Monday, December 24, 2007

Pacific Solution & Nauru- "Aid: With Strings Attached"

Regular readers of this blog will know that Tampa and the Pacific Solution were the catalyst for my discursive rantings on Howard's human rights record over the last couple of years.

I have posted many messages on the miscasting of aid to Nauru and elsewhere under the PS and the alarming 'somnambulism' of the Australian people as these events unfolded. I have been critical of Australia's fourth estate for largely failing to expose and condemn Howard's approach to human rights. The profound negative implications of the Howard experiment for the health of Australia's body politic will be the subject of much reflection in the coming years.

Writing in New Matilda, Nic MacLellan underscores the tawdry misuse of official aid under the Pacific Solution and the downstream implications of the strategy, which was made up on the run by bureaucrats trying to engineer good outcomes from bad motives. He quotes my published condemnation of aid to Nauru as "‘an unmitigated bribe’ to ensure the Pacific Solution continued". The public sector reform 'conditionality' that evolved was a half-baked and largely punitive response to Nauru's failed economy, wages crisis, decrepit infrastructure, growing civil unrest and the potential impact this instability could have on the management of the PS.

We have bullied, bribed and coerced our way to this point. The challenge remains to help Nauru avoid total failure as a state by salvaging its limited resource base sufficiently to sustain its small population into the future. We must commit ourselves to a genuine long term development partnership. It is time to discard the cynical, mercenary gambit to compensate Nauru for hosting our offshore detention facilities and to put the bilateral relationship on a proper footing.

It is necessary for the new government to investigate this dark chapter. I hope my oft repeated call for an enquiry to shine a light into the dark recesses of the Pacific Solution pork barrel will be realised.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Human Rights Watch - Letter to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Human Rights Watch has called on newly elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to make human rights a priority for the new government's policies at home and abroad. Following is the open letter to PM Rudd from Human Rights Watch;

"Re: Australian foreign policy with regard to Burma, China, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea and Australian domestic policy on counter-terrorism, refugees, indigenous Australians, and same-sex relationships

Dear Prime Minister Rudd:

Congratulations on your recent election as Prime Minister of Australia.

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization based in New York that monitors and reports on international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law issues in more than 70 countries around the world.

We write to you outlining key areas of foreign and domestic policy where we believe that Australia can and should do more to promote and protect human rights. On foreign policy, Australia is a significant political actor and donor in the Asia-Pacific region, so your government is well placed to play a leading role in promoting human rights at a regional and international level. Over the past decade, the Australian government was notably absent or obstructionist in such efforts. The significant international attention paid to your signing of the Kyoto Protocol and your statement at the Bali conference on climate change shows the clout Australia has and the ways in which it can be put to good use.

Any promotion of human rights, of course, begins at home. Your government has an opportunity to distinguish itself on domestic issues by reversing some of the previous government’s policies that undermined basic rights in areas such as refugees, indigenous Australians, counter-terrorism, and discrimination against same-sex couples.

Australian foreign policy


Your new government should redouble efforts to pressure the brutal military government in Burma, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), to respect human rights and begin a genuine transition to civilian rule. The brutality of the crackdown on peaceful protestors, monks, and nuns in September 2007 must not be forgotten. Human Rights Watch welcomes efforts by the Australian government to curtail the financial power of the SPDC, its leadership, senior officials, and their financial supporters through Reserve Bank restrictions on money transfers. We also welcome the decision to deny the appointment of a former Burmese army officer to the post of Burmese ambassador to Australia. We call on your government to pursue other measures which will continue to pressure the SPDC to reform, including:

* Lead efforts in the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on Burma, particularly arms transfers that directly assist continued military rule and further military abuses against civilians;
* Lead efforts in the UN Human Rights Council to institute a commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Burma;
* Lead efforts to interdict financial transactions through regional networks which directly assist the military leadership and the army to stay in power;
* Impose targeted sanctions on imports, exports, and new investment in sectors of Burma’s economy that substantially benefit the military and/or are associated with serious human rights abuses. These include the petroleum (oil and gas), mining (gems, metals, minerals), and logging (logs and timber) sectors, as well as hydropower and other major infrastructure projects;
* Institute monitoring of Australian business investment in Burma, particularly energy companies, to ensure that human rights violations are not perpetrated as a result of their business presence and that profits do not flow directly to the SPDC and military.


For more than 20 years, Human Rights Watch has investigated and documented extensive human rights violations in China. These include violations of freedom of religion, freedom of expression and labor rights, media and internet censorship, and forced evictions of people from their homes. As a fluent Mandarin speaker with a longstanding interest in human rights in China, you surely understand the severity of the current situation there. Under your leadership, we expect Australia to play a major role in raising human rights concerns with China’s senior leadership in Beijing. The strong trade relationship between Australia and China, which subordinated human rights concerns in the last government, should instead be an avenue to raise such concerns, as will be the period before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. As a matter of priority, we urge you to publicly as well as privately raise the following concerns with Chinese officials at the earliest opportunity and call on the Chinese government to:

* Ensure media freedom by enforcing the temporary regulations providing greater freedoms for foreign journalists put in effect in the run-up to the Olympics, so that foreign journalists do not face harassment, intimidation, or detention, extending these rights to Chinese journalists, and making the “temporary” regulations a permanent component of Chinese law;
* End unlawful forced evictions carried out in preparations for the Olympics and ensure all evictions are carried out in line with legal requirements regarding adequate notice, compensation and access to new housing;
* Ensure implementation of the labor law so that all Chinese workers receive their legally mandated pay and benefits, including accident and health insurance, paid overtime, days off, and a healthy and safe work environment;
* End restrictions on Chinese workers’ freedom of association and assembly by allowing workers to form independent trade unions outside of the government’s official All China Federation of Trade Unions.


Australia’s military links with Indonesia’s special forces, Kopassus, are of serious concern given Kopassus’ long history of human rights abuses in East Timor, Aceh, and Papua. We welcome your comments, made in 2003 as Opposition Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, against the decision by the Australian government to resume links with Kopassus.

You have talked about the need to expand Australia's counter-terrorism cooperation with Indonesia. In doing so, you should recognize that essential efforts to reform the Indonesian military to make it more accountable have stalled. For example, a 2004 law (Law No. 34/2004) mandated an end to the military’s involvement in business, and set a five-year deadline, until 2009, for the Indonesian government to take control of all the businesses the military owns or controls. Yet a draft government decree selectively defines “military business” to cover only a few companies and ignores business activity carried out by military foundations and cooperatives, gutting the reform process before it has truly begun. Meanwhile, military profit-making continues. In May 2007, Indonesian marines in east Java killed four villagers, including a pregnant woman and a three-year old, in a land dispute tied to the Navy’s local business interests.

This is a crucial test of military reform in Indonesia, but much remains to be done to turn the promise of the 2004 law into real change.

We call on your government to:

* Formally end the military relationship with Kopassus and cease any future planned joint training exercises between Australia’s Special Air Service and Kopassus Unit 81;
* Press the Indonesian authorities to act quickly and decisively to eliminate all military business activity, without exception.

Papua New Guinea

Human Rights Watch welcomes the strong commitment of Australia to sustainable development in Papua New Guinea and to address the country’s rapid increase in HIV/AIDS. Recent research by Human Rights Watch shows that police violence in Papua New Guinea is systemic and widespread, particularly against vulnerable populations such as children, sex workers, and men who have sex with men. This violence has a significant negative impact on the development of a functioning justice system and on the response to the country's rampant HIV/AIDS epidemic.

