Thursday, June 29, 2006

Update on the proposed New Migration Bills- Stop the Bills in the Senate

The bills have been postponed until August sittings of parliament after Howard and about ten Liberal backbenchers failed to come to a compromise.

If you haven’t contacted the key senators who have the power to make sure the bill is not passed by voting against it in the Senate then please do so now.

These are some key senators to target...If they vote against the bill it will fail.

Senator Troeth

Unit 1 322-332 St Kilda Road St Kilda Victoria 3182

Tel: (03) 9593 9511 Fax: (03) 9593 9971

Senator Steve Fielding

255 Blackburn Road Mt Waverley Victoria 3149

Ph: 03 9802 1922 Fax: 03 9802 8236

Senator Barnaby Joyce

PO Box 628 St George Queensland 4487 Tel: (07) 4625 1500 Fax: (07) 4625 1511

You may also wish to thank and offer continued encouragement to the following who have been negotiating hard on this issue with John Howard:

Petrou Georgiou 02 6277 4419 03 9882 3677

Judy Moylan Tel : (08) 9294 3222, Fax : (08) 9294 2888 Tel: (02) 6277 4171

Bruce Baird Tel : (02) 9525 8200, Fax : (02) 9540 1587 Mobile : 0412 15 400

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

NAURU: Australia Offers $40M In New 'Pacific Solution'

Australia has announced that it will give aud$40 million to Nauru, in return for the Pacific Island nation agreeing to accept asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat.

Under the terms of the package, made public this week, Nauru has agreed to a number of reforms, including cleaning up corruption in its administration. The Pacific country will also have to appoint an Australian police chief, open its government accounts to Australian scrutiny and repair its public service.

As a previous AusAID Director of the Nauru program I have had cause to express my thoughts on what I consider to be misuse of aid. The new package will ostensibly be linked to public sector reform.

In terms of effectiveness, previous aid to Nauru had little chance of achieving any lasting impact as it was devised in a vacuum, without adequate joint identification, design, risk management, evaluation and monitoring strategies that are part and parcel of any sensible bilateral program of assistance. Switched on AusAID officers have tried to plug the gaps and re-engineer some of the components to address the most glaring deficiencies but this aid was thoroughly compromised from the outset by Australia's motivations.

Forays into structural reform, including the provision of a senior financial manager etc, have been foisted onto the current Nauruan Government, which is reformist in nature and has the best of interests of Nauru at heart but is so hamstrung by lack of resources as to be helpless in the face of Australian imperatives.

I am out of touch with the current program, but at one stage Australia was keeping the island provisioned with water (amongst other essential services), which is in constant danger of running out. The total infrastructure of Nauru is on the point of collapse. Public servants and phosphate workers are paid irratically and late – the wages backlog is staggering. In these circumstances Australia came along and held out an offer too good to resist, the low ethics of which I found staggering as we hectored Pacific states on good governance.

To use the term ‘sustainable development’ and Australian aid to Nauru in the same breath would be to apply a verbal gymnastic that only a dishonest government could be comfortable with.

Monday, June 26, 2006

come do the kow tow with me...

Bill Leak in The Australian

Asylum seekers returned to PNG - more smoke and mirrors

As anticipated earlier, Australia has 'persuaded' PNG to take back three West Papuans who landed in the Torres Strait last month.

Immigration authorities say the trio is not entitled to have their claims heard in Australia because the Torres Strait islands have been excised from the country's migration zone.

This shifting of our problem to a poorer country is typical of the Howard Government. The Memorandum of Understanding under which this action was taken is just one of many examples of the misuse of economic power to put aid dependent countries such as PNG under duress. The whole Pacific Solution fiasco was set up to underpin the 'get tough on boat people' wedge Howard launched in 2001. He has to keep shifting the mirrors to manage the smoke shapes and to deflect the occasional spotlight shon from Jakarta, Port Moresby and by refugee advocates.

Now we have the 'pythonesque' excising of the whole country from the migration zone on the cards. Soft shoe shuffle meets Ministry for silly walks, and don't mention the war.

