Wednesday, September 27, 2006

News Alert & Alarmed: Howard supports Exclusive Brethren right to be 'exclusive' ...Muslims told to integrate or face the consequences!

Indonesia Executes 3 Christian activists - a view from Rome

Zenit News Agency reports "The Holy See is disturbed by the execution of three Indonesian Catholics, after it repeatedly appealing (sic) for clemency in the name of Benedict XVI.

The judicial process that led to the death sentences drew criticism for being unfair. The executions occurred at 1:10 a.m. last Friday, local time, in Palu, Indonesia.

The next day, the Vatican press office published a communiqué: "The Holy See learned with great distress the news of the executions of the Mr. Fabianus Tibo, Mr. Dominggus da Silva and Marianus Riwu, considered responsible for the violence in Poso, Indonesia, in 2000.

"With regard to this, the [Vatican] Secretariat of State appealed repeatedly to the Indonesia authorities, in the name of the Holy Father, for a gesture of clemency for the three condemned men."

In addition to a telegram published Aug. 12, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then Vatican secretary of state, had sent the Indonesian head of state, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, two letters, dated Dec. 5, 2005, and March 7, 2006, respectively.

Likewise, "steps were taken through the Indonesian Embassy to the Holy See on Dec. 13, 2005, Feb. 14 and Sept. 20, 2006," confirmed the communiqué.

It added: "On a strictly humanitarian plane, inspired by the known position of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, and keeping in mind the particularities of this distressing case, with its interventions the Holy See attempted for some time to contribute to the efforts in favor of the process of reconciliation in Indonesia and the traditional peaceful coexistence among members of different religions, which it hopes will continue to characterize that great country."

I hope the Vatican concentrates more on such efforts to stop state sanctioned murder, and avoids gratuitous commentary on Islam that has the potential to fuel fundamentalist hostility toward the West. A focus on the sanctity of life befits all churches - Rome would do more for world harmony by adopting a similar position in cases involving non-Catholics sentenced to death.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Greens move to grant Bridging Visa E

Australian Greens Senator Kerry Nettle will move an amendment on Wednesday to the Migration Act to allow long-term bridging visa holders to work after 28 days. Currently many asylum seekers living in the community spend many months or years unable to work and reliant on charity to survive.

"I hope the Senate will support this sensible amendment that was recommended by the recent Senate Inquiry into the Migration Act,” said Senator Nettle.

“It is common sense that people living in the community on bridging visas for an extended time should be able to work to support themselves and their family,” said Senator Nettle.

“There were 7,927 BVE holders in 2005 and some asylum seekers have been on a bridging visa E for many years."

What you can do:

Call your Senators and tell them to vote for this amendment.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

AI: Community concern over Australia's anti-terror laws

In mid-2006 Amnesty International Australia commissioned Roy Morgan to survey the Australian public's knowledge of and attitudes towards the new anti-terror laws, which have been introduced by the government over the past few years.

To obtain reliable findings that would apply across Australia and in each state and territory, a total of 1001 people were selected at random to respond to the survey by telephone.

Here's a snapshot of the national results:

* 95% of survey respondents consider their own human rights to be important with just under three quarters (73%) saying that their rights are 'very important'.

* Most Australians consider that they have moderate knowledge (58%) about their human rights under Australian law. Overwhelmingly, Australians agree that they have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (95%) and the right to a lawyer of their choice (90%) under general criminal law. However, the majority of respondents were not aware that these rights may not be available under the new anti-terror laws.

* While the majority of survey respondents (93%) knew that anti-terror laws had been introduced, most people only know a little (54%) or nothing (20%) about their own rights under these new laws, with only 1% saying they know a great deal and 25% know a moderate amount.

