on us all."

For those who think Australian values should be about this type of barbarism, keep voting for one John Winston Howard.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

DFAT had way too many senior moments on AWB...

One of the DFAT staff called before the Cole Commission has blown a big whistle on the "spin" put on her evidence by the report. The Age reports Genevieve Hamilton, who was First Secretary at Australia's diplomatic mission to the United Nations from 1995 to 1998, said the Cole report avoided the question of who in the Government was responsible for failing to stop AWB from rorting UN sanctions. "I think that the commissioner's report has given ministers and departments the armory that they needed to say that they were not at fault."

Ms Hamilton said her evidence was misrepresented to draw a conclusion that she disagrees with — that DFAT had no responsibility for checking contracts and detecting kickbacks.

The former diplomat complained about the misuse of her evidence after seeing a draft of the report, but her concerns were not redressed."

The Age article goes on to say that "During the inquiry, AWB managers claimed their dealings in Iraq had been approved by the Australian Government because all contracts were checked by DFAT officials. But several DFAT employees told the inquiry they never examined the contracts for probity, instead describing their role as that of a "post-box".

Part-responsibility for vetting the contracts lay with DFAT's employee at the UN mission, Bronte Moules. Ms Hamilton was asked to give evidence to the inquiry because she was Ms Moules' predecessor, working in New York until 1998 — the year before the kickbacks started.

Mr Cole's report adopts the DFAT argument that Ms Moules and others fulfilled a "postbox" function and says that Ms Hamilton's evidence was "to the same effect". But Ms Hamilton said the postbox excuse was a "total cop-out". She added: "I would never have thought like that."

She said that references in the contracts to "transport fees" paid by AWB, later revealed to be kickbacks, should have raised a red flag for DFAT staff and concerns should have been taken up at the highest levels.

Ms Hamilton told The Age that while in the job, she considered it her duty to scrutinise contracts she passed to the UN. She is confident she would have noticed the kickbacks had they occurred while she was in charge. "I would have raised hell about it," she said."

From my experience, I can confirm that senior officials would not ignore such red flags unless it was made abundently clear from on high that they should do so. It has to be remembered that DFAT had an oversight responsibility in an area of UN dealings that was super-sensitive. It is inconceivable that responsible officers would ignore warnings of this nature.

The difficulties of doing business in what have come to be known as "spoilt markets" (where competitors routinely offer mixed credits, concessional financing and kickbacks to do business) is not grounds for turning a blind eye to this type of corruption, particularly as Australia had committed defence and other assets to uphold the sanctions regime against Iraq. This goes beyond the normal argy bargy of trading in developing countries into an area that undermines our national security interests and our integrity as a trustworthy member of the international community.

In any other Westminister-style jurisdiction the responsible Minister would have resigned by now. I think the whole government should take responsibility for this scandal but I retain an idealistic notion that elected leaders are trustees of the community - when that trust is misused they forfeit the right to lead.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Why Iraq & AWB?

Some readers may be wondering why this blog has apparently gone off on a tangent. I am focussed on the Iraq war and the AWB scandal because these events typify an egregious disregard for human rights, good governance and government accountability.

This mindset led Australia to deviate from good international citizenship toward a monocultural fortress mentality fueled by fear, rampant individualism and intolerance of the different.

Our government is comfortable with bullying smaller countries that don't conform to our cultural projections and insecure posturing. Violations of refugee conventions, rule of law principles and other international machinery designed to protect human rights have become common currency and many of our citizens angrily declare our right to do so.

It is this latter phenomenon that I find most alarming. Some of the violent language and abuse being hurled around virtual spaces is frightful and reflects a fertile ground for the type of dog whistle politics on race, religion, ethnicity and so called "Australian-ness" that Howard taps into.

The 'us' and 'them' construct has worked well for Howard.

The Iraq war imbroglio and the AWB cover-up are indicators of the government's performance in the area of human rights, governance and accountability - I keep harping on these failings as I think it is important that Australians who believe Howard is acting in our best interests understand why so many of their fellow citizens are genuinely fearful of the direction this country is taking.

If this is the new Australian value system - Huston, we have a problem!

The big picture....

AWB daze...

Nicholson in The Australian

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

what we don't know can't hurt us, or, "do the AWB jig with me....."

Matt Price of The Australian has put the Cole Commission findings to punters on his blog. Matty thinks the fallout will be minimal (his ruminations are invariably soaked in the spirit of Aussie apathy, which may mean he is an accurate weather vane!). By contrast, I live in hope!