Eventually the mirror will jam and catch Howard looking straight into the mirror and back at himself. I just hope everyone else catches that 'rabbit in the spotlight' reflective moment in living colour. Fade to black.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


"The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is calling on the federal government to abandon its plans to toughen asylum seeker laws.

Under the new laws, all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat would have their claims assessed overseas.

The proposed laws were originally going to be introduced into Parliament last week.

But a group of Coalition backbenchers are concerned about the laws, and are holding negotiations with the Immigration Minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone on the issue.

The Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes, has used World Refugee Day, to express his concern about the proposed laws.

“The government, over the past couple of years, has made some very progressive steps in terms of the way we treat asylum seekers. [But] this bill proposes to put children back in detention. The (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that we should take into account the best interests of the child and that detention should be a measure of last resort. This bill makes it a measure of first resort,” Mr Innes said."

The campaign against these draconian measures is having an impact. Keep up the good work all those making the effort. It all helps.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

PNG: Somare Says No To Australia Over Asylum Seekers

Pacific Magazine reports "Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare says he will not accept any requests from Australia to process West Papuan asylum seekers in PNG territory.

Somare’s position will be a big blow to any attempts by Australia to process asylum seekers on PNG’s Manus Island after Australia agreed to review its immigration procedures to ensure all future boat arrivals were processes offshore – in a bid to heal a diplomatic rift with Indonesia.

The PNG government has agreed to take back three West Papuans from Australia who were detained by authorities in the Torres Strait after crossing from PNG’s Western Province. But in line with a 2003 agreement signed by both countries in which foreigners who were in PNG for seven days and failed to seek asylum could be return to PNG if they crossed into Australia.

However, Somare told reporters on Friday that PNG territory will not be used as a testing ground for other people’s problems, alluding to the diplomatic standoff between Australia and Indonesia after 42 West Papuans were granted temporary Australian protection visas."

Encourage the pollies to care. Sign the Get-up petition

I have received the following message from the Get-up team organising the petition to protest proposed amendments to the Migration Act:

"Dear friends,

It's crunch time. This week, Parliament is scheduled to decide
whether to throw out our existing refugee laws to suit Indonesia or
whether to stand firm for chidren and human rights.

In a rare moment in Australian politics, representatives from every
major party in the country stood together last Wednesday to receive
your 32,000-strong GetUp petition to stop this legislation. They have
told us they urgently need more support to stand firm in these final
days. Can you help us get to 50,000 signatures before the final vote
this week?

Click here to sign the petition.

The stakes are high. Remarkably, a Government-controlled Senate
Committee has recommended this law be rejected entirely, or at least
seriously amended. Politicians from all the major parties - including
10 Coalition backbenchers - now have serious concerns. But in order
for these decision-makers to stay strong, they urgently need a
groundswell display of public support.

At this crucial moment, please spread the word to friends, family and
colleagues that our actions right now will make a difference. You'll
find a note below you can use if you like.

Thanks for being part of this,

The GetUp team"

Singapore - "Disneyland with the death penalty"

As Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong continues his whistle stop tour Down Under I thought it would be interesting to revisit what Wikipedia has to say about public debate on capital punishment in Singapore.

"Public debate in the Singaporean news media on the death penalty is almost non-existent, although the topic does occasionally get discussed in the midst of major, well-known criminal cases. Efforts to garner public opinion on the issue are rare, although it is generally assumed that most Singaporeans support it and believe it plays a part in keeping the crime rate in Singapore low.

Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, the first ever opposition Member of Parliament in Singapore, was only given a few minutes to speak in parliament on the issue before his comments were rebutted by the Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs. Few other opposition members in parliament would bring up the issue, which may be reflective of a population generally indifferent to the matter.

The government states that the death penalty is only used in the most serious of crimes, sending, they say, a strong message to would-be offenders. They make no apology for their tough stance on law and order in the country. They point out that in 1994 and 1999 the United Nations General Assembly has failed to adopt resolutions calling for a moratorium on the death penalty worldwide, as a majority of countries opposed such a move.