* Having been informed of their rights under Australia's anti-terror laws, a significant number of respondents reported being extremely (31%) or somewhat (30%) concerned and fewer felt only a little concerned (23%) or not at all concerned (15%).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


B. Raman of the South Asia Analysis group writes on the lack of wisdom the Pope demonstrated with his recent remarks on Islam. His cautionary analysis is measured and timely. Following is an exercpt:

"The fresh Muslim anger has been caused by the opening para of a speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI on September 12, 2006, when he read out a prepared speech on "Faith, Reason and the University — Memories and Reflections" at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he was previously a professor of theology. What has shocked the Muslims is his quotation of a remark reportedly made by a Byzantine Emperor in 1391 during a conversation with an unnamed Persian scholar. That remark sought to give the impression that the Byzantine Emperor tended to identify Islam with violence. The Pope's reference to that remark, which was totally unnecessary in his speech, has been interpreted by Muslim religious leaders as indicating that the Pope too agreed with the negative manner in which the former Emperor projected Islam.

While Vatican spokesmen and the Pope himself have denied that the Pope's use of the quotation indicated that he agreed with it, this has not carried conviction with the agitating leaders of the Muslim communities. They legitimately ask: If the Pope did not agree with the quotation, what was the need for citing it? Or, why he did not make it clear in the speech itself that he did not agree with it. The present denials of the Vatican and the Pope are seen by the Muslims as an afterthought in view of the Muslim anger.

At a time when there was already a worrisome divide between the Muslims and the non-Muslims and there was a likelihood of the revival of the feelings of hurt in the Muslim communities over the Danishh cartoons, it was totally unwise on the part of the Pope and his speech-writers in the Vatican to have shown insensitivity to the feelings of Muslims by including this quotation in his speech.

President Bush and many other Western leaders also often make negative remarks about Islam, but their remarks do not evoke the same kind of anger because they are political leaders. Their remarks are ignored by the Muslim leaders. The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and an important religious leader. His remarks, when negative, acquire a kind of significance which the remarks of political leaders do not have. They are, often incorrectly, seen as representing the views of the Christian religion as a whole---or at least of the Catholic Church.

It is not in the interest of any religious community or the international community as a whole that the existing divide between different communities be further widened. Concerted attempts should be made by leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities to put this incident behind us and to prevent any attempts by Al Qaeda, the IIF and other extremist or terrorist elements to exploit this incident for their own nefarious purposes."

Wise words indeed...It is a pity our home grown Cardinal could not provide sensible leadership on this subject. Religious prejudice, not unlike racial prejudice, precludes the possibility of a paradigm that celebrates the universality of the human experience.

To be expected, the PM has responded with his typically disingenuous line on Islam.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More Pacific Solution abuses come to light

New "Pacific solution" … seven of the eight Burmese asylum seekers, seen here on Christmas Island, have been flown to Nauru.

Now Burmese refugees are being subjected to the nightmare of the Pacific Solution. Press reports indicate seven Burmese have been transferred from Christmas Island to Nauru. The SMH reports, "They have been taken out of sight and out of mind, where their future becomes completely uncertain," David Manne, the Australian refugee lawyer who has taken up their case, said last night.

"It is of deep concern that people who have experienced trauma are now in a situation that has already inflicted profound psychological damage on so many other people in recent years.

"This is significant because a policy that turns its back on humanitarian need has been re-invoked, dredged up again."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Popes in glass houses....

Golly gosh, incitement to violence and intolerance is not limited to any particular religion then? Indeed, in keeping with large slices of Christian history that positively drip blood, guts, torture and ritual slaying in the name of Jesus, this Pope has opened another pandora's box of sectarian hate. Just a little stroll through the annals of the Inquisition, or historical accounts of the Crusades, or the Europeon religious wars, would suffice to demonstrate the hypocrisy of this very public rumination, but we would'nt want all that history to get in the way of such a scholarly, 'byzantine' anecdote, now would we?

What is he playing at? In my darkest musings, I don't much like the answer...

my values are better than your values - run!

Moir in the SMH

"ooga-booga" Naomi should be next High Commisioner to Solomons

Writing in the SMH, Hamish McDonald explains the finer points of the CH 7 mission to West Papua:

"While the billion-dollar Australian-led intervention to restore government in the Solomon Islands went into a danger zone with the expulsion of Australia's high commissioner, a five-person Channel Seven crew led by the celeb-presenter Naomi Robson was venturing incognito into the Indonesian province of Papua.

