Thursday, August 30, 2007

Siev X Memorial Project

In 2002 a nationwide student art collaboration was announced. Every one of Australia’s three thousand secondary schools received a letter inviting art teachers to send student concepts for a national SIEVX memorial. The only stipulation was for a design that could be built on the lakeshore of the national capital Canberra. Read more about the project.

The Siev X Memorial Project has been given permission to install the memorial poles in Weston Park, Canberra, for 7 weeks in September, October 2007.

The memorial will be launched on September 2nd at 2pm, in Weston Park. Project originator, Steve Biddulph will be talking, and Mr Jon Stanhope, ACT Chief Minister, will again be officiating.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Howard's NT safari

Would'nt you know it, Howard's used his first visit to remote aboriginal communities in NT since he announced his new paternalism to tell local communities that they'd better get with the program or face a bleak future.

It is a little difficult to grasp just what the joys of joining Howard's version of the 'mainstream' hold out to remote communities, but we have it on his authority and in his own words: "Unless they can get a share of the bounty of this great and prosperous country, their future will be bleak". That is probably true, but how does signing up to this bizarre intervention guarantee them a fairer share of our country's 'bounty'?

From a distance it seems a recipe for further marginalization, disempowerment and impoverishment. Are all those resources currently encamped in the NT to become a permanent and expanding feature of the remote landscape? For the life of me I can't recall one instance where local communities have been properly consulted and made genuine partners in this exercise. Their views have been ignored, their leaders sidelined and their rights ignored or trampled upon - all in the cause of treating this 'national emergency'.

The great white leader has visited, spoken, and, in a sad tradition of great white leaders promising much and delivering little, will return to his mainstream comforts to ponder his great beneficence and compassion. Again, we see the 'man of the people' being tough on the weakest groups - refugees, Muslims, black fellas and the poor.

"The Pacific Solution: A $1 billion ‘living hell’" - Oxfam report

Six years since the Tampa crisis of the 2001 Federal election, urgent reform of Australia’s asylum seeker policies is called for after a new report published on August 27 found that the Pacific Solution had so far squandered $1 billion of taxpayers’ money, exacerbated mental illness of refugees and was operating without scrutiny.

‘A Price Too High: The cost of Australia’s approach to Asylum Seekers,’ a joint report by Oxfam and A Just Australia, presents new research that found since 2001 it has cost the Australian taxpayer more than $500,000 per person to process fewer than 1,700 asylum seekers in Nauru, Manus and Christmas Island. By comparison, the latest estimate from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship suggests that the cost of holding asylum seekers in a mainland Australian detention centre is only 3.5% of the running costs of the Pacific Solution.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Australians Against Racism - "Rainbow Bird" Project to say never again to another Tampa

Sunday was the anniversary of the day the MV Tampa rescued over 400 people at sea, only to give John Howard the wedge by which he not only won the 2001 election, but tormented and harmed men women and children from then to now with the mandatory detention regime.

Australians Against Racism, in collaboration with Wakefield Press, published Rainbow Bird on the 26th of August to mark Tampa Day. Written and illustrated by 14 year old Adelaide teenager Czenya Cavouras, Rainbow Bird is a picture book that is thought provoking, disturbing, and inspiring.

AAR hope Rainbow Bird will stir, enrage, and move people. They hope it will be a powerful memento of these dark times. We hope people will treasure it as a beautiful work of art.

Please forward this information as widely as you can. The more people to have this book in hand the better, because it will also help us to say collectively on election day: 'Never again'.

Rainbow Bird is available now in bookshops and from Wakefield Press.

Profits from Rainbow Bird go to AAR. All who worked on the Rainbow Bird project volunteered their time and skills.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Tampa disgrace remembered

Australians All has posted the following talking point by Julian Burnside:

"The Australian government recently decided to adopt a tougher stance in relation to refugees who arrive here informally. In adopting that stance, the government has exposed Australia to international censure. It has put us in breach of our obligations under international conventions, and it has betrayed a deeply unattractive element in the Australian character. It did this for electoral advantage, at a time when Australia receives a minimal number of refugees, and treats appallingly those who arrive here.

The government’s handling of the Tampa “crisis” was a triumph of electoral cynicism over humanitarian need. It exposed the difficulty Australians have in acknowledging the conflict of need and advantage. The refugee problem involves a choice between minor self-sacrifice and major betrayal of humanitarian standards."

