Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Leunig profiles the PM

Leunig in The Age but edited out from the SMH on the grounds of 'taste' (see most recent Media Watch report)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Offshore processing likened to WWII Jewish refugee plight

ABC Online reports "a Senate inquiry investigating Australia's plan to send asylum seekers to offshore processing centres has heard comparisons to the treatment of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

The Immigration Department says international standards will be adhered to if a plan to process all asylum seekers offshore is approved by parliament.

The committee heard a range of legal and human rights arguments against the idea.

The Federal Government announced the change to asylum seeker law after a group of Papuans arrived on Cape York in January and the Indonesian Government expressed anger when Australia granted then temporary protection.

Former Federal Court Justice Ronald Merkel gave evidence today and compared offshore processing to Switzerland turning away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.

"The very context in which this bill has come before the Parliament, namely the West Papuans, has chilling reminders of what occurred in the Second World War," he said.

"This committee and the Senate stands between an un-erasable stain on Australia's human rights record if this bill becomes law."

Goodbye asylum seeker

Nicholson in The Australian

Friday, May 26, 2006

A visa that denies fundamental human rights

For some time this blog has been highlighting the inhumane regime of Temporary Protection Visas as they effectively consign asylum seekers to a twilight existence on the margins of our society, dependent on the charity of individuals and community groups for support.

It is encouraging that the mainstream media is beginning to focus on this egregious system. It appears that even when the Howard government acknowledges the validity of an asylum claim, it continues to treat the claimant as a 'non-person' with few rights or entitlements.

In his article in The Age Ben Saul observes:

"Of the seven types of bridging visa, Bridging Visa E, or BVE, may be granted to asylum seekers in Australia unlawfully, including in detention. If a person applies for refugee status more than 45 days after arriving in Australia, their bridging visas deny the right to work and access to Medicare, income and housing support and transport assistance. In 2005, there were almost 8000 people on BVEs.

The lack of federal support shifts the burden for the care of asylum seekers onto state and territory governments and particularly onto charitable, community and religious groups. These groups have been overwhelmed by the financial pressures of caring for large numbers of bridging visa holders, as the Government has vacated its primary responsibility for their welfare.

While it is preferable for asylum seekers to live in the community rather than in detention, without Federal Government support there is a risk that people on these visas may be left homeless, destitute, starving or seriously ill. A Hotham Mission study found almost 70 per cent of people on these visas were homeless or at risk of homelessness, with many in abject poverty and with high levels of physical and mental illness and family breakdown.

Where people on these visas are left destitute, such treatment by Australian law may amount to inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of international law. Both the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights forbid inhuman or degrading treatment and require Australia to ensure that people are not exposed to it."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

West Papuans situation update - 3 refugees may be deported to PNG

As predicted by this blog, The Age reports "Australia will try to return to Papua New Guinea three refugees found in the Torres Strait.

A man, woman and their son, aged nine, arrived by boat on Saibai Island on Sunday night, and have told immigration officials they are from Afghanistan.

But a spokeswoman for the immigration department said Australia would look to return the family to PNG because that was where they had come from."

The Howard government will not meet its refugee obligations, nor will it change course from a strategy of supporting the status quo in West Papua, whereby Indonesia exploits West Papuan resources and abuses Papuans who openly challenge its right to do so.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Australia's shame - Amnesty slams offshore asylum policy and UNHCR agrees

ABC reports "Amnesty International says the Federal Government's new immigration policy is a violation of the United Nations convention on refugees.

Secretary-general Irene Khan has launched the organisation's annual report into human rights abuses, which also criticises Australia's record on violence in Indigenous communities, and its stance on the death penalty and the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Ms Khan, who is the recipient of this year's Sydney Peace Prize, says in the past year the Government has introduced a range of positive reforms on the treatment of refugees, including its decision to free all children from detention.

But she says the introduction of offshore processing for all asylum seekers arriving by boat will tarnish what has been a good record on refugees.

"If people are sent to remote locations, if they are separated from family, if they are left there without a solution in detention-like conditions, then it is certainly an abuse of their rights," she said.

"I think Australia would be skirting its obligations there."

Amnesty's criticism has been echoed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Erika Feller, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, says offshore processing lowers standards of treatment.

"It doesn't provide for legal assistance to asylum seekers to present their case, to develop their case," she said.

"It doesn't provide access to a merit review, it doesn't provide access to the [Refugee Review Tribunal] in Australia or indeed the national court system.