Not to explore the simmering violence between Papuans and the army garrison, or the Freeport gold and copper mine, or the building AIDS epidemic, or illegal logging, or what has happened to the families of the asylum seekers who came to Australia. Rather to pick over the bones, as it were, of an old story done by the rival Channel Nine on a boy allegedly threatened with cannibalism - some time in the next 10 years - for suspected sorcery."

No wonder Howard finds it so easy to ramp up fear and beat up the neighbours.

I think we should now move to go the whole hog and appoint Naomi the next High Commisioner to Solomons. It would seem she is only a struck match away from mastering the diplomatic skills and sensitivity demonstrated by the incumbent.

' A Word From Deakin' - get rid of "this ill-bred urchin"

Writing in The Monthly, Mungo MacCallum imagines a missive from the grave from one Mr Alfred Deakin on the subject of one Mr John Winston Howard. I recommend a full reading but here is an excerpt:

"A fair balance between Capital and Labour is the very foundation of a civilised society; it is not simply a law, but a covenant. And by breaching it, Mr Howard has sadly forfeited whatever claims he might have had to being a statesman, or a Liberal.

There are, of course, many other signs that he has crossed the Rubicon to confirm Lord Acton's dictum that power corrupts. His abuse of patriotism, that last refuge of a scoundrel; the resort to military jingo in the manner of that great political tergiversator, Mr Willian Hughes; the corruption of the Civil Service through patronage and intimidation; the emasculation of the Senate, which, if no longer a protector of states' rights, remains the best hope of restraint upon a Government rampant in its hubris; and so the melancholy list goes on.

I have mentioned a similarity between Mr Howard and my old adversary, Mr Hughes; increasingly they resemble each other in their love of demagoguery, their disregard for veracity and their flexibility when it comes to any kind of principle - let alone that of Liberalism. So let me conclude by paraphrasing an anethema I conferred long ago on my now-deceased rival: the sooner this ill-bred urchin is dragged kicking and screaming from the tart shop, the better."


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Let's not go down that road

A piece in The Australian caught my attention. In his article on a new book by Peter Manning, Mike Steketee writes, "Australia is headed down a very dangerous path and that not only the usual suspects, politicians, are to blame but also the media. The racist genie is out of the bottle, he argues, characterising the events of last December at Sydney's Cronulla beach as Australia's worst race riot in a century. On top of this is the persistent demonisation of Arabs and Muslims.

"We are in grave danger of seeing all Arabic and Muslim Australians as 'the enemy'," he writes in his newly released book, Us and Them: A Journalist's Investigation of Media, Muslims and the Middle East (published by Random House Australia, $34.95). "We have gone into a kind of panic similar to the one through which we saw our local Germans during World War I and Japanese during World War II. Next we'll be locking people up in concentration camps.

"We need to take a step back and take a deep breath. September 11 was not the beginning of a new world. Thousands of people died before the 3000 in the World Trade Centre: in Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, for a start ... We must not succumb to the politics of fear and turn in on ourselves ... We need to take stock of our shocking and continuing misrepresentation, demonisation and dehumanisation of Arab and Muslim people before it's too late. They have become the new Jews: especially, ironically, within Israel. The great lesson of Germany is that it could happen anywhere."

I have been banging on about this concern from the start of this blog. I believe mainstream media has contributed to a climate of fear that unscrupulous politicians have exploited to the hilt. The mythology that 9/11 created the grounds for a sharp shift to the right in the affairs of Western countries is a lie that needs to be exposed, before we forget what we once took for granted. Many of these politicians misplaced the truth a long time ago and forgot where they put it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Indonesia: Abolish the death penalty

The Australian Government’s traditionally strong stand against the death penalty has been undermined in recent years. The death penalty must be opposed in all circumstances. You can find out how to take action by clicking here.