My own recollection follows:

In August 2001 news reports began filtering through that the Australian Government led by John Howard as Prime Minister had detained a boatload of mainly Afghani refugees on the high seas. The cargo vessel was the Tampa, a word that has become etched indelibly into my consciousness. The ‘boat people’ saga had begun.

Ten weeks later the Australian people returned the Howard Government to office in a general election and the ignominious strategy to label offshore asylum seekers ‘illegals’ and detain them in third countries had been labeled the Pacific Solution.

I am haunted by this epithet as it is resonant with sinister echoes found elsewhere in the twentieth century in the name of national security and identity. The cover notes to David Marr and Marian Wilkinson’s chilling account of events that “shattered many of the myths Australia has about itself and changed profoundly the way it is seen in the eyes of the world” summarise events concisely:

"They put lives at risk. They twisted the law. They drew the military into the heart of an election campaign. They muzzled the press. They misused intelligence services, defied the United Nations, antagonised Indonesia and bribed poverty stricken Pacific states. They closed Australia to refugees – and won a mighty election victory."

At the time I was well into the second year of a diplomatic posting to Papua New Guinea. I worked for Australia’s overseas aid agency, AusAID. My career had involved me in human rights and refugee activities in several countries, including Southern African states on the front line against apartheid, Nepal, India and PNG. During my working life Australia had held out a helping hand to refugees from various conflicts, including Tibet, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

Now we were turning our back on Afghanis fleeing the most repressive and murderous regime to emerge out of the ruins of the Soviet invasion, the Taliban.

The Tampa affair and the crushing reality of the punitive policies it spawned saw me withdraw iteratively from a state machine that was imprisoning refugees in desert gulags, endangering lives of desperate people at sea, engineering and re-engineering the Pacific Solution and the cruel regime of temporary protection visas.

I had been involved on the margins of the Pacific Solution in PNG but the crunch came in an ironic twist. On return from PNG I was thrust into the midst of a whole-of-government stratagem to punish refugees. I was put in charge of aid to Nauru.

This ill-begotten program was a bribe to a failed state to accept complicity in our politically motivated violation of the rights of the people dumped on Nauru. It ran contrary to the various manifestos of sustainable development and good governance we belaboured in our dealings with other Pacific states dependent on Australian aid.

By default I became a member of the Prime Minister’s task force on offshore asylum seekers or ‘illegal migrants’ or ‘boat people’, depending on the agenda of the day. The core business of this group of senior public service, police and defence assets is to construct and re-engineer the legal, logistical and administrative underpinnings of boat arrivals policy and to spin the official line for their political masters. Lawyers are central to the exercise to test and tweak the legal ramifications and inner workings of excising chunks of Australia from the migration zone.

The most extreme construct involved excision of the total Australian landmass from the migration zone. It would be ‘pythonesque’ if the consequences were not so tragic for the victims.

I became a member of the Immigration Department’s coordination committee on the Nauru detention facilities, which regularly and perfunctorily discussed how to manage detainees who had self-harmed, or adopted other forms of protest or were experiencing varying degrees of physical and emotional trauma. It was a dehumanising, soul-destroying experience.

Australia ranks 35 on the Reporters without Borders press freedom index

Liz88 has been doing some research on media coverage of refugees in detention and has found that the Howard Government does not score favourably on the press freedom index of Reporters without Borders in its 2007 Annual Report.

I have been in contact with an investigative journalist from the Fairfax stable, who indicated access to government information on the operation of the Pacific Solution is tres difficult. The issue has been obfuscated by a determination on the part of Australian & Nauruan authorities to avoid media comment on refugee issues.

Our open and transparent society has taken a significant step backward on Howard's watch.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Amnesty welcomes refugee intake increase from Middle East (pity it is at the expense of those sourced from other regions)

In typical fashion the Howard Government gives with one hand and takes away with the other. In acknowledging the deteriorating situation of Iraqi refugees, Australia will accept more from the Middle East. However, these will come at the expense of those from other regions such as Africa, although it is difficult to see how Minister Andrews has determined one refugee group to be, necessarily, more needy or worthy than another.

The baseline refugee intake will not alter one iota, despite the fact that Australia has materially contributed to the exodus of people out of Iraq. For Andrews, there is no scope for an additional quota of Iraqi refugees over and above the total annual intake of 13,000 from all sources. Our membership of the 'coalition of the damned' does not appear to have figured in framing this wholly inadequate response to the appalling human rights tragedy that occupied Iraq has become.