The Permanent Representative of the Republic of Singapore to the United Nations wrote a letter to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in 2001 which stated:

"…the death penalty is primarily a criminal justice issue, and therefore is a question for the sovereign jurisdiction of each country […] the right to life is not the only right, and […] it is the duty of societies and governments to decide how to balance competing rights against each other."

Before the hanging of Shanmugam Murugesu, a three-hour vigil was held on May 6, 2005. The organisers of the event at the Furama Hotel said it was the first such public gathering organised solely by members of the public against the death penalty in Singapore. Murugesu had been arrested after being caught in possession of six packets containing just over 1 kg of cannabis after returning from Malaysia. He admitted knowledge of one of the packets, which contained 300 g, but not the other five. The event went unreported on the partially state-owned media and the police shut down an open microphone session before the first person could speak.

After the hanging of Van Tuong Nguyen, a Vietnamese Australian man from Melbourne, Australia, on December 2, 2005, Sister Susan Chia the province leader of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Singapore took the opportunity to declare that "The death penalty is cruel, inhumane and it violates the right to life." Chia and several other nuns took it upon themselves to comfort Nguyen's mother two weeks before his execution for heroin trafficking.

Singapore's death penalty laws have drawn comments in the media. For example, the science fiction author William Gibson, while a journalist, wrote a travel piece on Singapore in which he sarcastically referred to it as "Disneyland with the death penalty." "

Prime Minister Lee may like to think the mandatory death penalty does not affect bilateral relations in this part of the world, but he is deluding himself. The anger among human rights defenders will simmer for a long time and will translate into hostility toward his government and its economic interests. The mandatory death penalty is a blight on the human rights landscape and Singaporeans need to be reminded of this on a regular basis.

Monday, June 19, 2006

gulags I have known...

Spooner in The Age in early 2005. Nothing has changed - and it is about to get a lot worse!

Nauru government forced to call for an emergency cabinet meeting - Australian officials arrive without visas

The Age reports "Nauru’s government has been forced to call an emergency cabinet meeting to grant visas to two Australian security officers who had tried to fly in without proper documentation...

When the two security officers decided to re-interview the last two asylum seekers on the near-bankrupt island of Nauru, they neglected two important details.

They set off without the visas needed to enter the world's tiniest republic, and without approval to land, despite the well-established procedure that permission to land be given 48 hours before arrival.

Nauruan officials learned of the visit only hours before the two officers were expected on Wednesday, and refused them permission to land if they continued.

While an emergency cabinet meeting was hastily convened on Nauru, the officers remained in their plane on in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara.

The next morning they were told they could proceed. The blunder has annoyed Nauruan politicians, who were busy passing a budget introduced this week.

“They expect us, every time they want to do something, to drop everything,” one MP remarked.

As debate raged in Canberra on the Australian Government’s hardline policy for processing future unauthorised boat arrivals on Nauru, the episode was a reminder that, to adapt a well-known phrase from Prime Minister John Howard, Nauru decides who comes to that country, and the circumstances in which they come.

It also crystalised one of the key issues in the Government's legislation — that any promises of independent scrutiny of the processing of asylum seekers on Nauru would depend on scrutineers being given visas by the Nauru Government.

“Everybody needs a visa to come here,” one Nauruan MP told The Age. “Just because you're ASIO or you're from Australia doesn't mean you can avoid the visa issue.”

For supporters of the two Iraqis placed on Nauru nearly five years ago under the Government's Pacific solution, the arrival of the ASIO officers was good news.

“Both assessments give me hope that this nightmare might finally end for the men,” says Susan Metcalfe, a researcher and strong supporter of asylum seekers detained on Nauru.

“The mental health issues have been serious and obvious for a long time, and both men need a resolution right now.”

Although the two men, Muhammad Faisal and Mohammad Sagar, were found to be refugees, they received an adverse security assessment from ASIO after an interview early last year.