AI Australia has launched a specific campaign to abolish the death penalty in Indonesia. You can fnd out about this campaign by clicking here.

Howard's hypocrisy on death penalty being exposed in Asia

Writing in the Asia Times, Gary LaMoshi highlights the expedient nature of Howard's shifting stance on the application of the death penalty. As well as the application of double standards when it comes to the Bali bombers it appears to me that his hand wringing is more intense over death sentences handed down to white Australians (there was hardly a peep when the alleged 'principals' of the Bali Nine were sentenced). LaMoshi writes:

"Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Australia will appeal to Indonesia for clemency on the death sentences because his country opposes the death penalty. That's only partly true.

Australia, which has no death penalty, opposes its application to Australians. But Australia had no objections to the death sentences handed out to three Bali bombers except to delays in assembling the firing squad.

"Let me make it very clear that every effort is being made by this government, in cooperation with the authorities in Indonesia, to ensure ... that those responsible for these horrible deeds are appropriately punished according to the full vigor of Indonesian law," Howard said after an appeal by the Bali bombers in 2004.

As part of its branding of the 2002 Bali blasts that killed 202 people as Australia's September 11, Howard's administration even paid for the victims' family members to attend the trials and cheer when the death penalties were announced....

The problem with Australian public anger over the Bali Nine is that they're blaming the wrong government. Indonesian police nabbed the Nine thanks to a tip from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), fully aware that the suspects would be subject to the death penalty. The AFP also reportedly assisted local investigators in building the case after the arrests, when there could be no doubt that the death penalty was on tap.

After encouraging Indonesia to nab the smugglers, Australian protests about the subsequent penalties give a new South Pacific twist to chutzpah. If the Bali Nine case teaches the Howard government the price of its hypocrisy toward Indonesia and the world, then these young people will not die in vain."

This latter point will be no comfort for the families of the Bali Nine. I think I know where the blame lies.

Nauru to charge Australia thousands of dollars for visa fee application

Radio New Zealand International reports Nauru will charge Australia 75 000 US dollars each month for the visa of an Iraqi refugee on Nauru, Mohammed Sagar.

Australia has labelled Mr Sagar a security risk and has been held in Nauru for nearly five years without any resettlement option in sight.

Last month, Nauru decided to charge Australia a visa fee in a bid to speed up the processing of asylum claims.

Mr Sagar’s visa expired at the end of August. Australian lawyer, Julian Burnside, has said the Nauru government decided to take action.

“My understanding is that the Nauruan Cabinet has just decided that it will renew the visa for Mohammed Sagar, but it will impose a fee of 100 000 Australian dollars, which of course the Australian government will have to pay, that will get a one month visa and presumably if that is accepted then it will be renewed month after month at the same price.”

Mr Burnside says the Australian government has made no comment yet.

Nauru’s Foreign Minister, David Adeang, said earlier should Australia not recognise his government’s decision, Nauru would not accept any new asylum seekers sent by Australia.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tony Kevin: "Australia is still evolving"

I have been aware of Tony Kevin's thoughts on refugee issues for some time. He is the author of a book on the SIEV X tragedy. His thoughts strike a chord with me as I have been going through a similar reassessment of the state of the nation.

Following is an excerpt from his piece in On Line Opinion:

"I began to think about issues of personal accountability for the deeds and complicities of one’s own government. I began to look past the glossy Qantas image of Australia, to see much more complicated and unsettling realities. I began to see what we had really done to our Aboriginal people. I discovered moral issues to do with the US alliance, Australian conduct in our region, multiculturalism, minorities.

My 30-year public service career ended in 1998, at age 55, and I began to explore the Australia in which I was to spend the rest of my life.

It was a very different place, especially after the 1996 Coalition victory, from the Australia I had grown up in and believed I was representing all those years. Over the next ten years, I had to learn many bitter lessons. Ministers and senior public servants could not be relied on to tell the truth or to conduct themselves with honour. There was increasing corruption and acceptance of corruption among our elites. “Whatever it takes but don’t get caught” had become a defining characteristic of public life.