While the UN has doubled its funding appeal for Iraqi refugees, the Howard Government is not prepared to take extraordinary measures to meet its humanitarian responsibilities - it will instead trade off the welfare of people at risk in other hell-holes in a tacky numbers game.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

10 things not to like about Howard's brave new Australia

1. Workplace fairness has been sacrificed at the altar of excessive business profits

2. Social and sectarian divides are encouraged

3. 'Racial Darwinism' has re-emerged as a central motif of social policy

4. International law obligations and conventions are 'cherry picked'

5. Unilateralism and a narrow bilateralism are preferred in external relations

6. Individual competition is encouraged over social cooperation

7. Unchecked consumerism has triumphed over conservation and moderation

8. Investigative journalism has given way to news infotainment and media populism

9. Acquisition of 'cargo' and money are prime measures of individual success

10. Individuals who don't conform with the above are belittled & marginalized

What a legacy to bequeath our children!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Children in detention - a view from Cartside

A fellow traveler in the arena of human rights and refugee advocacy from Glasgow has a take on the detention of children that resonates with me. She has highlighted the circumstances of child detainees through a link to a short video on the Save the Children website. It was made by young people in Glasgow to show how painful and frightening immigration detention can be.

Australians All - "Stolen Generation: Time for a Change"

The AA website has published an article by Julian Burnside. The talking point extract follows:

"There can be no excuse for a government which harms children deliberately – even if it does so with the backing of misguided laws. The time has come for governments across the country to acknowledge that they have harmed generations of aboriginal children, that they knew removal was harmful, and that their reasons for the removals were wrong even if they were benevolent. It is time governments across the country set up compensation schemes which can quickly and efficiently deal with the just claims of children damaged by the State, who have grown up to be damaged adults ignored by the State. They hardly had a chance as children – give them a chance now."

Down the track I expect the justice system will be kept busy by court actions brought by plaintiffs mistreated under the Howard Government's current attempt to further disempower Aboriginal people under the guise of child welfare.

Baxter detention facility to close but Australia's human rights debacle continues

The SMH reports "The federal government is to close the Baxter Immigration Detention Centre, in South Australia's mid-north, returning the facility to the defence department.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the decision to close Baxter from next Monday was possible because of the government's strong border protection policies, particularly the use of the offshore processing facility on Nauru.

"Stemming the flow of illegal arrivals has been a key part of the measures to make Australia's borders secure and assure the integrity of its immigration program," Mr Andrews said.

The home for several hundred detainees at one stage, Baxter is now believed to hold just 12 people, who will be moved to other immigration facilities interstate."

The Pacific Solution has made Baxter redundant, along with many of its staff. The extraordinary wastage of public resources behind the Howard Government's asylum seeker policies is brought into sharp focus by this decision. The ongoing dysfunctional madness of the PS, the demonization of sanctuary seekers, the coercion of a small impoverished state (Nauru) and Australia's loss of credibility as a defender of human rights - the score card is miserable and will continue unabated unless Howard is tossed out of government.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Take action: Use the internet to speak out against online censorship

People in China can't use the internet as we can. Words like human rights, freedom, reform and democracy are censored. Internet censorship restricts freedoms and violates basic human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of information.

Continue reading.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Amnesty Media Statement - 'Human rights must not be trampled on in rush to introduce new legislation'

"Amnesty International Australia (AIA) is calling on the Senate to ensure it does not pass legislation that is inconsistent with Australia’s human rights obligations.

“We strongly support all genuine measures to address child abuse, however this legislation is without precedent and the public needs to know what the impact will be on Indigenous human rights. The Government must be held accountable for ensuring that all these measures are necessary, effective and proportionate,” says Andrew Beswick, Campaign Manager, Amnesty International Australia.

The Government’s national emergency response in the Northern Territory includes the introduction of five pieces of legislation currently being considered by Parliament. These relate to alcohol restrictions, national welfare reforms to address child neglect and encourage school attendance, customary law issues, new land lease arrangements and community service issues such as housing.

The Government has claimed ‘special measures’ are needed to overcome barriers to social and economic rights such as health, development and education. International law allows for special measures, under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and AIA would support these, for a limited time, if it was shown that it would progress the social and economic wellbeing of the people it seeks to help.

However, the Government has proposed that the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), which implements Australia’s obligations under CERD, does not apply to this legislation.