As the largest donor of foreign aid to Papua New Guinea and given the central role that Australia has played in training and developing the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, the Australian government should be more proactive in addressing widespread police violence. To this end, it should:

* Express concern at the highest level to the Papua New Guinea government over police violence, including torture, rape and excessive force, against vulnerable populations such as children, sex workers, and men who have sex with men;
* Call on the government of Papua New Guinea to ensure that police treatment of all citizens conforms to international human rights standards;
* Ensure that mechanisms, both internal and external to the Papua New Guinea police services, are instituted that hold police accountable for any violence committed;
* Assist local human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations to develop effective independent monitoring of police violence and provide services and support to victims of any such violence;
* Support a human rights based approach to HIV/AIDS, which adequately supports and empowers vulnerable populations such as young people, sex workers, and men who have sex with men.

Domestic issues


Australia should amend its counterterrorism legislation to bring it into compliance with international human rights standards. The case of Dr. Mohammed Haneef, an Indian citizen who was detained without charge for almost two weeks in July 2007 under the 2005 Anti-Terrorism Act (he was then charged, but the charges were dropped), highlights the need to revisit Australia's approach to counter-terrorism. In order to combat terrorism more effectively, the government should reaffirm its commitment to human rights principles.

Human Rights Watch recommends that Australia reform the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2005 in the following ways:

* Revise control orders procedures to ensure that individuals have access to the information submitted to the courts for the purpose of securing control orders, that control orders are limited in time, and that they do not effectively constitute house arrest. Imposing house arrest through control orders is tantamount to meting out criminal punishment without trial, violating the fundamental right to due process;
* Amend the law’s overbroad provisions on sedition to avoid infringing the right to freedom of expression;
* Modify preventive detention procedures to allow detainees to promptly inform their family members and legal counsel that they are being detained and ensure their communications with lawyers are not monitored by the police;
* In line with the December 2006 report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism on Australia, narrow the law’s definition of “terrorist act,” so that it covers only conduct carried out with the intention of causing death or serious bodily injury, or the taking of hostages.


Human Rights Watch welcomes the pledge by the Labor Party to end the "Pacific Solution" policy by closing the Nauru and Manus Island processing and detention facilities and to replace the temporary protection visa scheme. We are pleased to note that your government already granted political asylum to seven Burmese refugees who spent more than a year on Nauru Island, and we see this as a very positive sign of your intention to restore Australia’s reputation as a country that provides refuge to the persecuted.

In order to ensure that Australia's refugee policy respects human rights and meets international obligations, we call on your government to:

* Close the Nauru and Manus Island facilities and offer asylum in Australia to any of the 89 people found to be refugees;
* End the policy and practice of mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Introduce community-based supervision for people whose refugee application is pending, with detention used only as a last resort where there is a compelling security risk;
* End the practice of excluding parts of Australian territory from the Australian migration zone through “territorial excision,” which dictates that asylum seekers processed in excised places such as Christmas Island do not enjoy the same legal rights as those processed on mainland Australia. All asylum seekers under Australian jurisdiction should be able to file a claim for asylum and have full access to legal assistance, an independent appeal process, work permits, and community support;
* Not implement the agreement with the United States to “swap refugees” between Nauru Island and Guantánamo Bay;
* Replace the temporary visa protection scheme with a system that accords the same protection to all recognized refugees regardless of their manner of entry into the country.

Indigenous Australians

The quality of life for most indigenous Australians remains unacceptably low, with a 17-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, an infant mortality rate that is almost three times higher than the general Australian population, and rates of death from treatable and preventable conditions such as diabetes and respiratory illness ranging from three times to eight times higher than for non-Indigenous Australians. Although they live in one of the world's wealthiest countries, most indigenous Australians do not have access to adequate health care, housing, food or water. Human Rights Watch welcomes your commitment to close the gap in life expectancy, and to formally apologize to indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation of indigenous Australian children. We call on your government to act immediately to:

* Make the existing Northern Territory National Emergency Response, designed to address child abuse and social breakdown in rural indigenous communities, subject to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. All government action taken should be consistent with the fundamental right to racial equality;
* Ensure, in deciding the future of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response, that indigenous Australians are regularly consulted and play a central, formal role in addressing child abuse and social breakdown in their communities.

Discrimination against same-sex couples

Australia was at one time at the forefront of international efforts to recognize the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens. Over the past decade its record on this issue has fallen behind many other countries. The lack of legal recognition of same-sex relationships under federal law means that these Australians and their children face disadvantage and exclusion on a daily basis. We welcome the commitment by the new government to tackle this discrimination by implementing the recommendations of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's (HREOC) report, "Same-Sex: Same Entitlements." We call on the new government to remove all discrimination against same-sex couples by:

* Enacting legislation as a first-term priority that implements the recommendations of the HREOC report, so that same-sex couples and their children have equal access to benefits and entitlements in areas such as public sector superannuation, the Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Safety Nets, income tax, and child support;
* Providing for effective educational programs to ensure that all those affected by the HREOC reforms are aware of the changes, particularly Commonwealth employees and agents who will be responsible for administering the new laws;
* Introducing federal anti-discrimination legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity;
* Amending the Marriage Act 1961 so that civil marriage in Australia is available to any two persons, regardless of their gender.

We thank you for your attention to these issues, and hope that your recent election will mark a turning point for Australia’s record on human rights, both domestically and abroad. We look forward to a constructive relationship with your government. "

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Human Rights in Australia - Labor's approach to refugees

The following response to a letter from Amnesty and ACT Refugee Action Committee members was received from the ALP Campaign Information Services. It sets out the current position on asylum seekers.

"Firstly, Labor would end the Howard Government's so called 'Pacific Solution' and shut down the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island (PNG).

The Nauru immigration detention facility is currently costing Australian taxpayers more than $2 million per month. Since its inception, the Nauru and Manus Island centres (known as the ‘Pacific Solution’) have cost Australians more than $270 million.

Previous experience shows us that the vast majority of asylum seekers sent to Nauru end up being brought to Australia anyway, despite this Government’s extreme rhetoric to the contrary. Individuals simply suffer in the interim.

Labor supports the continued use of Christmas Island as an immigration processing facility. Labor believes in an orderly immigration program. It is strongly opposed to any form of people smuggling.

Australia must at the same time honour its international obligations and ensure that we treat people with decency. Labor would maintain the new immigration processing centre being constructed on Christmas Island for the purpose of health, identity and security checks for those seeking asylum. Labor would take action to end the private contracts which run Australia’s immigration detention centres and return the management of Christmas Island and the mainland detention centres to public administration.

Children would not be placed in any immigration detention centre.

As with processing on the mainland, all asylum claims at the Christmas Island facility would be processed within 90 days.

They would be processed, including review, using similar methods of processing as used by the UNHCR. If they are not found to be in need of protection they would be immediately returned. If they are found to be refugees then a durable solution would be provided.

Labor supported for very good reason the excisions of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Ashmore Reef and Christmas Island because they were in a very different position to every other offshore island and in a completely different position to the Australian mainland. These islands are the nearest Australian land to the areas of Indonesia where the people smugglers operated.

September 2007 was the sixth anniversary of SIEV-X, when hundreds of people drowned on their way to Australia. This was a people-smuggling operation that took advantage of the desperation of those people, in boats filled largely with women and children, headed not to the Australian mainland but to places like Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island and Ashmore Reef.

Labor supported that excision for one very precise reason: to take action against the people-smuggling operations that were causing such misery and hardship for so many people.

Labor will also end the policy of Temporary Protection Visas (TPV). This change was adopted in pursuance of a very simple principle - that when people fleeing persecution reach Australia, that persecution must end.

Temporary protection visas do not allow the holder to sponsor their spouse or children to reunite or visit them in Australia. Despite its original intention the visa ended up encouraging asylum seekers to approach people smugglers.

