Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Human rights in Australia - open letter to Barnaby Joyce on saving the planet (the cutting edge human rights issue of our time)

I sent this email to Senator Joyce in August. Nothing has changed really!

"Dear Senator

One cannot fail to notice just how much air time is taken up with your posturing. It would be interesting to measure whether you or Senators Fielding or Xenophon get the most attention. I understand why the latter do what they do, because it’s tough to maintain a public profile in ‘single issue’ land.

I notice you have been trumpeting all the support you are getting in ‘virtual’ space on your position toward the CPRS. It may be so but believe me, in electorates where the demographics really count; you are one of the Rudd government’s biggest electoral assets. So, congratulations on ensuring your side of politics remain in opposition for quite a while to come – as it stands that is probably in the national interest. Your pugnacious smugness may go down well with certain of the private school ‘cockey’ crowd, but some of us find it a tad immature. I know where these attitudes were honed as I also went to one of those private bastions of ‘born to ruledom’!

The minimum temperature in Canberra last night was 12 degrees! It should be below 5 degrees. Plants that never flowered before late September now routinely come out in mid-August. The carbon paradigm (to use a much belaboured term) has to shift. In the end I would be very surprised if agriculture is in the mix as that would preclude a deal with India and China, and they must be brought to the table. If advanced economies like Australia are not prepared to model constructive change then the planet is frankly stuffed. Blind freddy can see climate change is a reality and that carbon emissions are a major component. If we do not get a bi-partisan position on climate change, history will not be kind to our generation.

Your line on a Rudd tax on everything as a reductionist critique of the ETS will no doubt resonate with your supporters, although I note the only government in recent times to put their hands in everyone’s pockets through the introduction of a new tax was Howard’s with his GST. I’m sure you think you are on a political winner with this glib line, but I suggest you spend too much time talking to the credulous converted. We need politicians to rise above sloganeering and to do the hard policy work to wring change."

Amongst all the hyperbole about 'thousands' of emails flooding in support of trashing the ETS, which is not that far removed from the policy the Coalition took to the last federal election, it will come as no surprise that Senator Joyce chose not to reply to this one.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Labor all at sea on asylum seekers - but an opportunity presents itself.

The ongoing tragedy of desperate people prepared to put their lives at risk in small boats is being played out as I write. It seems up to 11 people have lost their life in the latest sinking in our maritime rescue area. The 78 refusing to leave the customs vessel in Indonesia are threatening self-harm rather than return to the Indonesian 'refugee warehouse', which was part of the Howard solution.

Rudd is between a rock and hard place, politically speaking, as the Coalition and its conga line of fear mongers in the media whip up the refugee issue yet again. Many people are very prone to xenophobic responses on 'boat people', choosing to believe the fear drum beaten relentlessly by Turnbull, Stone, Andrews and Ruddock et al. There appears to be something in a large slice of the collective psyche that responds negatively to people arriving on boats. It is a sad reflection on our maturity and self-assuredness as a nation state but there it is!

The drum beat of division and exclusion is coming from many quarters. Half-baked commentary and so-called 'straw polls' are the bread & butter of shock jocks, Sky News and commercial TV shows like ACA. Even the ABC is getting in on the act to whip up division and confusion.

The issues surrounding the Australian vessel in Indonesia are complex and almost parenthetical to the broader issues surrounding asylum seekers. This situation involves protocols surrounding the duty of care under the law of the sea etc etc.

In terms of the broader issues as they apply to refugees, I have worked in this area so I know a bit about the subject. I was a member of the previous Prime Minister's task force on 'illegal immigration'.

The Coalition Govt turned itself inside out to leverage Indonesian support for the process of 'warehousing' asylum seekers in various parts of Indonesia. Unfortunately for Labor our erstwhile government did not bother to properly resource the UNHCR, the IOM or the Indonesian authorities in order to manage the processing of refugee claims humanely, efficiently and expeditiously.

Now that PM Rudd is looking to build on the Howard government approach, taking a more systematic and humane approach to the processing problem, elements within the Indonesian establishment are unhappy at the prospect. They have seen Australia dump the problem on their laps before, with little compensation and support.

Rudd has an opportunity to change the construct through the provision of adequate resources to the lead agencies and the Indonesian authorities. It is vital that a compassionate approach is taken to detention, enabling asylum seekers to retain their dignity and well-being whilst awaiting decisions on their future.

Australia must model best practice in this area, ensuring the provisions of international legal instruments and human rights conventions are followed to the letter. This can be a win/win for asylum seekers, the respective processing authorities, and the countries in the firing line. Opening a regional dialogue and developing a well-resourced multilateral approach, empowering all parties with a stake in a solution to this growing human crisis, would be a good start.