“This attempt to sidestep the RDA contradicts their claim that the legislation contains genuine special measures provided for under the Convention, and should be rejected.

“As it stands, the Government is making changes to land rights and the permit system, without having demonstrated how these will improve the situation of child abuse in Indigenous communities,” says Mr Beswick.

AIA believes this will require an ongoing reporting process showing genuine human rights outcomes, conducted by an independent body. The urgent need for this accountability has been reinforced by the lack of consultation the Government has afforded the Indigenous community, directly contravening General Recommendation 23 on Indigenous Peoples, from the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“The reporting process must give those who are raising concerns now, the opportunity to have their views considered in the implementation of this unprecedented legislation.’

“This is an issue about effective policy and we are calling for the Australian Government to be held accountable." "

For more information on human rights visit

Friday, August 10, 2007

Australians All - 'A Desperate, Dangerous Prime Minister'

Greg Barnes has written the following article for the AA website:

"Whether it be throwing money to keep open a dysfunctional hospital in Tasmania, preventing Queenslanders obtaining better governance through reduction in the number of local councils, or stripping Indigenous Australians of their very human dignity with storm troopers running amok in the Northern Territory, all these actions have one thing in common – they are the actions of a Prime Minister and a government which for a decade has become used to undermining democratic conventions and traditions to stay in office and which, as it faces electoral oblivion, is now dangerously unhinged.

When John Howard came to office in 1996 he famously told Australians he wanted them to be ‘relaxed and comfortable’. But it was clear from early on in the reign of this Prime Minister that his obsession with retaining office at all costs would do nothing to reassure Australians that its democracy was in sure hands.

Can anyone remember a period in post-Federation history of this country where so much damage has been done to fundamental tenets such as the rule of law, due process and respect for rights over such a short period of time? It is hard to think of any such occasion.

It began early on with the refusal by Mr Howard’s government to acknowledge, through the payment of compensation, the clearly documented suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australians. Not only did it play hard ball with thousands of people’s lives, but the Howard government went out of its way to undermine the credibility of the main author of the HREOC report, the late Sir Ronald Wilson, a former High Court judge. I can vividly recall attending a meeting in the office of Mr Howard’s then Attorney-General Daryl Williams, where a handful of senior government advisers discussed a strategy to raise questions about Sir Ronald Wilson’s involvement in a Church home in Western Australia years earlier, where some Aboriginal children had lived.

The pattern was set by the Stolen Generation report response. This was not a government particularly interested in ensuring due process when seeking a political advantage was at stake – in that case pandering to the rising popularity of Pauline Hanson and One Nation. But this incident pales into insignificance when placed alongside the infamous Tampa episode in the lead up to the 2001 election.

It is worth remembering these facts about the Tampa matter. The Howard government took the extraordinary peace-time step of legislating to suspend the rule of law to ensure that the Tampa and its occupants – desperate asylum seekers plucked from the raging Indian Ocean waters by a decent mariner – would not reach Australia. The Tampa laws introduced by Mr Howard and supported, in the main, by a supine ALP Opposition, made legal activities which were otherwise clearly illegal, such as taking whatever steps necessary, including the use of force, to ensure that Australia did not meet its international obligations to allow these asylum seekers to apply to Australia for visas.

Then Mr Howard, fuelled by the success of his Tampa strategy, in the dying days of the 2001 election campaign, deliberately misrepresented materials given to him and others ministers by the Australian Navy. The infamous grainy photos taken by the Navy personnel of asylum seekers lifting their children from a sinking boat to ensure they didn’t drown, was deliberately twisted by Mr Howard and his ministers to give the impression that these were monstrous actions of people who would drown their own children. Once again, there was no regard for the rights of the people photographed and their children, or for proper intelligence analysis and military briefings in a calm and considered atmosphere. The hunt for votes makes anything permissible it would seem.

Including, it would seem, undermining the judiciary, as has occurred recently in the case of Dr Mohammed Haneef, the former Gold Coast doctor and alleged terror suspect. Within hours of a Brisbane court deciding, after careful consideration of the State and defence cases, that Dr Haneef should be allowed bail, subject to strict conditions, after he was charged with a terrorism offence, Mr Howard’s Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews revoked Dr Haneef’s visa on the grounds that he was not of good character. As the President of the Australian Bar Association, Stephen Estcourt QC said of this action, “It has got to be seen as a threat to the rule of law if a ministerial discretion is used to effectively reverse, or to reverse for practical purposes a decision of the court.” And when Mr Andrews was asked by journalists if he had, by his actions, reversed the 1,000 year tradition of the presumption of innocence, he simply said his actions as Migration Minister were not related to that question.