"Arguably, it is not a full and effective process because it doesn't include a number of due process guarantees, which onshore processing arrangements do."

The UNCHR processed some of the asylum seekers that Australia sent to Nauru during the "Pacific Solution".

However, Ms Feller has given a strong indication that it is reluctant to help this time.

"We haven't formally been asked in relation to the current legislation to do it," she said.

"If we were to be asked, from what we know about the system that the legislation will put in place, we would be disinclined to undertake the same sort of responsibilities we did during the time of the Tampa crisis."

Both Ms Feller and Ms Kahn say Australia will set a negative precedent by introducing the policy, which is unique.

"Australia's approach to treating refugees like this will send a very dangerous message to its neighbours in Asia, many of whom are not parties to the 1951 convention, many of whom have a history ... of pushing boat people away with dire consequences," Ms Khan said.

"For Australia to set such an example would be very dangerous in that region."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Papuans held on Horn

The following sees the new asylum seeker regime in operation. West Papuans are held in custody on an offshore island that has been excised from Australia's migration zone, while government officials stitch up a grubby arrangement with PNG or Nauru to detain these people. The apologist class cheer from the sidelines for realpolitik, 'the bleeding hearts are at it again', your average Aussie gets on with the daily grind while the Howard government spins another tale of deceit and disinformation. Situation normal....

The Torres News reports "three indigenous West Papuans from Indonesia, taken into custody by Australian authorities on Boigu on May 6, continued to be detained under guard on Horn Island as the Australian Government worked to send them back to Papua New Guinea. As Boigu (and the rest of the Torres Strait) has been excised from Australia’s migration zone, the men have been classified as “offshore entry people” and will not be processed in Australia, said Immigration minister Amanda Vanstone.
“They are not entitled to make any application under the Migration Act,” she said.
“As they arrived from PNG, which is party to the Refugee’s Convention, return options to PNG first need to be explored”.
The detention of the three men follows a major diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia following the January arrival of 42 asylum seekers on
Cape York.
Indonesia withdrew its Ambassador to Australia in March after the asylum seekers were granted temporary protection visas that allowed them to remain in the country.
To avoid a similar incident, the John Howard-led government has proposed tough new border protection laws, which would see all asylum seekers arriving by boat being taken to offshore dentention centres.
The new laws are expected to pave the way for the return of the Indonesian ambassador in the near future.
Also last week, a Papuan woman who claimed her daughter was taken to Australia against her will, now says she was forced to make the allegation under the threat of death.
Siti Wainggai’s daughter Anike, and her husband Herman, were among the 42 asylum seekers who arrived at Cape York.
Mrs Wainggai told the ABC last week that Indonesian intelligence offiers threatened her with death if she didn’t sign a prepared statement demanding the return of her daughter.
At the time of going to press, the three West Papuans were still being held under guard at the Gateway Resort."



WHERE: ST PETER HALL, 6 BOOLEE STREET, RED) ACT (On the side of the Lutheran Church Building )

WHEN: Saturday June 24.

TICKETS : $25 00 for Employed, $15 00 for Unemployed TIMES: 6pm-7. 30pm (Dinner)

7. 30 pm -10 pm ( Concert)


The Black Brothers Band, The West Papua artist in Exile and

The West Papua Cultural group

THE PRESENTATION CONSIST OF Contemporary music of West Papua, Traditional Dance, Pantomime, Contemporary Dance and

Poetry reading

Everyone is welcome


More Baxter horrors - letter from the ground

Following is a letter to DIMA from Alan Neild, a local from near Port Augusta who has been visiting Baxter for years:

"Sandi Logan, DIMA,

In response to your interview tonight on the 7.30 report I'm letting you know my disgust with what has happened to asylum seeker/refugees who have recently been sent back to Baxter from Glenside against the clear recommendation of their consulting psychiatrist. Your interview was somewhat surreal as if DIMA had selected someone who knew absolutely nothing about the situation, to be their spokesman. I don't remember whether your position in DIMA was stated on the report but if you were speaking as an official who should have known then I can only regard you as incredibly inept or as having made it your business not to know or as a bare faced liar!