When temporary protection visas were introduced the number of boats travelling to Australia actually went up.

In the years since their introduction we have seen that temporary protection visa holders can be emotionally, physically and financially disadvantaged by the temporary nature of their visas. Temporary protection visa holders experience uncertainty and a sense of isolation that can result in deteriorating mental health.

Ultimately the vast majority of temporary protection visa holders eventually gain permanent protection.

A Labor Government would abolish the system of temporary protection visas."

The 16 Indonesians recently plucked from the sea are being held on Christmas Island. The full circumstances of their case are not known, except that they are from a fishing community that has had its livelihood curtailed by Australian action on illegal fishing.

This presents a clear example of how punitive action to protect Australia's interests can have severe social and economic outcomes for neighbouring peoples. It underlines how important it is to take an integrated and holistic approach to issues such as illegal fishing. The downstream consequences of protecting our borders need to be fully understood. Loss of income can have savage consequences for communities largely dependent on subsistence activities. For instance, loans taken to generate additional income from fishing will have to be repaid. Sudden loss of income might have serious implications that are not merely economic and might explain why people would uproot themselves from their traditional lifestyle.

Australia's refugee policy cannot operate in a vacuum if it is to meet the human rights obligations of good international citizenship.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Human Rights in Australia - Pacific Solution to be abolished but we still have a long way to go on refugees

The Age reports "While Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd has claimed the Pacific solution is wrong and would be discontinued, asylum seekers intercepted outside of the migration zone would have their claims assessed on Christmas Island, not the mainland.

This would retain the two-tiered processing system, with those processed offshore remaining outside of Australian law and treated differently to those processed on the mainland, which refugee advocates say is unacceptable.

Under the new Government, Christmas Island, Cocos Island and Ashmore Reef will remain excised from Australia's migration zone.

The Government would search for a "durable solution" for boat people processed on Christmas Island and found to be genuine refugees, which could include resettling them in Australia.

However, shortly before the election, Mr Rudd refused to commit to Australia taking the 72 Sri Lankan refugees held on Nauru. He has also pledged to turn boats back at sea.

The Government is yet to commit to a deadline to closing the Nauru and Manus Island camps and transferring the 89 on Nauru to Christmas Island."

A Just Australia has set out a reform strategy for "the road ahead".

Monday, November 26, 2007

Post-Election 2007 - both reflection and change needed

Well, the bloggers were largely right and the journalists are still scratching around for a narrative.

In a landslide, Australia has elected its 3rd Labor Government from opposition since WW2. A sense of relief is washing over the land - it is palpable on the air waves. Howard has brought himself and his party undone.

His policies toward refugees wrought immense change in my life. The alarming shift this country took in 2001 made be angry and dispirited. I felt the moral and ethical basis of our commitment to protect human rights had been compromised, and that vulnerable human beings in need of help had become pawns in a ruthless political agenda.

Refugee issues remain a concern and I plan to advocate and track changes to Australia's refugee laws. We can do so much better on so many fronts. I hope Kevin Rudd provides an enabling environment for community to heal itself.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Election 2007 - Dirty tricks take centre stage on eve of Election

The last days of a government reveal many things. A sure government would review its performance, play to its strengths and seek to unite.

Tricky, manipulative dissinformation games are afoot. Its not pretty, but it suggests a mindset that has flourished during the Howard years. Wedge politics are nasty. Attacks on the union movement and disregard for civil society have characterised the Howard experiment.

At this election civil action has played a large role in keeping key human relations issues to the fore. Human rights, conservation and new directions in human capital investment are centre stage at this Election. Investment in social and economic infrastructure has declined over the last decade. Public disinvestment in key areas of education have held us back. Action on refugees and legislation with inadequate human rights protections has shone a light on the Howard Govt record.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Election 2007 - How can Australians elect a man the hacks don't know? - duh!

A quick round of the ABC shows this morning continues to reveal the hacks from the 'club' just don't get why Australia wants to throw Howard out. For years they have been in thrall to Howard. They have treated the electorate like fools, failing to examine forensically the toxic effects of the Howard experiment.

We have been subject to a radical reactionary agenda that has taken Australia away from the political middle ground. The bully boys and girls have been chucking everything but the kitchen sink at Labor during the campaign. 'Union devils', 'neo-communists', 'centralists' (oh not that one!) and 'just who is Kevin Rudd?'.

What the hacks don't understand is that a large percentage of Australians have finally seen through Howard, despite their (ie the hacks) lazy work on the subject, and they don't like what they see. Howard hides his real self with consummate ease, but just a casual survey of changes wrought on his watch reveals a determination to 'americanize' our society and economy. The 'Thatcherites' were much the same. Its the economy stupid and nothing else matters.

I believe profoundly that much else besides the relative utility of human beings as units of production matters if you want to strengthen community and the social underpinnings of the body politic. I'm afraid the 'insider' hacks spend too much time around the political makers & shakers who have lost sight of what matters. This would explain why human rights considerations dropped off the radar of politicians and their pamphleteers caught in the 'Howard zone'.

We need to restore a sense of hope and optimism to this scorched land.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Post-Election 2007 - A Royal Commission into the operation of the Immigration Dept is needed

This blog has called repeatedly for a Royal Commission into immigration policies and programs of the Howard Govt.

The RC Terms of Reference should include, but not be limited to, an investigation of:

1. implementation of the Pacific Solution (this of course should encompass the role and use of official aid)

2. wrongful detention of refugees and permanent residents of Australia

3. operation and financing of detention facilities on the mainland and offshore

4. wrongful repatriation of asylum seekers

5. influence of political staffers and Ministers in the determination of immigration decisions

6. role of the Prime Minister's task force on 'illegal' migration

7. influence of 'understandings' and 'deals' with neighbouring countries on the management of Australia's refugee policies and programs

This is enough to go on with. I for one would be pleased to give evidence before such a Royal Commission on the part that official aid played in the operation of the Pacific Solution.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Human Rights in Australia - Another immigration horror story comes to light

SBS & ABC reported tonight on the case of Tony Tranh. The story should make the blood of decent minded Australians run cold. His is the latest case to come to light of unlawful and mistaken detainment at Baxter Detention Centre.

Immigration's deportation of Tony Tranh's wife and son without his notification - and the far reaching impact of years of mistaken detainment on Mr Tranh's mental and physical health and livelihood - are difficult to comprehend.

Please write to your local MP and to the major party leaders expressing your concern and contempt for this injustice. You might like to seek advice on

1. what steps are being taken by the Australian Government and DIAC to offer compensation and assistance to Mr Tranh and his son, and to resolve the issue of Tony Tranh's so called 'statelessness?

2. what steps are being taken to investigate DIAC's breach of procedural guidelines in this case?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Election 2007 - "Democracy and disillusionment"

This blog post caught my eye. Malperdy's list of Howard's betrayals resonates with fear, greed and malignant power:

"* The Australian Wheat Board scandal over deals with the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq
* The Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq scandal
* Improper support for the invasion of Iraq instead of urging alternative solutions
* Extreme anti-terror laws
* The failure to recognize the international environmental crisis
* Failure to plan for the national water crisis
* The failure to support alternative forms of energy production
* Permitting the untrammelled selling off of natural mineral resources
* Use of dubious definitions of being 'employed' to provide favourable statistics
* Lack of affordable housing, and rising mortgage interest rates
* Failure to produce an effective reconciliation with Aboriginals
* Unqualified and uncritical support for the Bush regime in the USA
* Shameful treatment of asylum seekers who find their way to Australia
* The bogus children overboard scandal
* Shameful refusal to demand the release of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainees
* Blatant trickery over a national referendum on Australia becoming a Republic
* Dishonesty and deceit amongst those holding high office
* Abusing and jeering at its opponents instead of responding to their arguments
* Lacking statesmanship and dignity, and providing appalling role models for younger generations"

Friday, November 09, 2007

Human Rights in Australia - Howard's record critiqued on eve of election

Radio Australia reports "A prominent Australian human rights advocate and lawyer has warned that Australia's anti-terrorism and refugee legislation poses a growing threat to democratic freedoms.