The current Newspoll might suggest that the drum beat is working for the purveyors of fear and division but the Government must develop a long term strategy that gets the body politic past this boat driven psychosis.

I found this piece on The Piping Shrike well-reasoned and informed. The writer concludes:

"What both Prime Ministers had in common was not only the encouragement of setting up international camps, but making a secret of them and presenting border protection as a unilateral policy of the Australian government. That is no longer possible. The Liberals know it, which is why they agreed with Labor to drop the measures in the first place, which even now they can’t argue should be restored. The conditions that allowed Fraser and Howard to get away with such a ruse are no longer there and so this government needs to politically neutralise an issue that has been so useful for past ones. There is one final striking thing about the Rudd media tour. He is the only one doing it. Because at the end of the day, he is probably the only one in the government who knows how."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Asylum seekers in Australia - Even the ABC beats the drum of division and exclusion!

I sent the following message to ABC Radio 666 Canberra this morning after their breakfast presenter thought it would be clever to run a straw poll on his program on what should happen to the Sri Lankans on the Australian customs vessel:

"I don't usually listen to Solly at breakfast as I find his simple minded pandering to the lowest common denominator a bit much to stomach - why ABC feels the need to compete with commercial talk back is beyond me. Our public broadcaster should be very careful with an incendiary issue such as asylum seekers. The drum beat of division and exclusion is coming from many quarters. Half-baked commentary and so-called 'straw polls' are the bread & butter of shock jocks, Sky News and low rent programs like ACA etc.

The issues surrounding the Australian vessel in Indonesia are complex and almost parenthetical to the broader issues surrounding asylum seekers.

I have worked in this area so I know a bit about the subject.

The Coalition Govt turned itself inside out to leverage Indonesian support for the idea of 'warehousing' asylum seekers in Lombok and other places. Unfortunately for Labor our erstwhile govt did not bother to properly resource the UNHCR and the IOM to manage the Indonesian processing of refugee claims humanely, efficiently and expeditiously.

Now that Rudd is looking to build on the Howard govt approach, taking a more systematic and humane approach to the processing problem, elements within the Indonesian establishment are unhappy at the prospect. They have seen Australia dump the problem on their laps before, but with little compensation and support.

Rudd has an opportunity to change the construct through adequate resourcing of the lead agencies and the Indonesian authorities. It is vital that a compassionate approach is taken to detention, enabling asylum seekers to retain their dignity and well-being whilst awaiting decisions on their future.

Australia must model best practice in this area, ensuring the provisions of international legal instruments and human rights conventions are followed to the letter. This can be a win/win for asylum seekers, the respective processing authorities, and the countries in the firing line."

You would think the ABC would demonstrate a bit more responsibility in this area, particularly given the presenter knew very little about the complex issues surrounding this current conundrum.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Asylum seekers in Australia - Coalition strategy of warehousing refugees in Indonesia comes home to bite Labor - an opportunity presents itself!

The Coalition Govt turned itself inside out to leverage Indonesian support for the idea of 'warehousing' asylum seekers in Lombok and other places. Unfortunately for Labor our erstwhile govt did not bother to properly resource the UNHCR and the IOM to manage the Indonesian processing of refugee claims humanely, efficiently and expeditiously.

Now that Rudd is looking to build on the Howard govt approach, taking a more systematic and humane approach to the processing problem, elements within the Indonesian establishment are 'arking up' at the prospect. They have seen Australia dump the problem on their laps before, but with little compensation and support.

Rudd has an opportunity to change the construct through adequate resourcing of the lead agencies and the Indonesian authorities. It is vital that a compassionate approach is taken to detention, enabling asylum seekers to retain their dignity and well-being whilst awaiting decisions on their future.

Australia must model best practice in this area, ensuring the provisions of international legal instruments and human rights conventions are followed to the letter. This can be a win/win for asylum seekers and the respective processing authorities. Australians interested in seeing their govt do the right thing should lobby their local members of parliament and the Minister for Immigration. Do not be conned by the rhetoric of the Coalition as they have no credibility on this subject.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Asylum seekers in Australia - Media Watch calls out Channel 9 and shock jocks for replacing the dog whistle with the drum beat of fear

"Howard Sattler: Now we're going to talk about another kind of rip-off. We're going to talk about the welfare rip-off by a lot of people who claim refugee status. Would you believe, this is the figures, the Centrelink benefits have gone up nearly 40% to an estimated $628 million over two years"

Radio 6PR Perth, Drive with Howard Sattler, 20th October, 2009

This charming offering from one of the most egregious offenders on the air waves set the scene for a timely indictment of a substantial slice of commercial media for its lack of integrity, honesty and moral compass in its treatment of Centrelink data on asylum seekers.