As a long term visitor to those detained at Baxter, when they were transferred to Glenside due to severe mental health problems, and when they were sent back to Baxter, I view your pretence that the process was legitimate as both laughable and tragic. For instance when I began visiting Peter Mode he was still hopeful and open. I saw him a day or two after he had been assaulted by guards while he was trying to protect his friend who was also under assault. One guard twisted his leg till his ankle snapped. Soon after that Peter tried to end his life and I was only able to see him after he had "recovered" in hospital. But Sandi he didn't recover and he never will until he is out of that hell hole and living freely in the community, and then it will take some time. (My wife and) I visited him in Glenside where he'd been transferred and have seen him now that he's been sent back to Baxter against the recommendation of his consulting psychiatrist.

I saw the change in Peter's face and demeanour after he had attempted suicide. It was a haunted face that spoke of a deep assault to his soul, not just his body, which he could not put into words but was as evident as the plaster on his leg. He still has something of that haunted look. There are similar stories for the other victims. The day before Jems was sent back to Baxter we saw him in Glenside and he was in a "zombie" state.

What a draconian department DIMA has become under the influence of Howard, Ruddock and Vanstone and how little it has changed since the "whoever he was" report. What Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and African dictators have failed to do to their citizens, ie destroy their hope and sanity, Australia's DIMA has done with ease!

Allan Nield, Whyalla, in the menacing shadow of Baxter"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

UN outcry over boatpeople plan

News agencies report today "the United Nations refugee agency will try to block Australia's plan to lock up all boatpeople on a Pacific island while their refugee claims are considered.

"It's a pretty dramatic solution to the situation," UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said from Geneva yesterday.

"They're penalising people arriving in Australia by boat, as opposed to people who arrive by plane. Other countries deal with boat arrivals in much greater numbers than Australia."

The UNHCR said it would seek changes to legislation introduced to parliament on Thursday that would divert all asylum-seekers reaching Australia by boat to other countries for "offshore processing".

Boatpeople claiming to be refugees fleeing persecution would most likely be detained in centres on Nauru or the Papua New Guinean island of Manus.

Ms Pagonis said the UNHCR was concerned that Nauru had not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, and whether asylum-seekers would have the same access to legal representation as those already in Australia.

She said the Government had failed to consult the UNHCR and was "not living up to the spirit" of the Refugee Convention. The UNHCR was not shown the legislation before it was tabled in parliament and requests to see the agreements with Nauru and PNG were ignored, she said."

Monday, May 15, 2006

While Papua bleeds...

Dyson in The Age


John von Doussa QC, the President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) and Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes AM.

Proposed changes to the Migration Act to expand the so-called "Pacific Solution" undermine Australia's commitment to human rights and represent a backward step in Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.

We recognise the Government's intention to strengthen border protection policies, but the policies should not infringe people's human rights.

The changes, which will allow for offshore processing of all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat, will reverse important recent reforms to Australia's treatment of asylum seekers, including the removal of children from immigration detention.

The Commission is concerned the proposed changes breach Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child including the obligation to act in the best interests of the child (Article 3(1)and the principle that children should only be detained as a measure of last resort (Article 37(b).

In recent years the Government has made significant efforts to remove women and children from immigration detention by finding alternative means of accommodation while asylum claims are being processed.

The practical effect of the present Bill is that children, once again, will be detained in conditions which endanger their well-being and mental health. Being held in an offshore processing centre is, without doubt, a form of detention.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that detention of children must be a last resort and for the shortest possible period of time. Under the proposed changes detention of children will be a measure of first resort, not last resort.

These concerns are not new. The Commission's two-year "National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, A last resort?" (published in April 2004), warned that the 2001 "Pacific Solution" breached several of Australia's human rights obligations and recommended a review of the impact on children of the legislation that created the "Pacific Solution". This recommendation was not implemented.

The proposed changes do not address the possibility of excessive or indefinite detention. There is no set time for offshore processing of claims for asylum and no set time in which a person who is determined to be a refugee must be resettled in a third country.

This potential for asylum seekers to be detained for an excessive period raises serious concerns about arbitrary detention, in breach of Article 9(1) of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. It may also result in Australia being in breach of its obligations under Article 31 of the Refugee Convention which requires that asylum seekers are not penalised for arriving illegally.

The disastrous consequences of long-term detention on the mental health of asylum seekers are now beyond dispute. The proposed changes do not provide proper measures to address mental health concerns.

The Commission is also concerned that asylum seekers processed offshore do not have access to independent merits review and judicial review that is available to asylum seekers processed in Australia. As was illustrated by the tragic cases of Vivian Solon and Cornelia Rau mistakes do happen at a departmental level. Independent merits review is essential to reduce the risk of a tragic mistake resulting in a genuine refugee being denied protection.