Julian Burnside has been writing for almost ten years on Australia's refugee policies and anti-terror laws.

He's long argued that Australia's treatment of asylum-seekers breaches international law and amounts to serious human rights abuse.

Now he's brought his arguments together in a new book appealing for change.

He spoke to Radio Australia's Connect Asia program about the book.

"Our treatment of asylum seekers is more than just a passing phase, I think it's something which has in an uncomfortable way identified something about the Australian character," he said.

The book, "Watching Brief" also examines Australia's anti-terror laws and call for a Bill of Rights.

"Look to the extent that these things [the anti-terror laws] dilute the rule of law yes it does challenge our democracy. A striking example of that is the laws that allow for orders to be made for preventative detention and for control orders thos are both orders that dramatically curtail a person's liberty not because you have committed an offence but because you might," he said.

You can hear the full story at the Connect Asia website:

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Election 2007 - Howard warns of social ruin if Rudd elected - 'bring out your dead'

The anticipated shrill hysteria from Howard and cohort is kicking in. Babies won't be born, anarchy will rule, society and marriages will collapse, recession is inevitable. Can you believe people voted for these clowns FOUR times?

Sound the bells, alert the town cryer, batten down the hatches, and shiver yer timbers - Howard is going into meltdown. Its not pretty and it certainly isn't edifying, but entertaining? The question is whether he will lose the plot completely, which would be worth the price of admission.

Sorry Mr Howard, just go...

Let them eat shit Peter...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Election 2007 - Vote for someone who cares about human rights

This is to inform you about a public forum which will take place in Dickson, Canberra on the 8th of November.

The forum is under the auspices of The Justice Project
( ), whose aims are to protect and promote Human Rights in Australia. It is a non-partisan event to which every federal candidate in the ACT is invited, and the keynote speaker is respected ANU academic Hilary Charlesworth. Marion Le is also speaking.

As someone with an interest in human rights, your support for this forum would be valuable.

A flyer can be accessed here.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Election 2007 - "Exclusive footage: detention centres, riots, refugees. Remember them?"

One of this blog's readers (thanks Steve) brought this footage posted on Crikey to my attention. Part of Crikey's commentary follows:

"So far in this election campaign the only r word employed by politicians has been peppered through the Treasurer's press conferences.

But the footage we reveal today, which has never been released to the public, concerns a subject that has featured promimently in elections past: refugees.

The video includes footage of the Port Hedland detention centre riots from May 2001 and was leaked by an anonymous guard shortly after the riot occurred, a time when the media was denied access to Australian detention centres.

The footage came to light after producers of the US reality television program Most Shocking sought it from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre this year. The producers of the program, which airs on Channel Seven, eventually rejected the Port Hedland tape on the grounds that it wasn't "pro government forces".

Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has told Crikey that the video was filmed by the government contractor Australasian Correctional Management to be circulated in the Department of Immigration."

Don't you think verbal gaffes like Garrett's pale into insignificance when you consider the appalling human rights record of the Howard Govt.? Our political culture has been degraded and demeaned by shock jocks and a large slice of the commentariat who have stood by while this country has been hijacked by dangerous buffoons. I sent the following comment to SKY News the other day. Their election coverage was positively frothing with the Garrett story at the time:

"I know you are pitching constantly to the moneyed part of the society (because they can afford pay TV), but your political coverage is awful. Your ridiculous polls indicate the skewed demographic you appeal to.

Your constant trawling for slip ups and minor inflections by candidates is disappointing. You have fallen into the trap of most political journos in thrall to the Howard experiment and have started believing your own spin. A word to the wise, if you want to be taken seriously as a current affairs outlet, lose the skewed polls and try to insert some balance and intellectual integrity into your coverage.

You might consider employing someone who has been around longer than 10 mins on your political team to bring some gravitas to the content. It is no accident that Howard has a preference for SKY coverage - it is because you mainly seem in thrall to his side of politics and his constituency.

Certain of your presenters might consider loosing the deeply troubled look when Labor or the Greens pitch a message. One of your female presenters always looks as though there has been a death in the family. Don't worry its not that bad!

Try to imagine what it's been like for people who value social equity, community cohesion, reconciliation, and respect for human rights, rule of law, fairness and good international citizenship over the last 11 years - in a word, ghastly!"

Saturday, November 03, 2007

New Matilda: Howard’s Australia: The Bureaucratisation of Evil

Julie Macken remembers some key moments in the recent history of John Howard’s Australia relating to the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

If you merge the Arendt dictum on the "banality of evil" with this one you get Howard and the dark elves, Kevin (I am not Mr Bean) Andrews and Philip (I am not a wraith) Ruddock. Banal, bureaucratic and evil - a heady cocktail to take a country's reputation for fairness, compassion and good international citizenship to hell in a hand-basket. G'day and good luck.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Election 2007 - Journos just don't get it!

After a decade of going soft on Howard's nasty experiment, that has seen Australia hijacked by ideological extremists, the 4th estate seems to assume the rest of us are blank slates waiting for their latest 'extraordinary' insights. Lord help us all if that was the case.

I tuned in to Fran Kelly's 'political panel' discussion this morning on Radio National Breakfast. Even the seasoned political journo, Michelle Grattan, seemed to be in fierce agreement with the others (Kelly, Farr & Bongiorno) that the bulk of the electors have'nt really turned off Howard, they're just in to a mindless 'it's time' construct.

Oh dear, what can the matter be, all these journos hoist by their flattery (of Howard that is). Oops, sorry, just got carried away for a moment.

I listened to Hugh Mackay's chat with Phillip Adams on LNL yesterday. What a contrast from the mealy mouthed 'me tooisms' of the gallery hack pack. Hugh was talking about his new book, Advance Australia Where?

He refers to the Howard years as the 'dreaming', when Australia tuned out of issues such as reconciliation, refugee rights and general human rights, and rule of law concerns. Money and lifestyle obsessions saw these issues 'back-seated', facilitated by a media culture in thrall to Howard's radical reactionary agenda.

Now that Australians are waking up to the fact that loss of social cohesion, genuine community and fairness is not the Australia we aspire to, the journos are all at sea trying to explain why the electorate is getting set to thump the Coalition.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Australia Tibet Council's Federal Election Initiative

You can help build support for the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way policy. It’s time to ask your local candidates in the Federal election where they stand on the Tibet issue.

Please write to the candidates in your electorate and ask them for their support on the issue of Tibet. It’s not difficult. Read on and we will help you find a list of candidates, give you some points for the letters or, if you prefer, you can use the letter we provide.

The coming year, in the run up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is shaping up to be very significant in the struggle for human rights and cultural and religious freedom in Tibet. With your help, ATC will be working hard to increase support for Tibet in Australia.

Go to ATC's website for more information on how you can help.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Just Australia enters Election 2007 to highlight the horrors of the Pacific Solution

"Australia’s policy on asylum seekers and refugees needs fixing, urgently. While there have been small steps forward in some areas, there have been great leaps backwards in others.

Government policies still allow for the indefinite detention of children in offshore centres with little to no access to legal help.
We still grant genuine refugees only temporary protection visas, keeping them separated from their families.
We still lock-up asylum seekers with no security assessment of whether that is necessary.
We still have a visa decision system that is biased with limited review or oversight."