Click here to read Cole's report for yourself.

The responses to Price's blog piece suggest the apoplectic, self-righteous calls by Howard, Downer et al for apologies from Labor have gone down like a lead balloon. They will not escape opprobrium over this scandal, and neither should they. Following is a few offerings from the punters:

"Was it Harry S.Truman that said: “The buck stops here”? Well, I think that the current leaders of our country should be totally ashamed of the gross bumbling, incompetent manner in which they are supposed to run their various departments. For Mr Cole to absolve all the various department heads and other minors from any “knowledge” beggars belief, and for ministers to blandly state that they were “unaware” of any wrongdoings is akin to the ostrich sticking its head in the sand… or should that be wheat? Let me bring out that slogan from the early 1970s: “It’s time”."

"Gross incompetence; “no one told me” excuse yet again! Downer, Vaile and their senior staff should be sacked; but, as always, Howard will be too weak to do anything."

"Has Cole now validated the contemporary political version of “need to know”? In our bastardisation of the Westminster system, mandarins now exist to ensure ministers only hear good news—or bad news that plays well with the electorate.
One assumes the sub-mandarins have adopted the same ethos, and by the next decade the only reliable source of information will be the filing clerk."

"I think, Jill Courtney, the only DFAT public servant to openly admit that Alia was a name she knew, summed it up when she stated that under the Howard Government “any dissent was not tolerated”. However, under the previous Labor government, public servants were “basically encouraged to disagree and to speak their mind”. Says volumes on how this government has politicised the public service and therefore is never held accountable. Ministerial responsibility—a cornerstone of our democracy—does not exist under the Howard Government, which is to our detriment."

"How do the government ministers involved have the gall to draw their pay?

"The Government has a habit of denying any wrongdoing. That is what you get when the front bench is loaded to the hilt with lawyers.
No responsibility - “It was the fault of a staffer”.
No accountability “How much can I get away with?”

Which all leads to a Government permanently in denial and never admitting to any error nor offering any apology for any wrongdoing no matter how bleedin’ obvious. "

Nicholson in The Australian

Monday, November 27, 2006

Death penalty politics...

Christian Catalano underlines the inconsistency in the Howard Government's approach to the death penalty, and how damaging this can be in seeking leniency for Australians at risk in other jurisdictions.

This government has an ambivalent attitude toward lobbying governments on the death penalty. It seems to depend on whether proactive lobbying will suit the particular political spin being run on issues around the courts' decisions. If public sentiment is running against the convicted, such as in the case of terrorists and tyrants, the Howard govt is gung ho about the death penalty. If there is unease at home they go through a hand wringing exercise that smacks of hypocrisy. Some governments (Vietnam for example) have responded to Australia's representations and granted clemency, but the current politicised approach amounts to a horrible lottery.

Melbourne University professor of Asian law Tim Lindsey said the Government had "lost its leverage" on the issue.

"You can't have it both ways — if you support the death penalty for terrorists then you can't complain when it's applied to other offenders," he said.

Grain daze: Saddam allegedly embezzled billions by evading UN sanctions - who turned a blind eye then?

Reporting on Howard's evidence to the Cole Commission in April, Peter Hartcher had this to sat about our government:

"Howard's appearance yesterday seemed to confirm that the Government makes some of its most serious foreign policy decisions based on hunches and politics rather than objective analysis, and that Australia's national budget for intelligence, with disclosed spending of $1.1 billion a year, and all the expertise and information that it buys, is wasted on this Government.

How so?

The counsel assisting Cole, John Agius, SC, with the Prime Minister in the witness box, started probing Howard's knowledge of the rorting of the oil-for-food program that the UN had set up.

Agius reminded the Prime Minister of a speech he gave to the National Press Club in building support for the invasion of Iraq. Agius read out to Howard an extract of that speech, from March 13, 2003, in which Howard attacked Saddam Hussein:

"He has cruelly and cynically manipulated the United Nations oil-for-food program. He's rorted it to buy weapons to support his designs at the expense of the wellbeing of his people."

John Agius put it to Howard: "Clearly that statement, and a statement of such gravity, must have been based upon briefings that you received?"

Well, not really, said Howard. It was based mainly on open sources available to anyone who could read a newspaper or type "Google" - a speech by Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, a press briefing by the US State Department and other miscellaneous reports.