Our socio-economic elites were no longer standard-setters - they were no better or wiser, simply richer and more cynical. In our overgrown cities, the old suburban ideal of the good life had been tarnished. The public infrastructure of health and education and transport, so new and fresh in the confident 1960s, was already decaying.

There weren’t so many happy families around any more. There were fewer children. Too many of them were being neglected or abused in dysfunctional domestic set-ups where mothers or fathers or their new partners were putting themselves first and their kids’ welfare and security a long way behind. People were drawing in on themselves, becoming more self-centred, reluctant to engage in community. The old churches were wilting, and new (and sometimes quite creepy) American-style happy-clappy groups were moving into the vacuum.

And there was racism - not so much against Aborigines anymore, but against darker-skinned immigrants - Muslims or those who might look so. The cancer of the ever-worsening Israel-Palestinian conflict had spread to Australia. Somehow we had become Israel’s and the US’s military ally in their never-ending brutal wars and proxy wars on Middle Eastern people.

We had become a more militarised country, though our defence forces were more and more detached from our mainstream society in a professional military sub-culture that the rest of us did not quite connect with any more.

We were routinely visiting terrible bureaucratic cruelties in our own country and offshore on boat people asylum-seekers.

We were obviously now a complex multicultural society (I believe that as many as one in two Australians today was either born overseas, or has a partner or parent or parent-in-law born overseas), but not a particularly happy or well-integrated one.

No one could seem to agree on what our national values were any more: we no longer could even find agreed meanings for words, there had been so much spin already that many of our most important words now had to be put in quotation marks when we used them. (Think about: “work choices”, “tolerance” , “mateship”, “fair go”, “national cohesion”, “national pride”, “national security”, “sovereignty”, “war on terror”, “integrity of our borders”, “security risk”, “conscience vote”, “moral issues”, “sustainable economic growth”, “processing”.)

We couldn’t agree on our own history any more. We seemed to be losing our sense of who we were, as our major media and national assets passed into foreign ownership and as we fell more and more into the American socio-cultural orbit.

By 2006, our Australian nation was at more and more risk of becoming simply another large territorial appendage of the United States. Many of us, finding the world’s huge challenges all too much, simply wanted to sink into the illusory protection of US-armed global hegemony, as the US military-industrial complex quietly exploited our gullibility and our remaining resources.

My Australian dream has finally shattered. I still love my country - more than ever - but I realise now that it has many serious and interconnected problems. Quite late in my life - I am now 63 - I realised the need to take up burdens of public involvement, working with other people of goodwill and integrity and knowledge, to try to help our country rebuild some of what it has lost in the past 60 years: trying to make this a better country; a country that does not make war on others; that does not scapegoat any of its own citizens; that behaves as a responsible and less selfish global citizen in the coming battle to save a decent human environment on this planet.

There is a huge agenda now. The situation may seem hopeless but we have to make a start. I’ll be spending the remaining years of my active life working on those things."

As I listen to the dishonest propagandising of the Bush speech on the 9/11 anniversary I find Tony's clarity refreshing and honest. We are diminished as a nation on all fronts by slavishly following the tragic idiocy of the Bush doctrine. I hope we can retrieve the worst setbacks of the Howard years but it will be difficult.

Friday, September 08, 2006

PM accused of acting like Pontius Pilate

Melbourne's Fr Peter Norden, who fought against last year's execution in Singapore of drug trafficker Van Nguyen, compared the Prime Minister's response to that of Pontius Pilate who washed his hands as Christ faced execution.

"The Prime Minister is signalling through such duplicitous language that he has already given up in this matter", says Fr Norden, "and if I was a family member of one of those facing execution, I would be very disappointed".

"Like Pontius Pilate he is washing his hands of the case, saying that the Australian Government shares no responsibility in this matter and can do little about it".

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The PM's hand wringing on death sentences has begun but don't expect much else besides grandstanding

The Howard and Downer show has begun on the issue of the recently announced death sentences for four more of the Bali Nine. Hand wringing about the death penalty accompanied by further pronouncements on the 'evil' nature of drug smuggling will be served up as in the Van Nguyen case.