Watch AJA's short video on the latest issues.

Election 2007 - Keating torches Costello and his IR fear and smear

Costello & Howard, and the multiple dwarves, have been out and about traducing trade unionism with growing stridency and just a note of hysteria.

We always knew the Coalition would fight a dirty campaign, because the Aussie electorate seems to be waking up to the fact that nation builders they ain't.

Paul Keating came out of hibernation again today to launch Greg Combet's campaign and to excoriate Heckle & Jeckle for doing little more than ride on the back of the economic construct and labour accords of the Hawke/Keating years. He painted a picture of an indolent Costello in his hammock, casting an eye on the budget figures from time to time. This was vintage Keating and well worth the price of admission.

Perhaps it is not hard work that causes Costello to routinely look as though he is about to drop off in QT and to look like he has been burning the candle at both ends. Perhaps it's what he imbibes whilst in the hammock that is the real problem, and maybe that would explain his bizarre behaviour at the 'Great' debate....hmmm!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The 'Great' debate - free speech and public accountability curtailed by Howard

All the commentators are out, dissecting the relative merits of the Rudd V Howard debate. Rudd was all over Howard like a rash on just about every criterion. Those who have called it 'close' must still be either in thrall to Howard or beholden to the Coalition for something, or have spent so long toadying up to right-wing power brokers over the last decade, they just can't seem to break the habit.

The real concern is the extraordinary compliance of the ABC and the National Press Club in accepting the 'rules of engagement' laid down by the Coalition, and, then, cutting the feed to Ch 9 when they refused to bow to 'wormacide'. Freedom of the press has been under threat on Howard's watch for a raft of reasons. This is just the latest offering from this hubris soaked bunch of bullies who don't like scrutiny and who play the man whenever they come under fire.

This country so needs to be rid of them it has become one of those 'rubicon' moments. We cannot afford to continue to allow our country to be hijacked by ideological extremists, taking Australia in a direction counter to our national interest.

Hey journos, you might find it redemptive to stop dilly dallying at the edges and start focussing on the actual consqeuences of the Howard experiment for press freedoms, the rule of law and human rights. The constant focus on macro economic nuances (none of which are much altered by either party in government) at the expense of fundamental concerns for civil freedoms, social equity and community cohesion does little credit to the fourth estate.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Howard catastrophe exposes failing democracy"

I've been reading some dreadful rubbish lately on the supposed 'issues' of the 2007 election. Many of the so-called 'commentators' seem to have hibernated their brains and their ethics during the Howard years. Certainly a good many have been in thrall to Howard's culture wars and ruthless exploitation of fear.

You'd have to say the ABC has also been cowed into submission. The investigative side of ABC current affairs has been loathe to forensically analyse the worst aspects of the Howard experiment, presumably under pressure from his 'thought police'.

Following is an excerpt from Mike Clancy's article posted on Margot Kingston's webdiary. Howard has'nt fooled all of the people all of the time:

"The re-election of John Howard in 2004 with a majority in both houses of parliament is surely one of the low points in Australian political life. However, the episode is highly instructive regarding the state of our democracy. But firstly, a quick review of the evidence, then and now.

By 2004, we already had compelling evidence of Howard’s duplicity. So when we handed control of both houses of parliament to this known scoundrel, it exposed the failings of our media, our two-party system and our civil society itself.

By election time 2004, we had seen Howard’s attack on Aboriginal land rights and reconciliation for political gain. Rank opportunism was also at work with Tampa, children overboard and the disgraceful treatment of asylum seekers more generally. We had seen him sneer at environmental concerns, and fail to take action on our impending water crisis and the extinction of Australian flora and fauna. Instead, he used environment funding to buy votes.

Howard’s refusal to sign Kyoto and to increase our renewable energy targets should have alerted us. We might have noticed his grand scheme to scuttle international consensus on climate change...

By re-electing Howard in 2004, we said; ‘Go and do your worst, in our name’. We approved his misguided attack on Iraq and signed up to his subversion of Kyoto.

Many argue that the failure in 2004 was not of John Howard, but of Mark Latham. But they put this argument, without taking the next logical step of questioning our two-party system itself. If neither candidate measured up, why did we give one of them the dictatorial powers of a two-house majority? Our two-party mind-set failed us utterly. In 2004, the excellent track record of the Democrats in the Senate was ignored. The Greens and independents also polled poorly.

But ultimately, 2004 was a failure of Australian civil society itself. Why did WE allow it to happen?

Now in 2007, the evidence is in; no longer a mere ‘scoundrel’ Howard has been shown to be a traitor who has betrayed his people time and again."

Read the full article.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The polls narrow as Howard opens the pork barrel and spreads fear

I suppose I should'nt be surprised by the slight turn around in Howard's polling numbers, but it is disappointing.

This Prime Minister has lied, dissembled, dog-whistled, propagandised, and, essentially, put this country in harm's way. Social divides have gaped open. Reconciliation has been marginalised. Public assets have been sold or gutted for private advantage. Rampant individualism has ravaged social unity. International covenants have been ignored or traduced. Militaristic unilateralism has become acceptable. The list goes on and on.

Yet, a grab bag of mindless tax cuts sees the Coalition's electoral fortunes improve. I keep reading earnest commentary that spruiks Labor's failings and shortcomings, and what Rudd has to do to win office.

Disengaged, disinterested and disempowered, the next generation wonder what the fuss is all about. That is a savage indictment of our political culture.

The role modeling of our leadership has been characterised by dirty tricks, slavish toadying to US foreign policy, neglect of public infrastructure and the skills base, economic & social elitism and attacks on weaker social elements.

And its Rudd who has to make the running!!! This PM should be cast out on the basis of his appalling record on human rights and social cohesion alone. If Howard is returned to office then we really do deserve the politicians we get.

For a a bit of a laugh about the man we have elected FOUR times, click here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Australians All - Malcolm Fraser on how Howard sacrifices people for politics

Malcolm Fraser has been one of the most outspoken conservative critics of the Howard years. Howard's picket fence conformism on migration and integration and his cherry picking approach to the application of human rights principles and the rule of law have diminished us all.

Read the article to understand Malcolm Fraser's take on how Howard sacrifices people for political gain.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

As the Olympics get closer China repression worsening

This article on the deteriorating human rights situation in China caught my eye. The case for a boycott of the Olympics is growing by the day. With China's failure to curtail the worst excesses of the Burmese military regime and its ongoing violations in Tibet and against political dissidents, Beijing's much trumpeted 'arrival' as a good international citizen is a shadow play with sinister consequences for those subjected to systematic repression.

The international community needs to come to the realisation urgently that the Olympics provide leverage to ensure human rights and political reform are not just paid lip-service by China.

As the article says, "Next summer’s Olympics will showcase a China of glittering skyscrapers and overstuffed store shelves. But the government responsible for this economic miracle continues to imprison political activists, restrict religious freedom, tightly control the media and Internet, and protect its citizens only haphazardly from pollution and unsafe food and consumer products..."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Howard's reconciliation pitch - come to me, come to me....I'm your leader!

First the boot is put into refugees, muslims, aboriginal men in the NT, and any other soft targets of a good dog whistle. Now we have the hand wringing mode, a tortuous inner bleaching of the dark soul and an admission that he may have been part of the problem.

Well Mr PM, let me assure you are a big part of the problem. Reconciliation has been put so far back on your watch enlightened indigenous leaders like Noel Pearson have become so desperate to see some progress for their communities, they find themselves snookered behind your simple minded logic of integration and mainstreaming.