Finally, given the concerns about the rights of asylum seekers processed offshore, it is crucial that offshore processing centres are subject to the same level of independent scrutiny as immigration detention centres in Australia. There is no independent oversight of offshore centres by HREOC or the Commonwealth Ombudsman. This raises significant concerns both in terms of the conditions of detention and also the length of time for which persons are detained.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fr Frank Brennan asks, "What is the Howard Government Up to with the Pacific Solution Mark 2?" - Answer: more smoke and mirrors!

Fr Frank Brennan SJ is an adjunct fellow in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the ANU, professor of law in the Institute of Legal Studies at the Australian Catholic University, and professor of human rights and social justice at the University of Notre Dame Australia. He has kept close watch on the Howard Government's twists and turns as it manipulates public opinion through asylum seeker policy.

We are witnessing the scraping of the barrel with the latest development, excising all of Australia from the migration zone and bribing Nauru and PNG further to detain West Papuans seeking sanctuary on our shores:

"After the first wave of 'boatpeople' from Afghanistan and Iraq ceased, the Australian government renewed the contracts of the immigration processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island, and proceeded to construct a new centre on Christmas Island.

The boats stopped coming in part because there was no longer a ready market for the people smugglers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in part because the Indonesian government had put in place measures funded by the Australian government to stop asylum seekers making secondary movements from Indonesia to Australia . The justification for the long term detention of unvisaed asylum seekers on the Australian mainland and in the Pacific centres was the need to deter people from engaging people smugglers in their desire to seek a migration outcome by means of secondary movement once they had fled their country of persecution.

The Australian government seems to have taken the arrival of one boatload of Papuans in direct flight from Papua as the trigger for extending the Pacific solution to all boat arrivals...

So what is the Howard government hoping to achieve? In relation to Papua, the government has a compound fear: the haemorrhaging of Papua, with the consequence that many boatloads may descend on Australia . The successful refugees may then use Australia as a political base for their independence activities, thereby making Australia a magnet for further Papuan flight to Australia .

If there were a haemorrhage, the Pacific solution Mark 2 would be a very ineffective bandaid. The prospect of long term processing in the Pacific may put a brake on the exodus, and reduce the prospect of Papuans boarding boats in the immediate expectation of making it to Australia to further their political campaign. They may think it better on balance to stay at home or simply to flee across the PNG border which they can do less perilously and more successfully, especially if Australia increases its naval patrols. The Papuans and the Australian public have been left in the dark about how the naval patrols will conduct themselves when intercepting asylum seekers in direct flight rather than secondary movers. During Operation Relex, the justification for our navy shooting across the bows of overloaded fishing boats was that the secondary movers on board could return to Indonesia where they could get protection. This is not a possibility for Papuans fleeing Indonesian persecution.

In PNG, Papuan refugees would more readily find protection from persecution, but they would not have the opportunity to use their flight as the focus for international political separatist activity. Publicity is of course advantageous to a political campaign for independence. Our government thinks the long planned extension of the Pacific solution is worth a try now, accepting that any Papuans who do come our way and get processed in the Pacific will still end up in Australia. In the meantime, most Papuan asylum seekers, as previously, will decide not to come our way but will go to PNG instead, publicity and consciousness-raising advantages of the longer trek notwithstanding. The government thinks it has nothing to lose in giving the extended Pacific solution a try now, given that they were poised to extend it once a new wave of secondary movers came from Indonesia anyway. With control of the Senate the government can now legislate the extension of the Pacific solution Mark 2 at its whim.

In relation to any future wave of secondary movers from Indonesia , Ruddock and his colleagues know that they will ultimately have to accept any proven refugees, and they will seek once again the co-operation of New Zealand with the resettlement. In the meantime, they hope that a comprehensive Pacific solution will, with smoke and mirrors, help deter secondary movement and people smuggling. It will be a minor deterrent when compared with the measures and changed situations at source which have dried up the people smuggling market, as well as the well financed disruption activities and protocols now in place in Indonesia , and the comprehensive naval patrols on the high seas. Bill Farmer, who had been Ruddock's departmental head is now our ambassador in Jakarta . He is well placed to supervise the protocols in Java precluding secondary movement.