Of course, driving the Howard government’s strategy on the Haneef was that by now hard-wired desire that it has to find issues with which it can successfully divide the ALP. It worked in Tampa, so let’s keep trying it, seems to be the attitude. But on Haneef it didn’t work. The Kevin Rudd led opposition lost its voice – it appeared unconcerned about the jettisoning of due process in relation to Dr Haneef. It has caught the Howard government disease. Why seek to uphold fundamental tenets of democracy if that will get in the way of winning over voters?

The failure to wedge the ALP over the Haneef matter has not chastened Mr Howard and his government, it has simply made it more desperate and irrational to the point where one can legitimately speculate about its collective sanity.

Just ask the people of Tasmania. For decades governments in that tiny state have refused to cut out the cancer of parochialism in the health system, and the result is a developing-world standard of healthcare. At long last, a government, this one led by the ALP’s Paul Lennon, properly spends thousands of hours and dollars on devising a healthcare system which will eliminate harmful duplication such as having two full service hospitals on the State’s north west coast only 60 kilometres apart, and creating instead one centre of excellence. But Mr Howard cannot help himself. Desperate to hold the marginal Liberal seat of Braddon, situated in Tasmania’s north-west, he cruelly promises to keep open a substandard hospital in Latrobe and in doing so scuttle carefully thought through reforms supported by the medical profession and other health workers.

Mr Howard’s promise of $45 million to perpetuate the problems of health care on Tasmania’s north west coast is viewed by the Prime Minister and his Health Minister Tony Abbott as some form of new policy template, where the federal government cherry picks its way around Australia, directly intervening in state health systems simply to buy votes, while refusing to work cooperatively with the states on ensuring that all Australians are better served by streamlined healthcare arrangements.

What is concerning about Mr Howard’s bizarre Tasmanian adventure last week is that it is not an isolated instance of political folly. This week, we find the Prime Minister, like a prize fighter battered and bruised, swinging an ill-aimed punch at another potential target. This time it’s Queensland Premier Peter Beattie. Mr Howard wants to rewrite constitutional and electoral arrangements on the run by proposing that he spend millions of dollars of Commonwealth taxpayers’ money on letting Queenslanders vote in a referendum on Mr Beattie’s plans to reduce the number of local councils.

One would have thought this Prime Minister, leading a Party which has rationalized local governments over the past decade in Victoria and Tasmania, and which believes in smaller government, would welcome Mr Beattie’s rational response to poor service delivery at the local government level in Queensland?

So Tasmania last week, Queensland this week – which ALP led State is on the Prime Minister’s hit list next week?

One wonders whether the cabinet government process has completely broken down in the Howard government. Does government in Australia today depend on the political whim of a Prime Minister desperately trying to stay in office for as long as he can? It appears that the answer to both questions is yes.

What we are witnessing today is Mr Howard’s long standing obsession with staying in office at the expense of human rights, due process, good government and respect for the constitutional framework of our nation reach a point where it now poses a genuine threat to Australian democratic traditions.

But what should frighten us more, is that the man and the Party that want to replace Mr Howard and his government in office at an election later this year, is too scared to protest."

Rudd's strategy to minimize Labor as a target for Howard's wedge madness is cynical politics, suggesting Labor strategists do not yet believe that the Coalition is mortally wounded. I suspect that some within Labor ranks will not believe it until final rites are administered and a postmortem is held.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

ASEAN and the problem of human rights in Myanmar

The following article by Mong Palatino caught my eye on the recent moves by ASEAN to strengthen its compliance regime for the observance of democratic and human rights principles by member countries. One of the perennial problems of regional compliance mechanisms is getting recalcitrant states to take criticism seriously when other member countries have failed to put their own house in order:

"One of the achievements of the forum was the drafting of an ASEAN Charter which will be finalized this year. The draft Charter affirms the group's adherence to democracy by rejecting unconstitutional means of changing governments. It also includes a provision for the creation of a Human Rights Commission in the region.

Some analysts described the draft Charter as 'toothless' since member countries can choose to ignore some of the democratic commitments contained in the document. ASEAN will continue to forge decisions and resolutions through consensus and not through voting. A government official argued that consensus-building is the "ASEAN way of doing things."