Small 'l' Liberals across the land have been fleeing the Howard war camp as it lines up one weak, marginal group after another for being un-Australian and in need of 're-training' in market orthodoxies. The racial attacks of Andrews on Sudanese refugees, one of the most vulnerable groups to ever seek shelter here, was really scraping a well scraped barrel, and I thought 'here we go again!'.

Next thing, its all reconciliation and don't you worry about that! If I was an outer galactic observer, I would see how our leader morphs as he passes from one bunch of electors to another, desperately seeking more power, and failing that, a semblance of a social policy legacy beyond Tampa, children overboard, Nauru, Muslim baiting, aboriginal bashing, & Sudanese vilification. Good luck and g'day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Australians All - "Giving up on Reconciliation: Is Strategic Surprise Inevitable?"

Read Lt Gen John Sanderson's thoughtful article that addresses an essential issue confronting white Australia: Can we, as we must, reconcile with the first people, so we can walk together into a hopeful future?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Labor does the right thing on death penalty

I want to echo the support of others for McLelland's (ALP spokesperson on Foreign Affairs) call for Australia to apply a uniform standard on opposition to the death penalty. We look arrogant and hypocritical when we applaud the death sentence for the Bali bombers while decrying death sentences passed on Australians abroad.

Tim Dunlop's piece on is worth a read.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Howard and Hanson combine to play the race card, again!

Those that have tracked the dog whistle politics of the incumbent through his long, long political career, will know that he routinely stirs the racist underbelly of the body politic when he is under pressure.

Who better to start the ball rolling than that bastion of fairness, Kevin Andrews. Perhaps he did'nt expect Pauline to hop on board quite so soon and enthusiastically, but the target demographic can't help but respond.

Howard knows his market when it comes to the race whistle. It has worked miracles for him in the past.

The lurking guilt complexes in the Australian psyche over treatment of Aboriginal people manifest in strange ways. Many of our fellow citizens and their forbears have built their fortunes on the backs of generations of blackfella misery and misfortune. They seem to have developed a racial psychosis to protect their sensitive souls from having to front up to what they and their forbears have done to folk of darker complexion.

It is an interesting aspect of this phenomenon that quite a few of the most rabid proponents of 'white Australia' have a mixed race dynamic in the family cupboard.

I had someone come up to me at a family function in the bush not so long ago to ask me about the Sudanese refugees going to Tamworth. She had a look of troubled distaste as she sought clarification: "they're the dark ones are'nt they?", "yes, I replied, they're dark skinned and they have been subjected to the worst type of horrors imaginable. They need our help!".

And this is my message to those drawn to the dog whistle.

It is about time this country faced up to the dispossesion and cultural genocide perpetrated by our forbears on indigenous people.

Our dark night of the soul and our manifest fear of 'dark ones' will only be mitigated by a reconciliation that sets this country on a course to undo the damage of the past.

Part of this construct should see Australia become a welcoming safe haven for all people fleeing oppression on racial, ethnicity and religious grounds.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Australia Tibet Council - Please support the Burma initiative

Doubtless readers have been following recent events in Burma. The courage of the Burmese protestors and the broad international condemnation of the junta has brought some hope of meaningful change and provided inspiration to human rights campaigners the world over.

However, the Burmese people are now facing violent reprisals and with reports of more than a thousand people missing they need our support.

In solidarity with the Burmese people and in sharing the goal of exposing China's sponsorship of repression abroad and ongoing human rights abuses at home, please support the global petition.

There are broader implications of the Burmese protests, including implications for Tibet.

One authority has the ability to constructively influence the future of both Burma and Tibet - China. Could the recent highlighting of China's support for the Burmese junta spark renewed international condemnation of its human rights' abuses at home and pave the way for a brighter future in Tibet? We certainly hope so.

Please join with ATC in supporting the global petition.

Human rights in Australia: Racial Darwinism raises ugly head again in Howard Govt refugee lottery

Below is a open letter to Minister Andrews penned by a refugee advocate. Andrews is revealing himself to be a real piece of work on refugee selectivity doctrine. Echoes of regimes in other places peal across the air waves every time he opens his mouth:

"I read with shame that no more African refugees will be allowed to settle in Australia in the near future. It is appalling that your government has judged them for having difficulty integrating, when you have yourself acknowledged what difficult circumstances they come from. Surely this means that they need MORE help not less???

It seems that your government is reaching new lows in terms of compassion and justice. Five West Papuans were also last week secretly and forcibly returned to exactly the same dangerous situation that caused them to flee. Australia has also refused to take resettlement responsibility for 72 Sri Lankans detained on Nauru who have been proven to be refugees.

The Prime Minister has been saying that the Burmese Junta is “a thoroughly loathsome regime and the repression is appalling”. Has he forgotten the 7 Burmese refugees who have been tortured by this “loathsome” regime and who now languish on Nauru because they fled the “repression”? How loathsome is that? Compassion begins at home. Bring the Burmese refugees to Australia and give them a chance at a new life- they deserve it.

While you are gearing up for an election, it appears that you are using the same old "We will decide who comes here" strategy to punish refugees as a way of proving the Government can protect our borders from vulnerable people who seek asylum in Australia."

I encourage anyone who thinks this egregious approach is unacceptable to write directly to Andrews and give him a piece of your mind.

Kevin Andrews:

PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Tel: (02) 6277 7860
Fax: (02) 6273 4144


Monday, October 01, 2007

Australia deports five Papuan asylum seekers

In another bastardly act the Howard Govt has put the lives of 5 Papuans at risk. The SMH reported, "Australia broke international law and endangered the lives of five Papuan asylum seekers by secretly sending the men back to Papua New Guinea, refugee advocates say.

In a move critics allege was designed to appease Indonesia, the federal government admitted deporting the five Papuans, who sailed from PNG to reach Saibai Island, in Australia's Torres Strait territory, on August 21.

The men were unable to claim asylum in Australia because the Howard government has excised Saibai Island from the country's migration zone."

A refugee and immigration lawyer David Manne says the Australian immigration’s handling of the case is of concern.

“There’s a very serious question about whether there has been a circumvention of the very requirement to properly assess the protection needs of an asylum seeker in Australian territory, and as part of that to determine whether they are a refugee and if they are, to ensure that they’re not sent back to a situation which is unsafe.”

Toadying up to Indonesia has become a abiding hallmark of this Govt. The furore over the previous group of asylum seekers has ensured new arrivals will be treated very differently. Sanctuary seekers can expect to be put in harm's way to appease Jakarta's sensitivities. Watch the Govt jocks come out of the woodwork to deny any conspiracy or appeasement strategy.

Yeah, yeah, and as usual only refugee sympathizers and the odd brave journalist will have their heart rate raised. Poor fella my country.

RightsBase, a fellow traveler in the blog-o-sphere, reports, "Last week retired academic Peter McGregor was arrested in the Australian parliament for attempting to arrest Prime Minister John Howard, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, accusing the four of war crimes...Mr McGregor issued the following warrant for a citizen’s arrest, before he himself was arrested for ‘unlawful entry on inclosed lands’ [sic]:

Warrant for the Citizen’s Arrest of John Howard, Alexander Downer, Philip Ruddock & Brendan Nelson:

John Howard, Prime Minister; Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs; Philip Ruddock, Attorney-General; & Brendan Nelson, Minister for Defence are hereby charged, to be tried by the International Criminal Court, with:

1. Planning, preparing, initiating or waging a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances - VI(i) Nuremberg Principles

2. Participating in a common plan or conspiracy for accomplishment of the above - V(ii) Nuremberg Principles

3. Participating in the use of cluster bombs in contravention of the Australian Mines Convention Act 1998

4. Participating in the use of weapons of mass destruction in breach of the Geneva Conventions, including Fuel Air Explosives which cause death by asphyxiation

5. Conspiring to pervert the course of justice by:

(i) abandoning habeas corpus both in the domestic ‘anti-terror’ laws and in international policy; and

(ii) covering up or defending the use of torture and over breaches of the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, & the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, against Australian – and other - citizens, at Guantánamo Bay

6. Failing in its duty to protect Australian citizens overseas, and conspiring to continue the illegal detention of Australian citizens without trial or charge for over 5 years

7. Demonising and incarcerating asylum seekers under the policies of mandatory detention and fortress Australia. Such policies contravene the legal principle of habeas corpus and have induced undue suffering and mental illness for detainees.