The extended Pacific solution does not provide a workable or principled alternative for many other governments whose publics more readily appreciate mutual international obligations. If every country signed the Refugee Convention and then adopted the Pacific Solution Mark 2, there would be nowhere in the world for asylum seekers to land. The Convention would be dead in the water. Ruddock has now lost sight of providing workable models for other countries. Australia is to go it alone – with smoke and mirrors the best it can muster in the way of a policy solution. If UNHCR maintains its criticisms, it is unlikely to receive any additional funds from the government which set out to reform the international system for the processing of asylum claims so that all refugees might be given a fair go.."

Online Catholics: "Australia: regain some self-respect

I was struck by an article by Father Peter Maher writing in Online Catholics. Peter makes the case that "political leaders say they have to act in the national interest. It is high time we all got the message that “the national interest” only thinly hides the interests of those who keep them in power...In Australia the most frightening reality is the ability of our government and its co-opted media to manipulate the masses into consent for the worst possible option for the global community - war."

A co-opted media indeed. I am constantly appalled (making me a paid up member of Leunig's home of the permanently appalled) by mainstream media sprouting the apologist line with all the integrity of paid up commercials for the Howard Government.

We have a government that propagandises relentlessly to stay in power, bullys our melanesian neighbours (amongst all the hypocrisy sprouted in the name of 'foreign policy' the platform that Australia stands for good governance in the Pacific is right up there - How Downer can keep a straight face whilst trumpeting how impressive Australia is on this front whilst lambasting the newly elected Solomon's Government for its ministerial appointments beggars belief - just don't mention Iraq!!!), and toadys up to regimes that have something we want.

Anyone within bureacratic, journalistic, academic or activist circles who challenges the accepted 'neo-con' orthodoxy is lambasted by the apologist class as a 'bleeding heart' or a range of more florid derogations. If we stand up for the rights of Muslim citizens or asylum seekers we are characterised as un-Australian or worse. The epithet 'un-Australian' has taken on connotations that fill with me shame and anger over the tragic direction we have taken. Referring to our collaboration in illegal wars, Peter Maher continues:

"Progressives are far too often dismissed as naive and negative and without constructive ideas. The solution needs fast and direct action. There seems to be a blindness to strategies that have been successful which do not include war with conventional or nuclear weapons. Progressives must continue to offer alternatives such as negotiation; diplomacy; trading ideas and strategies; stalling for time by involving third parties in talks; initiating aid programs; proposing and funding spaces for regions and countries to participate in conferences and workshops using self activation and liberation methodologies; using creative symbolic non-violent resistance such as street demonstrations and theatre; supporting grassroots community groups to resolve conflicts within and across borders; maintaining alternative think tanks and policy development institutes in Australia and at the international level; supporting United Nations and global NGO initiatives; funding and hosting peace talks which take seriously the views of both parties; engaging people with non-violence expertise in brainstorming solutions to difficult global situations; finding ways to talk to government no matter what persuasion; stop minimising and ridiculing the ideas and aspirations of countries involved in conflict and poverty; and remembering that the heavy handed approach of arrogant economic, military and political colonialism is always a recipe for disaster."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Australia retreats from international refugee obligations!! - Canberra protest today.

The ACT Refugee Action Committee has condemned the Howard Government's intended harsh changes to the way asylum seekers arriving by boat will be treated in the future. The committee organised a snap protest at the front of Parliament House today. Several federal politicians, refugee activists and a spoksperson for the 42 West Papuan asylum seekers, Mr Herman Wainggai, addressed the gathering. Speakers included Senators Nettle and Bartlett, along with ALP shadow spokesperson, Tony Burke, and refugee activist, Marion Le. Following is the Committee's media release

"This abject reaction to Indonesian criticism of the recognition of 42 West Papuans as refugees distorts the process of determining refugee status and leaves it open to diplomatic and political pressure. Australia desperately needs to retain a fair and independent refugee system, not adopt a corrupted process open to secret abuse.

The UN High Commission for Refugees has made it clear it is very concerned with the proposals and is unlikely to help make refugee decisions on Australia's behalf this time round.

The proposals are a more radical version of the Tampa legislation and the discredited Pacific Solution. They ensure that no asylum seekers arriving by boat will be processed under Australian law, but will instead be sent to offshore destinations such as Nauru, Manus Island or Christmas Island.

The changes will threaten breaches of international human rights and undermine the basis of the international refugee system, sending a message to other countries that it is OK to manipulate the Refugees Convention for domestic or foreign policy reasons. We should make it clear to all governments that we have legal obligations to refugees and asylum seekers that we will honour, and then seek to address the root causes of persecution to the best of our ability.