Neither was told the reason for the finding, which not only meant they could not come to Australia, but that other countries were unlikely to offer them resettlement. Both have consistently said there is no basis for the finding."

The hubris is mounting...

shadow play fools

The political theatre on refugees Howard has been staging since 2001 with the active participation of the Indonesian Government is now looking like low budget vaudeville. As this blog has highlighted over and over again, shaping immigration and foreign policy on the run to satisfy the shifting landscape of domestic wedge politics is stupid. It does not address the long term strategic security interests of this country.

Grubby political manipulation of an insecure electorate's fear of 'queue jumping' 'asians','muslims' or 'Papuans', and associated trade-offs with neighbouring countries, amount to a betrayal of Australian values and our once proud stance in defence of human rights.

Governments that lack the capacity to provide ethical leadership typically resort to propaganda tools to shore up support for their short term vision. Thus you get disinformation campaigns on 'boat people', terrorism and IR laws. The other strategy is an appeal to a tawdry view of patriotism - anyone who disagrees with the political orthodoxy being peddled is either mad or un-Australian. Oh dear, we have seen it all before and its not pretty!

Andrew Joyner in The Age

Sunday, June 18, 2006

ACT REFUGEE ACTION COMMITTEE - Media Release 18 June 2006

World Refugee Day speakers condemn ‘Pacific illusion’

Speakers at a Rally for the annual United Nations World Refugee Day urged Coalition backbenchers to reject outright the Federal Government’s bill providing for mandatory processing of the claims of asylum seekers arriving by boat to take place in distant countries like Nauru or Papua New Guinea. They should not accept amendments to a fatally flawed bill and should cross the floor in Parliament.

The Rally was organised by the ACT Refugee Action Committee and the ACT Branch of Amnesty International Australia. Speakers came from a wide range of community organisations, including the West Papuan and Chinese communities, as well as political parties opposed to the bill.

In the words of ACT Greens MLA Dr Deb Foskey, we should be treating West Papuans and others fleeing persecution in the generous way we were now assisting the East Timorese, not denying their human rights. Labor MP for Canberra Annette Ellis branded the legislation “a really nasty bill” which should be completely opposed.

Several speakers congratulated the Coalition members of a Senate Committee which had recommended that the bill not proceed because of the overwhelming evidence it had received against the bill and the lack of adequate information on how it would work in practice.

Dr Pene Mathew from the ANU College of Law urged Parliament not to revive the ‘Pacific illusion’ which had been expensive, inhumane and totally unnecessary, resulting in more than half of the refugees being resettled in Australia, and many of the rest in New Zealand. We should back Senator Bartlett’s bills to dismantle the ‘Pacific Solution’. Australia also needed migration legislation which would “implement our human rights obligations properly, for example by saying that no refugee shall be sent to a place of persecution, or be subjected to arbitrary detention.”

Local refugee advocate Marion Le labelled the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ “an unmitigated disaster”. The processing of claims by asylum seekers had been designed from the outset to lead to rejections as the Prime Minister had promised. From her experience she had no doubt a significant number of those who were pressured to go back ‘voluntarily’ should have been recognised as refugees.

Jo Hunt for the Refugee Action Committee and Socialist Alliance’s Andrew Hall received strong support when they vowed to keep opposing anti-refugee legislation. Since 2001 a strong community movement of respect for refugee rights had developed and that was reflected in the dissent in the Coalition ranks.

Darfur Emergency

Amnesty's Refugee Team in the ACT has been contacted by Hugh Parmer of the American Refugee Committee on the crisis in Darfur, as follows:

"In Darfur, Sedan, people live everyday in fear. Thousands of homes have been burned to the ground, whole villages have emptied, and thousands have been killed. You've heard all of this before. And, that's why I need your help.

Across America, people are rallying for Darfur. Celebrities like George Clooney are using their star-power to bring Darfur into the spotlight. But there are still a whole lot of people who haven't heard what's happening. If all of us in the ARC community tell 3 people what is happening, we'll make a big difference. Let people know about the incredible suffering in Darfur and forward this message.