Dated this Wednesday 19th September 2007.

Signature(s): Peter McGregor (mcgregorpeter [at]

Issued & authorized by Citizens against War Crimes."

Dreaming, dreaming.....

Friday, September 28, 2007

Human Rights in China: One Year On - Remembering the Nangpa la Shooting

Sunday 30th September, 12.30pm (EST) marks one year since Chinese border patrols opened fire on Tibetan refugees fleeing for Nepal via the Nangpa la pass, killing 17 year old Kelsang Namtso and capturing and detaining around 30 from the group including many children.

The anniversary of this tragic incident provides a poignant occasion for us to reflect on the daily struggle for basic human rights and freedoms in Tibet. Further, with the eyes of the world on China as it gears up to host the Olympics in Beijing next August, the coming year will be crucial for the Tibetan struggle. ATC is joining Tibet support groups around the world in an ambitious programme of initiatives to intensify pressure for genuine improvements in Tibet.

Keep an eye on the ATC website to find out how you can help make the coming year a turning point for the Tibetan people.

2008 - It's time for Tibet.

To blog or not to blog...and is that the question?

As I peruse my almost daily 'jousting with windmills' blog posts I wonder whether there is a method to my madness.

As human rights violations stack up and government hubris appears to know no bounds, I catch myself repeating the same phrases and sentiments. There is a limit to the lexicon one can tap to give vent to a growing disquiet at the casual indifference of so many toward the Howard Government's systematic use of fear mongering and populist xenophobia.

As I trawl through the blog-o-sphere I am amazed at how little overall attention is paid to the devaluation of civil and human rights and the ongoing flagrant violations against refugees and weaker sections of our society. The recent vote by Australia against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) is a case in point.

I set out to raise awareness of human rights violations on Howard's watch, and to provide readers with a virtual archive of ready links to primary sources to enable research and to document this sad chapter.

My blog has been listed on an international human rights blogroll, which illumines international approaches to human rights and provides online resources for human rights advocates and activists.

By any measure, however, I'm doubtful I've met my mission statement, although time might happily prove me wrong.

There are a few blogs focussed exclusively on human rights. Most of the key rights based NGOs have websites that track human rights issues and developments, but few are updated regularly. Other blogs focus primarily on political, cultural, environment and economic themes.

The discursive political blogs are favoured by virtual trawlers, with others developing a core following of repeat readers. There are also bloggers that blog about blogging, which is a little like politicians taking 'bus man holidays' online.

Self-promotion through the blog-o-sphere comes in many guises, and some of it can have genuine motivation and an upside.

The trick with blogs is knowing when the message is more than the medium...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Indigenous rights need to be included in Victorian charter

An article in The Age opines "AUSTRALIA'S reluctance to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People makes a mockery of our supposed renewed commitment to addressing the welfare of indigenous Australians. This month the UN General Assembly adopted the declaration, which reaffirms that indigenous people are entitled to all human rights recognised in international law without discrimination.

Australia opposed the declaration. How could this be so at a time when we have become so acutely aware of the health, welfare and social issues that plague our indigenous communities?

In Australia, indigenous children are more likely to be taken into state care than other children. They are more likely to become homeless and more likely to end up in jail.

Yet our Government has refused to sign a declaration that explicitly provides for the protection of indigenous women and children against violence..."

We have been poorly served by a over a decade of toadying up to the US administration in ignoring human rights considerations in responding to international developments in key welfare reform. Indigenous affairs is probably the most egregious area of neglect, undermining reconciliation progress.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Howard's Australia, where its ok for distinguished defence officers to be likened to Nazi concentration camp guards, if they become an ALP candidate!

Crikey, we have struck a new low today, just when you thought it was'nt possible. The Chief of Staff of the Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn, thinks its ok to blacken the reputation of Gazza's political opponent in Eden Monaro,Colonel Mike Kelly, by likening his war service in Iraq to guarding a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

So, now ALP candidates are a new category seeking asylum from the Howard Government. If this kind of bottom feeding is going to characterize the campaign we are going to need anti-nausea medication.

Does anyone else get the message that this nasty lot need to be consigned to political history, which, by the way, is not going to be kind to them?

Monday, September 17, 2007

UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people

After twenty years of work, the declaration passed by a vote of 143 to 4 against. The four who were against were Canada, U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.


"It is a great honor and privilege to address you all in this historic day. Through the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations marks a historical milestone in its long history of developing and establishing international human rights standards.

It marks a major victory for Indigenous Peoples who actively took part in crafting this Declaration. This day will forever be etched in our history and memories as a significant gain in our long struggle for our rights as distinct peoples and cultures.*

The 13th of September 2007 will be remembered as a day when the United Nations and its Member States, together with Indigenous Peoples, reconciled with past painful histories and decided to march into the future on the path of human rights. I thank very warmly all the States who voted for the adoption of the Declaration today. All of you will be remembered by us."

Australia's opposition to what is essentially an aspirational declaration to recognize the primacy of human rights in managing reconciliation processes will be another scar in the consciousness of fair-minded Australians. Howard has cooked up a toxic stew of punitive paternalism that sets reconciliation back decades.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Who is seeking asylum from the Howard Government?

The title of this blog suggests an emphasis on the ill treatment of refugees. While that is an open sore in our body politic, it is clear that growing numbers of groups in Australia need asylum from the Howard Government.

Following is a list of internal asylum seekers in urgent need of sanctuary:

1. Aboriginal communities in remote areas of the Northern Territory
2. Immigrants running the gauntlet of the new 'citizenship test'
3. Young people battling to get a tertiary education
4. Muslim groups grappling with mandatory acculturation
5. Drug users and their families faced with proposed bastardization strategies
6. Old people in need of quality aged care
7. Union members resisting an assault on the right to bargain collectively
8. Young people discriminated against under the AWA regime
9. Regional Australians sold a lemon over & over again by right wing ideologues
10. Anyone who has'nt signed up to Howard's new political correctness

If we had a dream, it got trashed by a decade of brutish social Darwinism that saw human rights considerations traduced and trivialized. It will take concerted political and community action to restore the balance. G'day & good luck!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sri Lankans on Nauru win asylum case - but don't have a home

Despite the worst efforts of certain of the right-wing commentariat (Andrew Bolt and Kerry Chikarovski come to mind) 72 of the 83 Tamils, who were intercepted in international waters in February, have been assessed as being refugees.

Ill-informed comments along the lines of supporting Government action for "doing the right thing because they had come here illegally", and "not giving people priority over people in refugee camps overseas" flowed from denizens of Howard's zone of political correctness.

I find it hard to believe that I live in a country that spawned this specious brew of fear, intolerance and spin-doctoring, let alone see it become a mainstream political device of the incumbent to wedge political adversaries and divide a credulous electorate.

'Fear and gain', 'fear and gain', comes the mantra, and, in pursuit of power we have been sold down the river by ruthless politicians. Our standing in international fora on human rights issues has plummeted.