The policy will have the following additional damaging outcomes:

* Those processed offshore will be denied the safeguards of the Australian appeals and accountability system, and will be isolated from all forms of support and assistance from the Australian community.
* The reforms agreed to last year, allowing families and children to live in the Australian community during processing, will not apply.
* Australia refuses to say whether it will accept for resettlement those who are successful in their refugee claims, and other countries are unlikely to do so, meaning that bona fide refugees will either remain offshore indefinitely or Australia will have to take them and upset the Indonesians!!
* The new laws will have no regard to whether a refugee comes directly to Australia or not (contrary to earlier Government policy), which will of course affect West Papuans directly fleeing persecution. They may also be forced back to a persecution situation by the Navy or Customs in direct contravention of Article 33 of the Refugees Convention.

We betrayed bona fide refugees fleeing from Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Will we now betray West Papuans and others fleeing persecution? We call on all MPs and Senators to oppose these laws which place both bona fide refugees and the whole international refugee system in danger."

You can download a poster on refugee rights by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Amnesty International - what you can do!

The refugee group of Amnesty International in Canberra has sent out the following to assist those wishing to protest proposed changes to the refugee system:

"Hello refugee supporters,

Today Parliament will be voting on very radical changes to the refugee system that will see every single person arriving in boats taken out of Australia, and most likely never make it to Australia as a refugee.

These changes are much more radical than what happened in the wake of Tampa.

After granting visas to the West Papuans, Australia has now modified its refugee system, making it impossible to arrive in this country via boat and seek asylum. Over 90% of all people arriving by boat are found to have very strong refugee claims.

It will take two senators to cross the floor for the bill to be defeated.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre recommends contacting the following


To email Barnaby Joyce:

(National Party, visited West Papuans on Xmas Island, spoke supportively of their refugee claims)

To email Judith Troeth:

(Liberal Party, supported Georgiou reforms)

To email Marise Payne:

(Liberal Party, supported Georgiou reforms)

To email Stephen Fielding:

(Family First)

Telephone calls, faxes, letters and visits to your local MP are even more effective, but if you only have time to email, that's great! Some people who have been lobbying politicians over this issue have said that they have recieved almost no expression of community concern about it!

If you have no time to draft your own email, try using some of the words below.

Dear Senator

I am writing to express my outrage about the proposed legislation that will radically change Australia's refugee system. I urge you to cross the floor and vote against these changes on Tuesday. It will take two senators to cross the floor for the bill to be defeated. If you allow this legislation to pass, every single person arriving in a boat will be taken out of Australia and imprisoned overseas in detention. This means they will most likely never make it to Australia as a refugee. It may also mean that they are imprisoned indefinitely awaiting asylum from another country.

Over 90% of all people arriving by boat are found to have very strong refugee claims.

These changes are much more radical than what happened in the wake of Tampa. The suggested legislative changes are in breach of international law (The Refugee Convention 1951). Article 31 of the Convention expressly states that refugees should not be penalised based on their method of arrival. The new laws will have no regard for whether a refugee comes directly to Australia or not.

A vital fact is that once a person is deemed to be a genuine refugee under Australia's processes, then it is very difficult to see how any other nation would accept them as part of their refugee intake. In the international community, it would be regarded as Australia's duty to accept such refugees. Instead, such people are at risk of remaining in indefinite detention (most likely on Nauru or Christmas Island). Detention carries with it health risks and contributes to family dislocation, trauma and poverty. Imprisoning people who have already faced persecution in their homeland is a double blow to international humanitarian efforts to help displaced persons. It is punishing the people who have already been punished enough.

Offshore processing of asylum seekers is yet another means to dehumanise the refugee population arriving in Australia. This dehumanisation is a continuation of Australia's policy to rid such refugees of a political voice through restricting their access to legal representation, the Australian legal system and the Australian community.

The results of long term and remote detention received negative attention in the Palmer Report. You can ensure that no further women, children and genuine refugees are subjected to indefinite detention offshore - cross the floor on Tuesday. I will be watching the outcome of the vote with interest."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Protecting our national interests?

Writing in On Line Opinion, Gary Brown exposes the "insidious influence of those in the Canberra bureaucracy who favour good relations with Jakarta whatever the domestic political price or international humiliation."