1) Tell them Mohamed's story:

In the middle of the night, Janjaweed militia attacked Mohamed's small village. They surrounded the village, firing automatic weapons and burning homes. Mohamed's family fled in terror. For days they searched for safety walking through desert without water or food. They made it to a refugee camp and are safer now. But they've lost everything they own. Mohamed holds on to the hope that his children will survive all of this.

2) Give them the facts: 400,000 people have died. 2 million people have fled for their lives. The violence is only getting worse. Direct them to ARC's website,, to learn more.

Spread the word. Darfur's story is going unheard."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Senate report on the proposed migration legislation

The report of the Legal and Constitutional Committee unanimously opposed the Bill being passed in its current form. Senators varied as to changes they indicated would be acceptable in order to pass the Bill.

This is a chance to influence the amendments: email Senators and tell them what you think would constitute acceptable amendments.

who'll stop the pain?

The Age reports "an all-Party Senate committee has urged the Howard Government to ditch its tough new laws on asylum seekers after being told they are unworkable, in breach of Australia's international obligations and an "inappropriate response" to pressure from Indonesia.

The scathing report will strengthen the resolve of several Government MPs who are prepared to cross the floor to defeat the laws, which Prime Minister John Howard wants passed before Parliament breaks for the winter recess next week."

Tandberg in The Age

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


The Federal Government has introduced the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006 – or the “Indonesian Appeasement Bill” for short. It’ll sail through the House of Representatives despite backbench concern, but it can be stopped in the Senate.

Click here for the pamphlet in a high resolution format (530kb PDF) designed for printing and circulating or attaching to your letters.

If you agree with the points below, please click here to go to the Rights Australia website to generate a form email so you can send this information to all your friends.

10. It is a worse change to Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker laws than the introduction of mandatory detention in 1992.

It allows the government to “excise” all of Australia from claims for our protection, just because they come from people in boats from countries that can pressure us. At least with mandatory detention, refugees have a chance for protection after we’ve put them through the hoops.

9. It ignores the lessons of the Pacific Solution

Under the Pacific Solution in 2001, asylum seekers were kept under detention-like conditions on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru. Most of these asylum seekers were recognised as refugees. Most of them were resettled in Australia. But only after prolonged uncertainty and conditions caused damaged health, hunger strikes, and enormous expense. PNG and Nauru are both very problematic states – anything can, and does happen in return for their cooperation.

8. It flouts international refugee law

The Australian navy would be compelled to turn back refugees to the country they fled in fear of their lives, thereby violating the most important principle of the Refugees Convention. Asylum seekers would be penalised for their mode of arrival. By processing asylum seekers offshore, Australia would circumvent key provisions of the Refugees Convention.

7. It deprives asylum seekers of a fair hearing

In Nauru (or other offshore processing facilities), asylum seekers won’t have access to appropriate support, to an independent review of refugee determination decisions, and to judicial review of decisions. If the system of determination here is flawed, fix it, don’t avoid it. Politically based assessment of refugee claims by public servants or private contractors is a recipe for disasters.

6. It disregards the human rights of asylum seekers, including children

Asylum seekers, who are often already traumatised as a result of persecution they suffered before fleeing to Australia, are particularly vulnerable to further psychological damage. This is even more so the case for children. Under the new legislation, asylum seekers, including children, may be kept for many years in off-shore processing facilities, even if their refugee claims have been successful, because other countries are likely to follow Australia’s lead and refuse to resettle them.

5. It ignores moral and historical responsibilities to sort out problems at the source

For more than forty years, Australia has supported claims that West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia. To placate the Indonesian government, we have consistently played down knowledge of human rights violations there. By doing so, we have assumed a particular responsibility towards West Papuans fleeing for fear of their lives. Australia also has a historical responsibility to help its former colony and closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, to deal with the West Papuan refugee crisis.

4. It damages Australia’s international standing

By implementing the proposed legislation, Australia will abandon key responsibilities under the Refugee Convention. It would set a bad example for countries in the region that are looking for Australian leadership in the area of human rights. By rewriting domestic law in response to diplomatic pressure, it would invite further attempts by foreign governments to influence Australian legislation in pursuit of their national interests.