Although these people are genuine refugees Australia has dumped them on Nauru and refused them sanctuary. To their enduring shame, the media (with some notable exceptions such as the Fairfax Press) has been largely compliant with this low-rent populism.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

After 22 years, UN votes on indigenous peoples declaration

The Survival (one of the largest and oldest organisations working for tribal peoples' rights) website reports that "Twenty-two years of intensive debate and negotiations climax this week in New York, as the UN General Assembly votes on whether to approve the declaration on indigenous peoples’ rights.

Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and the Russian Federation (all of whom have large indigenous populations) have been vigorously opposing the declaration’s approval. Their actions have provoked outrage amongst tribal peoples worldwide.

The opposing countries are well known for their poor treatment of indigenous peoples. Australia, New Zealand and the United States have in the past been subject to ‘early warning and urgent action procedures’ by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)."

No surprise that the Howard Govt is again up in lights within the UN for the wrong reasons.

Monday, September 10, 2007

APEC protests - a taste of life in a Howard 'soft' police state

I was saddened on Saturday by the spectacle of 3,000 odd APEC protesters behind a steel wall of riot police, barricades, prison buses and water canon, which moved threateningly from street to street, snipers and surveillance helicopters (presumably also with snipers on board).

No risk of an Elm St event here, except if you happened to get on the wrong side of coppers whipped up into a paranoid fury of expectation by our increasingly low-rent political leadership. It is a wonder none of those well-trained snipers got carried away.

I've seen footage of a bystander wanting to cross a city street manhandled to the road by police thugs looking to take out all that pent up testosterone on somebody, all witnessed by his young son. If this is how we are fighting to protect our way of life, we have already lost.

When politicians encourage police to use excessive powers, you can rest assured they will. It is the nature of the beast, as evidenced by police actions in jurisdiction after jurisdiction ruled by political elites representing narrow sectional interests. The Apartheid regime comes to mind, as does Alabama in the 60s.

As usual, commercial TV outlets were out in force, a veritable cheer squad of hacks, foaming at the mouth at the prospect of riot footage for the evening news and 'current affairs' shock jocks. There was discernible disappointment from those 'on the ground' when the only real nastiness seem to come from some disaffected sociopath and the police themselves.

Not a good look Australia. The political and police leadership responsible for this nightmare should be held accountable.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Good ole boys - sorry, make that 'battlers' - together at APEC - sorry, make that 'OPEC'!

"Beef & oil John, beef & oil..."

Captain America - oh Lord, what have I done?

Well known Texan rhetorician admires his handiwork

'Australia's very own Devil's Island'

Arnold Zable, writing in The Age, likens the situation of asylum seekers on Nauru to the infamous Devil's Island prison colony:

"Australia remains a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee conventions, which enshrined the search for asylum as a basic human right. These conventions emerged after World War II. The conventions are based on the hard-won understanding that the right to seek refuge is one of the foundations of a civilised society.

This was understood by seafaring peoples who developed codes for the treatment of strangers who washed up on their shores. First, the stranger is greeted and fed, and given a roof over their head, and only then is he asked questions.

These societies understood that with one shift in the wind, the situation could be reversed.

Offshore processing is a cynical backdoor method of tearing up international treaties to which we are signatories. It is alarming that it has taken a hunger strike to bring these issues back into the public domain. For asylum seekers, already traumatised and vulnerable, Nauru is Australia's very own Devil's Island. The centre should be closed down and remembered as a place where human rights were grossly denied, and the bonds of civility cut asunder."

The abuses perpetrated in our name need to be brought into the open light so that they will not be repeated.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Beijing Olympics likened to Berlin under Hitler

I've been pressing the case for some time that Howard and Downer's blind dalliance with the China trade juggernaut, at the expense of human rights considerations, does not bode well.

Labour abuses, poor product quality control, exploitation of and discrimination against ethnic minorities, inadequate pollution and waste management systems, are just a few of the concerns surrounding China's rapid economic expansion.

Its military build up, ongoing threatening posture toward Taiwan and other regional players, and deepening persecution of dissidents such as Tibetan activists and Falun Gong practitioners are clear indicators of the growing threat the Chinese regime presents to global peace.

ABC reports the former head of the international and strategic divisions of the Defence Department, Allan Behm, told an APEC seminar at the Fabian Society last night that Australia does not understand China.

"Chinese strategy is built around a zero sum game - that for every winner there is a loser, and it is very important to understand that," he said.

"That is what is taught at the PLA academy of science in Beijing, and this is how fundamentally China thinks."

China wants a good relationship with Australia because it needs our resources.

But Mr Behm argues Australia is lazy and complacent about China.

"I think what worries me so much about our current policy is that we don't foresee a future where it may not be as rosy as it is now and we will be ill-prepared for that," he said."

The losers in the Chinese zero sum game are mounting. Calls for boycotts of the Beijing Olympics are getting louder.

"Australia's former human rights commissioner, Dr Sev Ozdowski, has likened next year's Beijing Olympics to the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Adolf Hitler, saying it is a similar display of economic power despite millions being persecuted in the background.

"There is no freedom of speech," he said.

"People get arrested and sent to jail because of the content of their private emails."

Wake up Australia!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Human rights for Australia - 'cringers' unite

New Matilda has updated its campaign for a Human Rights Act. "The spirited comments from international lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, speaking to the media industry’s Right to Know alliance reminded us just how far back Australia has fallen..."

Stung by the criticism, AG Ruddock jumped into the fray with his usual rationale for defending the indefensible, only politicians like him really understand freedoms and their defence.

As New Matilda put it so concisely: "Ironically, Phillip Ruddock doesn’t appear to recognise that the upsurge in human rights activism in Australia, indeed the prime motivation behind the New Matilda Human Rights Act for Australia campaign, is largely attributable to his very own actions, first as Immigration Minister and now Attorney General. Many of us do cringe at the way he has undermined Australia’s international reputation for fairness and humanity in respect of refugees and asylum seekers. Ditto the reintroduction of archaic sedition laws, the recent suspension of indigenous land rights - the list goes on."

I cringe every time I see this self-serving rhetorician pop up to drone on about 'matters' before the court of public opinion. This court needs to be given voice shortly to pronounce judgement on Ruddock's tenure of 'objectivity'.

Human Rights in Australia - Sri Lankan refugees in Nauru on a hunger strike

" The Sri Lankans detained on the Pacific island of Nauru went on a hunger strike yesterday in protest of the six-month stalemate on their claims for asylum in Australia.

“We have undertaken the hunger strike as we are deeply hurt and disappointed by the fact that the Australian Government has been delaying the decision about our plea for political asylum,” an asylum seeker, A. Sujee told the Daily Mirror on an email interview.

“We are just living corpses,” he added.

“Although we faced certain visa application interviews, we don’t have a clue about our visa status. No one has given us information as to whether they are being processed and what is causing this delay,” he added.

50 of the 83 refugees are participating in the hunger strike. “Eating three meals a day does not mean living? It is for this reason we have decided to avoid the three meals and face whatever is in store in respect of our future,” stated a letter sent by the asylum seekers to the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister,"

The Age reports "Refugee advocate Susan Metcalfe, who has spent the last month on Nauru, said she had urged the men to reconsider the hunger strike.

"Some of the men involved have health problems, and at least one to two are diabetic," she said.

"They could do irreparable damage to their bodies and we could see disastrous consequences."

Ms Metcalfe said the men's anxiety and frustration had been exacerbated by the uncertainty of the election outcome and whether processing would be suspended during the caretaker period.

The men have been banned from leaving the immigration processing centre during the day following the alleged rape and indecent assault of a local Nauruan woman by six of the Sri Lankan asylum-seekers."