This means ASEAN will still be unable to discipline its own ranks since a recalcitrant member nation can easily prevent the building of consensus. An example of this failure, which remains a controversial issue within the group, is its inability to sanction Myanmar over its dismal human rights record.

The United States, while praising ASEAN's commitment to uphold democratic values, also expressed disappointment over the failure of Myanmar's ruling military junta to respect and protect human rights. Other nations have similar appeals, saying Myanmar should hasten democratic reforms.

Indeed, Myanmar's government is guilty of committing human rights violations. But Myanmar is not the only human rights violator in the region. It may be ASEAN's problem child, but governments of other member countries are also notorious bullies and human rights offenders.

If Myanmar were asked to explain the continued detention of pro-democracy leaders, it can always retort by inquiring about the torture of suspects in Indonesia, the crackdown on bloggers in Malaysia, censorship in Thailand and killings with impunity in the Philippines...

ASEAN member countries have lost the moral ascendancy to preach respect for human rights. This is the legacy of ASEAN, forty years after it was created."

I can think of another country that has failed to comply with international human rights obligations, and whose reputation on the international stage as an advocate for human rights has been seriously compromised in the process.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Protests against discriminatory intervention get louder

The ABC reports An Indigenous leader has described the Federal Government's plans for its intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities as "in some ways genocide".

John Ah Kit is a former head of the Northern Land Council and a former Labor member of the Northern Territory Parliament.

He is in Canberra with a delegation lobbying against the Government's intervention, which will be passed into law by three bills which are due before Parliament today.

"The beginning of the end of Aboriginal culture - it is in some ways genocide," he said.

An ABC audio link discusses the discrimination underpinning the NT takeover.

The intervention legislation is inappropriate and offensive. It is time to have a new approach and new leadership.

Monday, August 06, 2007

An Appeal from the Asylum Seekers of Australia

The following appeal was written in January 2003 by a refugee being held in the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney, and has since been signed by dozens of people in detention centres around Australia:

"We, the imprisoned asylum seekers of Australia, respectfully appeal to the people of the world to hear our story, understand our plight, and come to our assistance.

We left our homes because we had no choice but to flee from brutal, dictatorial regimes. We believed we would receive a fair hearing in Australia, but our pleas for asylum have been unjustly refused. We have been held in detention for a very long time, many of us for more than three years, and our situation shows no sign of changing. The only solution we are offered by the Australian government is to return to the persecution we fled. Without the intervention of an honourable third party, willing to show compassion and common sense, we fear that we will be imprisoned for ever.

Because Australia has rejected our claims, we cannot ask for asylum elsewhere under the UN Convention. We can only ask each nation to look beyond its strict legal obligations and consider the senseless waste of the human spirit that our imprisonment represents. Many of us are skilled, professional people, most of us are young and healthy, and every one of us would contribute with energy and enthusiasm to any society willing to give us a chance.

The problem we face is difficult, but we cannot believe that it is beyond the power of people of good will to find a solution. Therefore, we respectfully appeal to you to consider our situation, and accept us into your country on humanitarian grounds.

Because our history has been misrepresented many times, we wish to put the record straight. We did not come to Australia as willing migrants, seeking economic gain. We only made this difficult journey to escape from violence and repression. Many of us faced imprisonment, torture, or murder, and have already seen our relatives suffer those fates. We have been persecuted for our religious beliefs, our ethnic group, our political opinions, or even the family we belonged to. We would gladly have stayed in our homelands and lived ordinary lives, but that is exactly what our problems have made it impossible for us to do.

Some of us paid smugglers to help us escape, because there was no other way. Often our families sold everything they owned to raise the money we needed. Some Australians condemn us for buying our safety when other refugees could not afford to do the same, but what else should we have done? We all know of fellow countrymen who have suffered terrible fates, but if we'd shared those fates it would not have helped anyone.

All of us passed through other countries before we reached Australia, but these were places where we had no legal right to remain, or to have our claims for asylum heard. Often, the countries bordering our homelands were already burdened with millions of refugees, or caught up in the very same problems that we were fleeing.

Australia is a peaceful, democratic country, and we believed we would receive justice here. Instead, we were imprisoned. At first, for weeks or months, each of us was kept isolated from the outside world, with no mail, no telephones, no radio or newspapers, not even the right to contact the Red Cross. When this period of strict isolation ended, we remained in prison. Men, women and children who seek asylum in Australia are locked up in remote detention centres until they are either granted a visa or deported, however long that process takes, whether it is three months or six years. Even blind men and pregnant women are kept behind razor wire.