3. It takes the pressure for reform off the Indonesian Government

Indonesia has made a set of international pledges on human rights which provide a clear framework for progress towards the rule of law. Let’s give Indonesia the assistance it needs to support these moves. The best protection against people getting into boats and coming our way is helping them be secure at home.

2. It is contrary to the government’s own mandate.

In 2001, the government stopped the Tampa refugees from landing in Australia, and at the election it claimed that we should decide who comes to our country, and the circumstances under which they come. In 2006, the government attempts to enact legislation that would allow a foreign government to decide who comes to our country.

1. We can do better than this.

Why should we go along with the latest idea from the folks who brought us detention and deportation of Australian citizens with funny accents, children overboard, and children in detention? They’ve promised to clean up their act – let’s start with this Bill.

And three things you can do:

1. Send a simple message to all the Senators in your state: After all that has gone wrong in immigration lately: Vote No to this Bill, or just don’t vote for it.
2. Send this message as widely as possible to your friends, families and colleagues
3. Find out more, get Senate addresses, and support the campaign fund, at

Monday, June 12, 2006

UNAA seeks withdrawal of new asylum seeker bill

A range of non-government organisations including the United Nations Association of Australia has sent a letter to the Prime Minister, John Howard, asking him to withdraw the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006, which seeks to process off-shore all asylum seekers arriving on the Australian mainland by boat.

The letter has been signed by a range of people and organisations engaged in human rights, international development and refugee issues. Expressing “deep concern” at the Bill, the signatories write, “Based on advice from eminent international lawyers, we believe that the principles embodied in the Refugee Convention would be circumvented by passage of the bill.

“The central principle of the Convention is the right of those with a well founded fear of being persecuted to claim refuge in the country they have fled to. West Papuan asylum seekers, against whom the bill is apparently directed, have been assessed by the Department of Immigration as having a legitimate claim to refugee status under the Convention and existing Australian law.

“At a time when your Government has been taking steps towards a more compassionate refugee policy, this new bill represents a retreat from Australia’s international obligations and from the principles of humanity on which the treatment of asylum seekers should be based. If other countries were encouraged by Australia’s example to adopt similar laws, the entire international refugee system would be liable to collapse.

“We understand the Government’s desire to address important bilateral political tensions. However, this bill is not the appropriate way to resolve such concerns. It would impose unnecessary costs on Australian taxpayers, would further undermine Australia’s credibility in the human rights and international development fields, and would have unacceptably high human costs for asylum seekers left in limbo in detention facilities outside Australia.

“We call on you to withdraw this bill from Parliament and return to the Government’s stated agenda of implementing a fair and humane refugee policy in line with Australia’s international obligations and community expectations.”

For more information

National President of UNAA John Langmore (03) 9486 5331 or e-mail John Langmore at


Writing in Pacific Media Watch, Maire Leadbeater disputes that good bilateral relations depend on an "uncritical acceptance of Indonesia's rule in West Papua, or that the crisis in Timor Leste shows that the country would have been better off if it had stayed under Indonesian occupation... The roots of this year's heart-wrenching internal conflict lie deep in the dark years of Indonesian military repression. Back then with spies on all sides, it was difficult to know friend from collaborator.

Timor Leste's remarkable Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation did the best it could to heal the wounds. Community hearings gave victims the chance to tell their stories and for perpetrators to atone for more minor crimes.

But there has been no positive response to the Commission's call for an accounting and compensation from the "big fish", the Indonesian generals and those nations who provided crucial support.

In the case of Australia, that country still benefits from the favourable oil and gas deal it stitched up with Indonesia during the occupation. Regrettably, impunity on this scale lays the ground for others to take the law into their own hands.

At the time of the Indonesian invasion, Australia and New Zealand talked about self-determination, one of the clearest tenets in the United Nations Charter. But "pragmatism" and Indonesia's anti-communist credentials led them to kowtow to their powerful regional neighbour.