Howard said he had asked one of his staff, the speechwriter, to check that reports or cables from Australia's diplomatic posts "supported the open-source claims and was satisfied that they did".

So Howard had not needed the intelligence system to tell him that Saddam was cheating the sanctions system. For how long before his press club speech had Howard known this, Agius wanted to know.

"It would be well before that. It's very hard - probably a year or more that I would have had that belief, but, like a lot of these things, it would have been a mixture of bits and pieces plus a predisposition to believe the worst, I suppose, of that regime."

Agius: "Well, in that connection, did you ever have any suspicion that any Australian company, including AWB, one of the largest exporters to Iraq, might have been involved in that rorting?"

Howard: "No, I didn't."

Golly gosh....

News Alert & Alarmed: PM demands good governance from Pacific states, confirms AWB just misunderstood by his Ministers!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Bush legacy...

Weekend Australian - "Iraq a moral blunder, says war hero"

Of late The Australian has found a voice to question the dangerous mindset that got this country into the morass of Iraq. I have been amazed at how complacent mainstream journalists have been toward Howard's simple minded propaganda line on 'cut and run' and 'stay the course'. These are slogans penned in Washington by an administration that has lost all credibility as a global peace maker. History will not be kind to Bush and the sycophantic technocrats that jumped on his "lets get Saddam" bandwagon.

The shock and awe nonsense was bad enough (cheered on by Team Australia, including the ABC's 7.30 report, which ran a commentary panel on the war like a quiz show). The disastrous mismanagement of the occupation will go down in the annals of human folly.

Similarly, as I have blogged earlier, there are senior players in this town that should be held to account for their complicity in putting this country in harm's way.

Some of those with knowledge of how the Australian people have been duped are now speaking out.

Better late than never, but I continue to wonder how so many strategic analysts and advisers checked their brain at the door of the "neocon" son et lumiere show.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Iraq is not a disaster and I'm leading on climate change..."

Every picture tells a story....remind you of anyone?

We keep making the same mistake

David Day's article in The Age put me in mind of a dinner conversation I had with one of the current heads of our intelligence agencies prior to the invasion of Iraq. He was an adviser to the PM at this stage. I made the point that the invasion would lead to a rapid deterioration of the security situation in the Middle East because jihadi groups would flock to Iraq once Saddam was removed to make jihad against the West. I was rebuffed with what was the orthodox line back then - WMD is all that matters and Saddam's capacity to use such weapons must override all other considerations.

Day writes: "So now it's official: the seismic shift in the US Congress has forced President George Bush to look for a way out of the morass into which he blundered more than three years ago. With Iraq's population now estimated to be more than half a million people fewer than it would have been had the Americans not launched their invasion, George Bush and John Howard have been worse for the Iraqis than Saddam Hussein. That should not come as a surprise. The evidence has been there on the nightly news since the invasion was launched.

The Prime Minister can't say that people didn't warn him. Although he is fond of claiming lately that everyone back then was agreed about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction, this was far from the case. Many people were counselling caution, warning him to wait until the weapons inspectors had time to come to a definitive conclusion. Many also wanted any action, if it did proceed, to be under the auspices of the United Nations rather than under the leadership of America alone. How right they were."

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but many of us with some knowledge of these matters in the Foreign Affairs community could see where Bush's unilateralism was heading. The Blick strategy on Iraq's WMD was sidelined. This proved to be a stupid blunder. The projection that jihadis would fill the vacuum created by the removal of Sadaam was rejected. It has proved to be right on the money, and was fairly obvious to anyone with real understanding of the region.

A lot of people who should have known better, given their claimed expertise on such matters, got Iraq badly wrong. Were they merely in thrall to a group of ignorant politicians playing to a tune penned in Washington, or did they really believe the advice they were being scripted to provide? There are questions that need to be examined further.

News Alert & Alarmed: PM defends Iraq invasion as the only way to give the people democracy, sends troops to prop up Tongan feudal system!

The Howard & Downer show goes to Tonga...

Bill Leak in The Australian

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Malcolm Fraser - "Human Rights and Responsibilities in the Age of Terror"

I have not been a great fan of our erstwhile leader because of his underhand connivance to unseat the ALP in 1975. My generation have long memories on that subject!

However, his pronouncements on Howard's departure from the basic principles of human rights and rule of law - in pursuit of political advantage dressed up as the "war on terror" - has redeemed him in my eyes in so many ways. Critics of Howard from within conservative bastions are few and far between and they are invariably set upon by the reactionary commentariat that springs to Howard's defence whenever someone takes aim at his appalling record.