What has made our imprisonment harder to bear is the manner in which our claims have been considered. For some asylum seekers the process has been fair, but that is more a matter of luck than justice. When two people with identical circumstances are interviewed by different officials, one will receive a visa while the other will not. Ignorance about the culture and politics of our homelands, flawed translations, and even the temperament of officials have all led to unfair decisions. Whatever evidence we present, whether it is our personal testimony or a report from a respected authority, it can always be ignored or dismissed by an official whose mind is already made up.

Unfair decisions can be appealed, but the facts can only be challenged before a single member of a review tribunal, who plays by the same rules as the immigration officials. If the deadline to appeal a decision is missed, the tribunals and courts have no choice but to refuse the appeal, whatever the reason for the delay. In the past the courts could overturn decisions where legal errors were made, but now the government has changed the law to make that impossible. All the errors and misunderstandings that deny us freedom have been carved in stone.

The conditions of our imprisonment are harsh. We suffer small humiliations every day, as well as more serious acts, including the refusal of medical treatment, and interference in the conduct of our cases. Any dispute can end with beatings and tear gas. Some officers deal with us fairly, but we have no protection from the rest. On paper, we have the right to complain if we are ill-treated, but in reality this counts for nothing. The Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commissioner, Parliamentary Committees and United Nations representatives come and go. The government mocks and dismisses their reports, or makes some small change after a year or two has passed.

Because we are human beings, sometimes these pressures become too much for us to bear. At times, some of us have destroyed property, or fought with each other or our jailers, but the most harm we have ever done is to our own bodies. Often these actions have caused the Australian public to condemn us, but when people are imprisoned for years and deprived of all hope of justice, it is impossible for them always to act calmly in their own best interest.

We confess to our own human frailties, but the government and the media in Australia have worked hard to poison the minds of the public against us. They have lied about our history, our character, our circumstances, our actions and our motives. We have fled from extremists and terrorists, but they have claimed that we ourselves are terrorists. We have fought with all our strength to protect our children, and they have lied and said that we wilfully endangered them. When our friends send us gifts to help us pass the time, the media claims these things are bought with government money. When there is damage to a detention centre, the TV cameras are invited in to show the ruined buildings to the world, but no journalist has ever been allowed inside to document the destruction of our souls.

State governments use us as a weapon against the federal government. Political parties use us as a weapon against each other. Detention centre officers use us as a weapon against their employers. The private company that imprisons us uses us to enrich itself, receiving more than $100 per person per day. We could be living in the community, working, paying taxes to the Australian government, spending money in Australian shops and businesses, but the government would rather spend millions of dollars a year imprisoning us, because we have served its political purposes so well.

This is the situation we find ourselves in. We cannot return to our homes, and the Australian government will never release us. Some of us will be deported by force, but the rest of us will remain behind razor wire for another year, and then another.

We came here looking for freedom, safety, and justice. Instead we found nothing but traps, built of steel bars, bad laws, and dishonest politics. Inside these cages, children have grown into adults. Young men's hair has turned white. Babies have been born, taken their first steps, spoken their first words, seen their first sights. Most of us, separated from our families, have become like ghosts to our mothers, our wives, our children.

The only hope we have is for another country to intervene and agree to take us. We understand that Australia's rejection of our claims has deprived us of any right to seek asylum elsewhere under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Because of this, our future is in the hands of those nations with genuine humanitarian concerns that go beyond following UN conventions.

We respectfully ask you to consider our plight, and any steps that you are able to take to assist us.

What can we offer to the benefactor who rescues us, and restores our faith in humanity? Only our hard work, our loyalty, and our lifelong esteem and gratitude."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Australians All - 'Law Overboard'

The following talking point has been posted to the AA website:

"Some would say that because we live in a new age of terrorist threats, extreme measures are needed to protect our democracy from those who want to destroy our way of life. But what sort of democracy are we protecting when an accused person can lose their liberty on the basis of accusations which are untested, and be given no chance to put their case before they are locked up?

It is not disputed that the government should be able to exclude people who have, by their extreme conduct, made their presence in Australia intolerable. However such cases are rare and the power of Section 501 [of the Migration Act] should not be abused by using it in cases where it is clearly not warranted. It should not be used as an alternative to the rule of law."

The full article was published by Eureka Street.