I was ringside for two decades whilst this lobby held sway over foreign policy thinking. Our neglect of South Asia and Indo-China, our paternalistic approach to Melanesia, our obsequious collaboration with repressive regimes in the Phillipines, Indonesia, China and elsewhere has seen Australia compromise its core values in thrall to confused notions of what is in our national interest.

For decades we dealt with India on a piecemeal, tokenistic basis, whilst bending over backwards for repressive governments in Jakarta.

A stable, democratic Indonesia is in our interest, but ongoing appeasement of and collaboration with policies designed to prop up the economic interests of powerful players with TNI backing will not facilitate this outcome. West Papuans and ordinary Indonesians are the victims of these policies. Australia should encourage Indonesia toward further strengthening of its democratic institutions and regional autonomy for areas of political conflict such as Aceh and West Papua.

The pandering to repressive tendencies in the Indonesian body politic, in return for grubby trade-offs, is a Canberra mindset harmful to our longer term security interests.

Amnesty International - call to action

Dear friend,

Under a radical new refugee policy Australia will turn its back on some of the world's most vulnerable people.

This policy will remove all asylum seekers arriving by boat to isolated offshore centres, such as Nauru, as part of the 'Pacific Solution'.

Yet again families face being torn apart and denied their basic rights, to be forsaken by Australia as they face an uncertain future and wait indefinitely for a place to call home.

So soon after its recent commitment to protect children, the Australian Government could force them back into years of detention. We know that this will have a devastating effect on their development.

Under the policy our Navy could forcibly turn around boats of asylum seekers to the very places they may have fled in fear.

What do you think?

If you think this is wrong, there is still time to act. This is not law yet but could be within a matter of days. I urge you to please join many prominent Australians in signing a letter to be sent to all Australian federal parliamentarians.

Take action - add your name to the letter.

Thank you - your time could help stop this law becoming a reality.

Mara Moustafine
National Director
Amnesty International Australia

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Immigration denies endangering Chinese asylum seekers

ABC reports the Howard government is at it again, wilfully endangering the lives of Chinese asylum seekers to shore up bilateral relations with China.

"The Immigration Department denies it is breaking international agreements by allowing Chinese security officials to interview Chinese asylum seekers requesting protection in Australia.

Immigration lawyer Michaela Byers says a number of her clients have told her they have been interviewed by Chinese officials while in detention.

She says it is inappropriate and endangers the lives of asylum seekers who are returned to China.

"It to me is a violation of international human rights that the department would allow officials that are alleged to be the persecutors of the Chinese people, that have made protection visas in, to interview them and to verify their identification," she said."

China is ruled by one of the most repressive, non-democratic regimes in our region, but our economic interests have held sway over human rights concerns.

Just as the Howard Government is colluding with the Indonesian Government to subvert the movement of 3rd country and West Papuan asylum seekers to Australia it is also colluding with the Chinese Government in the management of political dissidents seeking asylum here.

Not surprising really, when one considers the revelations of apparent collusion with corrupt dealings under the Iraq wheat for oil program.

Open collusion with strategies that lead to human rights violations has become a common currency of this government. Realpolitik and 'political pragmatism' and 'national interest' will be the 'spin' put on by the apologist class but it this kind of two-faced hyprocrisy that is losing Australia the respect it once held in international arenas. We are playing a mucky game and it will come home to roost at some point in the future.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tampa - 4 years on, and still 'illegal'?

Project Safecom reminds us that the 4th Anniversary of the Tampa affair has not brought any relief from the ongoing violation of the rights of refugees. If anything, it is about to get a whole lot worse...but a time will come when the perpetrators will be held to account.

"It can't be more blatant. The very United Nations Convention for the Status of Refugees is the product of the shame that engulfed post-war Europe after the smoke and cordite smell had diminished in the late 1940's. The shame about letting down the desparate boatpeople, the passengers of the Struma, the St Louis, the Patria and the Exodus.

Boats, filled with Jewish refugees fleeing Adolf Hitler. And in an act with criminal intent, John Winston Howard and his ministers and MP's, greedy for another term of government, called the unannounced arrival of refugees fleeing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein 'illegal'.

It can't be more blatant. And we will remember."

Visit the Project Safecom website for some readings on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the MV Tampa stand-off off the coast of Christmas Island. The day that captain Arne Rinnan picked up the 433 refugees from the Palapa, 26 August, has become known as Tampa Day.