Following is an excerpt from his address of the above title delivered at the University of Melbourne, 29 November 2005:

"It is possible that the fateful and horrific events of September 11, 2001 changed our world for ever. But the change is not represented by the age of terrorism; terrorism is not new. It is not represented by the War on Terror; wars are not new. It was not even the scale or nature of the attacks themselves, terrible as they were, that brought about our changed world; we have been attacked before. But the change as I see it has been brought about by the haste with which leaders of great democratic nations around the world made the fundamentally wrong assumption that we cannot maintain liberty and the Rule of Law and defend ourselves.

In discarding these principles, Governments have created fear and practiced discrimination based on race and religion. For Australia, fear was created and deception practised in relation to the boat people and over Tampa in late 2001. There was serious discrimination against legitimate asylum seekers. This was the effective end of the liberal age and the beginning of a period of regression. As a response to the War on Terror, liberty has been seriously compromised and arbitrary powers sought by the executive."

This is an important lecture that will become a key source for historians and political scientists who will, in time, pass cogent judgement on Howard's unfortunate legacy.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

'Make Poverty History' gets a rerun, but the focus on this burning issue is all too short and infrequent

Organisers of the Make Poverty History concert in Melbourne and U2's Bono have urged members of the G20 Summit to commit to debt relief for third world countries.

As someone who worked in the world of international aid for about two decades I despair that the mindset of those that make 'official aid' policy has not evolved to address the needs of our global reality.

Official aid should not be used as a trade instrument or conduit for first world cultural projections on to economically weaker societies. To get beyond the simplistic lexicon of a political economy shaped exclusively by global market forces, world leaders need to explore more humanist solutions to the provision of basic human needs and acknowledge that failure to do so will condemn all of us to an insecure future.

The onus on developed world leaders to end 'charity' as a basis for aid provision and imposed, culturally skewed economic prescriptions is urgent. New partnerships with the developing world to share resources equitably and strengthen human capability in areas of most need should be viewed as essential investments in global security.

The first world is getting richer, whilst the poor in developing regions retreat into ever more grinding poverty. Ruling elites tread the comfortable track of well-paid jobs, serviced environs, nice houses, mod cons and domestic help. Behind this façade the poor make their way, as they always have, along rough tracks out of sight of built up residential enclaves, across barrens into slums and shanty towns. Their circumstances are getting worse and their story is repeated over and over again in the post-colonial world. The spatial reality of third world urban landscapes is a symbol of a cruel dichotomy.

The vast majority of the world's poor are either underemployed or unemployed, barely eking a living in market economies that have left them behind, housed cheek by jowl in squalid conditions with little or no services or amenities. Alternatively, they are part of the legions of rural poor, living hand to mouth on marginal land or with no land at all.

In some countries the poor do not register on the human development index. They have dropped off the statisticians’ radar. They leave so little evidence of their daily struggle to exist.

We urgently need a leadership that has the vision to make bold decisions and to bridge the dangerous north-south divide in ways that reflect the principle that poverty is anathema to human rights.

We could start with a few simple policy shifts. They include fostering better understanding of third world countries in the West, developing genuine partnerships with aid recipients, and improving governance through cooperative arrangements, civil society alliances and people to people engagements.

The current score card is bleak and going backwards. A sense of superiority pervades Western attitudes toward the developing world. The hectoring of developing neighbours to conform to Western security and governance templates is becoming more strident.

Economic clout is used to bully weaker countries into accepting interference in their domestic affairs. Aid is provided to repressive regimes to shore up trade interests.

Aid has become more politicised and further compromised as a means to strengthen relations with partner countries.

Cry enough...

Friday, November 17, 2006

High Court plays to Government`s tune on refugee rights

The Age reports "The High Court has overturned a lower court decision requiring the Government to prove a country is safe before deporting an asylum seeker there.

The court upheld a decision by the Immigration Department to refuse permanent protection visas for two Afghan men, who sought to stay on the grounds that the Taliban was unlikely to re-establish itself after being ousted by the US in 2001.

The two men, Shiite Muslims of Hazara ethnicity, were granted temporary protection visas in 1999.

Their claim for permanent protection was rejected by the Refugee Review Tribunal. Last year one of the men won an appeal in the full court of the Federal Court questioning the legal basis of the department's ruling that Afghanistan was safe.