In the same vein Roughan decries "two bit" states. He is not alone. Australia is backing away as fast as it can from any perceived sympathy for the plight of West Papuans after having accepted the asylum claims of 42 West Papuan seafarers.

Under international law Australia had little choice but to accept the group because their claims of persecution were watertight. Now none is likely to reach safe haven because Australia will work with Indonesia to mount a border surveillance using submarines, warships, planes and even satellites.

If any do make it through they will confront the "Pacific solution" policy under which asylum seekers will be sent offshore to have their claims processed.

A key focus of West Papuan anger has been the Freeport McMoran mine whose gold and copper reserves rank among the largest in the world. The US owners derive fabulous wealth and the mine is Jakarta's largest taxpayer.

Meanwhile, the local people live in poverty and millions of tonnes of waste are dumped each year into their once pristine rivers.

Would Roughan and Richardson take their arguments to the point of arguing for a new age of Empires? If not, then we should give the seductive arguments against "separatism" a more critical look, and more importantly ask the West Papuans what they want.

Over the past four years there has been a strong call coming from the churches and the traditional councils for West Papua to be declared a "Land of Peace". This vision is about restoring human rights, dignity and basic fairness and the pre-requisite is a broad-based dialogue with Jakarta and substantial demilitarisation.

Aceh will soon have a new law setting the parameters for the province to have internal self-government. If that process continues to go well it will set a valuable precedent and there is bound to be considerable national and international pressure for a similar plan for West Papua.

No doubt that will not suit the military, but there are indications that some political figures, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, are open to peace proposals."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

rape alleged at Villawood and 26 Australians detained - no end to Howard's immigration nightmare

ABC Online reports "the lawyer for two Australians wrongfully-detained in immigration detention says he is horrified by revelations another 26 people have had the same experience.

Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock has confirmed the cases are being investigated, after South Australian Labor MP Steve Georganas wrote to the Federal Government six months ago to find out how many people had been mistakenly detained.

Lawyer George Newhouse, who is representing Vivian Solon and Cornelia Rau in their compensation cases against the Federal Government, says he is shocked by the news.

"To think that there are 24 or 25 other people who've gone through the same sorts of experiences is truly horrifying and something that we really need to get to the bottom of," he said."

In another report "an independent investigation is under way into allegations of rape and drug use at Sydney's Villawood detention centre.

The former head of Queensland Corrective Services, Keith Hamburger, is conducting the investigation into claims women have been sexually assaulted by guards and male detainees.

There are also allegations detainees have access to drugs including amphetamines, heroin, morphine and marijuana.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister says a final report into the allegations is expected soon.

The federal Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke says there should also be a police investigation into the claims.

"The fact that you're a detainee should not get away from the fact that rape is a crime, and if there's an allegation of rape is should be reported to the police," he said.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Thousands petition the Senate on asylum seekers

A petition against the Federal Government's plan to process offshore all asylum seekers arriving by boat has been presented to a Senate inquiry.

The petition, which has 30,000 signatures, has been presented by refugee rights group A Just Australia at the committee hearing in Sydney yesterday.

UN criticises portrayal of asylum seekers

ABC Online reports "the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says asylum seekers are being deliberately demonised in the industrialised world.

In a new report by the UN refugee agency, Mr Guterres says asylum seekers in Britain and Australia are often portrayed as criminals or bringers of disease.

The report is particularly critical of the language that some journalists and politicians are using to describe asylum seekers.

The refugee agency's spokesman, Peter Kessler, says there are politicians in the UK who use the same kind of language as the regimes which carried out genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda.

"This same kind of language - use of the word cockroaches has even shown up amongst the politicians of industrialised countries such as even here in the UK - be it minor politicians from very minor parties," he said.

"But the fact that they're often given a national platform in the press this should be really reflected upon by people in countries like the UK and elsewhere."