Watch the Media Watch program here.

Crikey,quelle surprise, golly gosh - what a bunch of low life bottom feeders! And they all support the Coalition...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Human Rights in China: Tibet update - BREAKING NEWS: China Executes Four Tibetans

Multiple sources have confirmed the execution of four Tibetans in Lhasa on Tuesday 20 October - the first death sentences known to have been carried out in Tibet since 2003.

Three of the four Tibetans now known to have been executed - Lobsang Tenzin, Loyak (pictured right) and Penkyi - are among the five sentenced to death in April this year in connection with events in Lhasa on 14 March 2008. Their trials were conducted in secret and in the absence of even the most basic level of legal oversight. Their executions raise grave concerns for the prospects of many hundreds of Tibetans still unaccounted for or awaiting trial.


TAKE ACTION: Join the global campaign to the Chinese Minister of Justice

Friday, October 23, 2009

Human rights in Australia - “Let’s Act on it. Australia has spoken: give us a Human Rights Act.”

Following is media release from the Australian Human Rights Group, responding to the Brennan Human Rights Report:

"The biggest public inquiry in Australia’s history has recommended the introduction of an Australian Human Rights Act, in order to fix significant problems with Australia’s legal protection of human rights. The Australian Human Rights Group (AHRG) calls on the federal Government to implement this recommendation.

“The results are in, and they are crystal clear. 27 888 submissions, that is 87%, favoured a Human Rights Act. The sheer number of people who have taken part in the Consultation shows the strength of community feeling on this issue,” said Susan Ryan AO, Chair of the AHRG.

“Father Frank Brennan’s Committee has listened to the community and to experts on all sides of the debate. The Committee believes that a Human Rights Act is crucial to achieving balanced human rights protection in Australia.”

“The gaps in Australia’s human rights protection need to be filled. There is now a historic opportunity for the Government to act decisively on the community’s strong views, and take this crucial step in making Australia a fairer place,” said Susan Ryan.

“A Human Rights Act would bring important, practical benefits. It would make government more accountable and provide a tangible means of fostering social inclusion.”

“Countries that have the model of human rights protection proposed by the Brennan Committee, such as the UK and New Zealand, have seen significant improvement in services provided to vulnerable groups, such as people with a disability and elderly people.”

The Australian Human Rights Group calls on the government to introduce a Human Rights Act without delay."


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Asylum Seekers in Australia - Open letter to the Minister for Immigration

Dear Minister

I am saddened that children and unaccompanied minors continue to be held on Christmas Island.

I commend the Federal Government on recent changes to the Australian refugee system, such as the termination of the Pacific Solution and Temporary Protection visas, which should be maintained.

However, I strongly urge the Government to fully commit to its vision of creating a more humane refugee system by immediately ending the detention of all children, particularly unaccompanied minors, and moving all children from Christmas Island to the Australian mainland.

Detaining children on Christmas Island violates the Australian Government’s international obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). The immigration detention arrangements, including the construction camp facility where children are currently detained, are inappropriate for minors. The restrictive conditions of detention and lack of services have been well documented to cause long-term psychological and physical damage.

Australia has received repeated international criticism for its policy of mandatory detention and excision. The practice of detaining asylum seekers on Christmas Island, as a whole, breaches our obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.

I urge the Australian Government to meets its international obligations towards children seeking asylum by ensuring that once it is clear that a child does not pose a risk to the Australian community, that s/he be housed immediately and appropriately on the Australian mainland.

In response to the Opposition's irrational posture on asylum seekers, the Prime Minister has adopted a media strategy that has echoes of the Howard Government policy, including the use of the term 'illegal immigration' to denigate asylum seekers. Bona fide refugees are not categorized as 'illegal immigrants' under international law instruments. Australia should be modeling best practice in this area, including the education of the general public on the complex issues surrounding refugee movements and asylum seeker entitlements.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Asylum seekers in Australia - Liberals label asylum seekers 'scum', accuse PM of responsibility for their deaths - the bar gets set very low

Here we go again. The fear and smear campaign is picking up as the Coalition sniffs the possibility of a re-run of a 'border security' wedge.

Turnbull has shown his true colours in jumping on the bandwagon as soon as a sniff of political advantage came on the horizon. Andrews, Stone, Scullion, Downer et al are lining up to accuse the govt of going soft on border security and laying out the welcome mat for people smugglers. Federal Nationals Leader Warren Truss has blamed the Government for the deaths of asylum seekers at sea who are trying to reach Australia. This tacky strategy has been seen before and it makes my stomach churn.