The decision put the onus on Government to prove that a country is not dangerous before deporting a previous TPV holder.

The High Court win by Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone means the department's policy decisions on whether a country is safe are binding."

As we know from the work of the Edmund Rice Centre (see Deported to Danger II) and an earlier book by David Corlett (Following Them Home), refugees have been put in harm's way regularly by the Howard Government, through a negligent disdain for duty of care principles that beggars belief. The High Court has just made it easier for these travesties of natural justice to continue.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Detention camp has it all, but no people

This piece in the SMH caught my attention. After reading this I recommend everyone rush out to see the Road to Guatanomo for a chilling insight into the mindset of regimes prepared to detain people without recourse to the rule of law and basic human rights.

Ben Cubby writes
"THE new immigration detention camp being built on Christmas Island, dubbed "Australia's Guantanamo Bay" by opponents, will have bedroom cameras, electric fences and electronically controlled doors allowing centre-wide lock-downs, plans leaked from the island show.

The level of security and surveillance, greater than at any existing detention centre, makes parts of the complex comparable to a maximum security prison.

But with the numbers arriving by boat plummeting since 2003, critics are asking why the 800-bed centre, which is thought to have cost more than $240 million, is being built at all.

The Government says the high-tech enclosure is a deterrent to smugglers and illegal entrants, and useful for contingencies.

"While the Government's policies have been successful in stemming the flow of unauthorised boat arrivals, the capacity needs to be available should unauthorised arrival numbers start increasing," the Department of Immigration said in a statement.

Asked if an influx was expected, the department said: "People movements are unpredictable."

West Papua: Canberra's Treaty 'Killing Off' Papuan Democracy

The Age reports a Papuan leader has said " AUSTRALIA was "killing off" democracy in Papua with its impending treaty with Indonesia"...

Jacob Rumbiak, foreign affairs co-ordinator for the West Papuan National Authority — which describes itself as Papua's transitional government — said yesterday that Australia would be stopping international monitoring of human rights abuses by the Indonesian military in Papua.

"It will close West Papua from the rest of the world," especially to those concerned about human rights and the environment, he said.

He also warned it would "create opportunities for international terrorists based in West Papua to create instability in the Pacific".

The treaty, to be signed on Monday, includes expansion of military and intelligence ties, recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over Papua and agreement to suppress supporters of independence.

"They wanted this treaty to stop the misunderstanding between Indonesia and the Australian Government because of the 43 who arrived in Australia," Mr Rumbiak said, referring to the Papuan asylum seekers who arrived in Australia in January and were granted protection.

"The treaty is not the solution," he said. "It cannot stop the West Papuan struggle to defend West Papuan land, peace and justice.

"The Australian Government should understand the 43 asylum seekers left West Papua because West Papua was not safe for them."

The treaty would not deter future asylum seekers, he said.

A spokesman for the Free West Papua campaign, Nick Chesterfield, said: "The agreement is neither contributing to West Papua's, Indonesia's or Australia's security because it is aligning Australia with the wishes of TNI (the Indonesian military), which is the source of all the instability problems in our region."

A former Papua resident and human rights campaigner, Anglican minister Peter Woods, questioned the implications of the agreement for "those who are legitimately supporting West Papuans' aspirations in Australia and the attitude of the Australian Government towards that".

Newspoll findings released yesterday found 64 per cent of Australians supported access to Papua for journalists and 72 per cent supported access for human rights monitors. The nationwide poll of 1200 respondents prompted calls for the treaty to guarantee access to the province.

To dispel the disinformation being spread about by Howard Government apologists, it is important to reiterate the point that support for human rights in West Papua does not equate to support for secession. Many West Papua advocates would be reassured by a properly constituted act of self-determination, which may lead to a form of autonomy. Until Indonesia ceases governing West Papua as a colonial fiefdom and acknowledges the right of West Papuans to determine their own future, activists and advocates will continue to highlight the inequities and exploitative nature of Jakarta'a rule. Australia is complicit in this repression so long as it connives with Indonesia to support the status quo and to minimise international scrutiny of the West Papuan situation.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A message from Hollywood - Bush had it coming

The SMH reports on visiting Hollywood star, Tim Robbins, musing on what can happen in a democracy when the rule of law is misused:

"People across America - both Republicans and Democrats - are fed up with the way things are going," Robbins said before the premiere last night of the South African political thriller Catch a Fire.