This is welcome but a little late. The UNHCR has been slow to react to the propaganda excesses of the Howard Government, which have been in full swing from 2001. This current round of demonisations is awful but each iteration has been used to manipulate public opinion dishonestly. Last night's Insight program on SBS was an indication of just how in thrall to these lies average voters are. The transcript of the program can be read by clicking here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The abuses continue: advocates demand to see asylum seekers

The Age reports "refugee advocates are demanding access to a family of three Afghani asylum seekers held in a secret location in Brisbane.

The mother, father and nine-year-old boy were found by locals on Saibai Island, an Australian territory just off the coast of Papua New Guinea, on March 21.

They are believed to have arrived by boat from PNG before being airlifted by immigration authorities to nearby Thursday Island for a medical check-up.

They were later transferred to the Royal Brisbane Hospital where the boy was to receive medical treatment for an undisclosed health problem.

Hazara Ethnic Society of Australia chairman Hassan Ghulam, whose organisation represents Afghanistan's persecuted Hazara minority in Australia, said he and another advocate had been prevented from meeting the family last Sunday by two guards at the hospital.

"We tried to convince them the child needs a little bit of support - I am a local, I know the language - but they said they could not let us in," Mr Ghulam said.

"Everybody knows good communication will help patients to recover.

"The hospital is acting like a jail."

The boy is believed to have been discharged from the hospital on Monday and is now being held under guard with his parents at an undisclosed location, presumably in Brisbane.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr, a coordinator at Melbourne's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said she could not believe claims by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) that the family did not want to speak to anyone.

"DIMA's claims the family don't want to see anyone including Amnesty or Red Cross are not believable," Ms Curr said.

"Holding a sick child in incommunicado detention is outrageous in a democratic country."

Ms Curr said irrespective of the family's migrant status, they were "still human beings".

DIMA wants to detain these refugees on Nauru. The Pacific Solution continues as a blight on this country's human rights record.

Friday, June 02, 2006

2 still on Nauru

Word out of Senate Estimates hearings is Greens Senator Kerry Nettle has pursued the case of the two Iraqi men left stranded on Nauru for four and a half years. Despite being found to be genuine refugees, ASIO made an adverse security assessment against them. They remained stuck in Nauru. Neither the two men, their lawyers nor even the Department of Immigration have been told the reason for the adverse assessment. Kerry asked ASIO whether they provide the reasons for adverse assessments, they said 'No'. It is a basic principle of law that a person should know the charges against them - not for ASIO however.

Immigration spent $1.5m fighting boy's stress suit

The Age reports "the Immigration Department spent more than $1.5 million fighting claims that a young Iranian refugee was traumatised while held in detention centres.

The sum does not include the $400,000 paid to Shayan Badraie, 11, in an out-of-court settlement after months of hearings in the NSW Supreme Court, or the costs of the child's lawyer, which are expected to top $1 million.

Shayan received the payout in March after his lawyers sued the Immigration Department, claiming that he was psychologically harmed while living in Woomera and Villawood detention centres between 2000 and 2002.

Shayan was five years old when he witnessed suicide attempts, self-harm and abuse in both detention centres.

He developed post-traumatic stress disorder and spent 94 days in hospital after refusing to eat, drink or talk.

His family, who arrived as asylum seekers from Iran in 2000, were this year granted permanent residency in Australia.

Responding to a question on notice, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone yesterday revealed that the department spent $1.53 million in legal costs on Shayan's case."

Indicators of callous disregard for the rights of victims under Howard's refugee regime come thick and fast, but this stands out as one of the truly awful episodes. Sadly, there are so many tragic tales that it beggars belief. I pity the bureaucrats who have had to sell their souls to a government who just does'nt care about human rights, unless of course they can squeeze some populist electoral advantage out of it such as as in the case of the Tasmanian miners.

The rent has got very low, and many people who voted for this mob need to take a hard look at their motives - they may start to see things in the mirror they don't much like. Australians are notoriously slow to wake up to the misuse of power but eventually their interest in a fair go will out. When that happens I hope they punish this bunch of nasty reactionaries at the ballot box for a long time to come because they have done a lot of bad things in our name.