It puts me in mind of an earlier blog in December 2005, in which I recounted that "In August 2003, in the wake of the sentencing of convicted Bali bomber Amrozi, the Australian Prime Minister called for a national debate on the re-introduction of the death penalty. Reiterating that he does not personally support the death penalty, Mr Howard suggested that the death penalty “could be raised by state opposition parties as an election issue” (Sydney Morning Herald 9/8/03).

By floating the idea that State Liberal opposition parties use the death penalty as a re-election policy (SMH 9/8/03), Prime Minister Howard signalled a dangerous attack on our civil liberties and the most fundamental of our human rights: the right to life.

It is no wonder that his efforts on Van Nguyen's behalf were half-hearted to say the least. And he has sniffed a further opportunity to develop the wedge by playing his 'zero tolerance on drugs' tune as the main message to be drawn from the Van Nguyen murder. You have to hand it to him - he can sniff a political advantage better than most."

Expect more of the same in this case.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Howard & Costello replace racial dog whistle with megaphone

Racial profiling has always been a tendency of the PM. It has got him in to a spot of trouble in the past, but, as he said earlier in the 90s, 'the times will suit me'. His little homily on Muslims failing to integrate and discriminating against women was classic Howard.

Bob Brown has it right when he describes Howard as 'xenophobic'. There are perhaps some more pithy ways of describing him, but xenophobic will do for the educated readership. Bob said this week that "we are in a different era in which the leader of this country, for the first time in much more than half a century, is promoting a xenophobia which divides the country and which harms citizens in this country who have no right to be picked out by a leader for special criticism in the way that John Howard has," he said.

Senator Brown also says extremism must be tackled.

But he says it is not confined to the Islamic community:

"Just last month the Prime Minister blocked an inquiry into the Exclusive Brethren sect, which is misogynist and which represses women in a way which should simply not be allowed in Australian society," he said.

"It's un-Australian, but it's fostered by the Prime Minister."

Australia has one of the worst records of domestic violence in the OECD, we have discrimination against women in some of the more notable churches, we have still got an invisible glass ceiling in the corporate world and upper echelons of the public sector, we have public policy makers discriminating against women's rights at many turns, and we are again peddling images of women as empty headed sex objects in advertising, fashion, mainstream entertainment etc etc etc. A couple of notable beer commercials come to mind as perfect examples. Talk about people in glasshouses...

Where does the so-called 'intelligentsia' stand on the current state of play in the discrimination battles? It appears that many are happy with their bank balances and sipping latte, and nervous about women wearing hijabs because they don't conform to what the commercial media jocks and troglodyte pollies tell us is 'Australian'!, are women jokingly abused in the beer commercials the benchmark for our young girls? Surely stereotypes at both ends of the spectrum are simple minded projections that only influence the permanently credulous. It is the same as being relaxed and comfortable with Howard's undermining of the rule of law, especially habeous corpus, in the name of national security. Do our brains get checked in at the cloak room of Howard's 'son et lumiere' show?

Now Costello has ramped up the rhetoric another notch by peddling fear of Muslims 'dissassimilating' (good word Peter, did you think of it yourself?). The wonderful gains of multiculturalism are being shredded to prop up lagging electoral support for the fear merchants. Situation normal really....'mais, viva la difference'!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Concern over Burmese asylum seekers to be sent to Nauru

Media reported last week that members of the Burmese Rohingya community in Australia have appealed to the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, not to send a group of their countrymen to Nauru.

The Sydney Morning Herald says Australia plans to move eight Rohingyas being held on Christmas Island to Nauru as early as this week where their refugee applications are to be processed.

The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority in Burma and according to the group Anti-Slavery International are routinely subjected to forced labour, extortion and arbitrary arrests.

The Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre says all eight Rohingyas have asked it to represent them.

But the Centre's David Manne says the Department of Immigration has not been willing to assure him that he will be allowed enough time to interview them before they are moved to Nauru.