"We need to reverse some of the decisions we've made that I think the majority have found to be un-American."

Robbins and his partner, the actress Susan Sarandon, have frequently criticised Mr Bush over the invasion of Iraq. But there was no crowing about the election loss, just a pointed remark that Catch a Fire, directed by the Australian Phillip Noyce, had a contemporary message.

"If there's any allegory to today, it has to do with what happens when you throw out the rule of law; when you get rid of due process and you engage in torture," Robbins said.

"That can oftentimes compromise your society. It can often exacerbate the problems that you're trying to solve."

This is a strong cautionary message for Australia, but the polls would suggest a good number of voters still don't get that Howard has been responsible for taking Australia down a dangerous path.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"A wolf in sheep's clothing": divisive, isolationist and purpose-built to win the xenophobic vote at the next election

Eva Sallis of Australians Against Racism has issued the following warning about Howard's proposed citizenship test:

"The proposed citizenship test is to be debated soon. I have read the briefing paper put out by the government, and it is a sweet tongued piece, inviting agreement through age old tricks of rhetoric. It presents an earnest and benign government working for the good of all, and proposing to help those least supported, like refugees, towards the ultimate goal: being fruitful as citizens of Australia. The paper is so disarming, it has to be read in the context of contemporary social and media debates and the current government's policy history to make any sense of it.

All the problems of the paper are covert or unstated.

Many people are responding to it in detail, from the members of many communities who feel insulted by the retrospective illegitimacy to their belonging in Australia that it implies, to those concerned with its divisiveness for new communities settling in here, and the wedge it potentially drives between communities. This test will entrench scales of worthiness among citizens. Poor English will be used by the broader community to ostracise and vilify to a greater degree than it already is, given such a sanction.

With this editorial comment, I would like to draw attention to some longer term implications. I will put them bluntly, rather than arguing point by point with what I think is a dishonest and disingenuous document.

1. Can we prevent the test being used for cultural screening? I don't think we can, as I think that is its purpose. I think we all know that the test is devised to exclude, rather than, as the paper suggests, 'help', some applicants for citizenship. We can guess from Howard and the media's dog whistle what cultures of origin would be most often excluded. The pretense that this is not about people of Middle Eastern or Muslim origin is to me and I hope to many transparent nonsense.

2. I think DIMA’s record as a reliable and responsible government department must be taken into account. DIMA or an offshoot of DIMA would devise and administer the test. Why would any of us expect DIMA employees to administer the test without taking unwritten policies into account? Given what we know of DIMA's actions in the past, why should we expect better when they are to be unscrutinised gatekeepers able to exclude precisely the people they wish to exclude, and have spent billions on excluding over the past seven years?

3. The longterm effects of screening out particular cultures, if you accept that this is a possible effect of the test, must be considered. If the refusal rate for people of Middle Eastern and or Muslim origin is high, (which I believe is the intention) the long term implications for the Middle Eastern and Muslim communities in Australia and for all Australians are terrible. Think about a growing ghetto of people with no citizenship rights, deportable at the discretion of the Minister. This is of course what the government wants: containment of all to control the imagined possible terrorists. But this is an appalling way to think about a community, and spectacularly damaging.

Think about it: Such containment would ruin the relationships between our communities. Such containment would generate fear, uncertainty and anger in the Australian Middle Eastern communities, citizen and non citizen alike. Such containment would endorse every prejudice in the broader community, peddling fear between peoples with far reaching consequences. This is a way to generate violence, and will not 'help' anybody.

Remember that the detention centres were acceptable to many ordinary people on the argument that the government wouldn't do such a thing to people if it didn't know they were dangerous: the argument that we were being 'protected' from detainees - who, it turned out, were simply very traumatised men women and children.

Far from 'helping' Australians be better citizens, this proposed test could signal the end of an Australia that is unique and precious, in which the members of our many communities have equal rights and value before the law.

Finally, I would like to remind the Australian Government that its arrogance about the English language is cause for dismay to our many communities. We are a multilingual land and the richer for it. English is not Australia's first language, and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander elders who speak their mother tongue fluently and as their primary language are true, living, national treasures."

I can confirm the Howard Government does not deserve the trust the community places in it to do the right thing in our name. It has given up any right to that presumption a long time ago. Concerned citizens need to constantly make their voices heard over the shrill hectoring of Howard apologists and hate jockeys. The US mid-term elections reveal that low rent political machines can be derailed by public scrutiny.