A Northern Territory politician has been forced to explain a parliamentary gaffe in which he referred to asylum seekers as "scum". This has echoes of Senator Scullion's recent comments that boat people are a bio-security threat to Australia. Someone in my partner's family once commented that she thought it would be best if boat people drowned. Of course, she is a an avid Coalition supporter.

Whilst reasoned commentators are disputing the rationale for the Coalition posture, the media are all over it like a cheap suit. They love a rumpus that livens up the political climate.

Rudd has been forced into an unedifying, hairy-chested riposte to hose down the dust of fear as it begins to rise and clog the nostrils, with the constant drum beat of the Coalition and its media conga line whipping up a storm. This serving on Crikey is an example.

Its getting ugly again. Malcolm Fraser and other progressive 'liberals' are trying to stem the tide of nastiness emanating from their side of politics, but methinks we are in for another nasty period of demonizing boat people. The term 'illegals' is being bandied about again with gay abandon, including by PM Rudd, and the usual derogation 'economic refugees' and 'queue jumpers' is across the air waves.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The human rights component of deficit financing - Lateline interview with Texan econometric purveyor

I've just sent the following feedback to the ABC's Lateline program, which featured a Texan Professor of Economics. You will note I was singularly underwhelmed both by his proffering and the lack of rigour displayed by the interviewer:

"I just watched an interview between Ticky Fullerton and a Professor of Economics from Texas. It pretty much summed up why the world economy is in such a mess. When this type of voodoo econometrics is applied to deficit spending and private Vs public expenditure and respective impacts on productivity, you get the sort of nonsense that this fellow was peddling.

There was no analysis of the effects on long term productivity from targeted public expenditure on key areas of human capital development, including education, health, R & D, and from capital investments in key infrastructure upgrades to roads, ports, railways, airports etc etc. The problem in the US is that so little emphasis has been placed on the role of the public purse in the maintenance of these crucial areas of the economy (leaving it to the private sector to exploit for profit) their public education and health system have become increasingly moribund and inefficient. You cannot get a decent education or health care unless you have money in the good ole USA.

Essential transport infrastructure is in a parlous state in many parts of the US because of a failure of the private sector to invest and the vacation from the field by the public sector. Tax returns have been incrementally reduced by predatory federal and state policies that allow the rich and corporations to minimize their tax. A huge slice of the US structural deficit relates to defence spending, much of which is transferred from the public coffers to private companies who have tax concessions and subsidies coming out their ears.

It is easy to go on and on about the problems with the analysis put forward by this 'academic'. It is a shame your interviewer seemed to know so little about the reality of the US economy to allow this nonsense to stand. You keep trotting these dry rot economists out as if they are the purveyors of all wisdom on the subject of deficit financing and the cost-benefit of public expenditure. They are not and the pity is that their construct has poisoned development policies for decades through institutions such as the IMF and the WB.

We are now reaping the benefit of their obsession with reducing public investment in human and other essential capital, food security, community development and civil society; encouraging governments to leave the welfare of their people to the mercy of a 'globalized' market.

A sensible and balanced mix of private and public investment makes sense; well regulated financial systems and markets make sense; the provision of essential services (not subject to private profit imperatives) under public funding makes sense. An appropriate redistribution of a fair proportion of private wealth through public investment in the common good makes sense.

It would be encouraging if a little more intellectual rigour was applied to these interviews! However, thank goodness for the ABC because the vast majority of the media have completely abandoned the vital ground of balanced, investigative journalism. The health of our democracy has not improved in the process."

The failure of 'pure market & rational individuals' economics has been amplified by Paul Krugman, recent Nobel Prize winner for economics. His essay in the New York Times is worth a read. He concludes:

"So here’s what I think economists have to do. First, they have to face up to the inconvenient reality that financial markets fall far short of perfection, that they are subject to extraordinary delusions and the madness of crowds. Second, they have to admit — and this will be very hard for the people who giggled and whispered over Keynes — that Keynesian economics remains the best framework we have for making sense of recessions and depressions. Third, they’ll have to do their best to incorporate the realities of finance into macroeconomics.

Many economists will find these changes deeply disturbing. It will be a long time, if ever, before the new, more realistic approaches to finance and macroeconomics offer the same kind of clarity, completeness and sheer beauty that characterizes the full neoclassical approach. To some economists that will be a reason to cling to neoclassicism, despite its utter failure to make sense of the greatest economic crisis in three generations. This seems, however, like a good time to recall the words of H. L. Mencken: “There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible and wrong.”

When it comes to the all-too-human problem of recessions and depressions, economists need to abandon the neat but wrong solution of assuming that everyone is rational and markets work perfectly. The vision that emerges as the profession rethinks its foundations may not be all that clear; it certainly won’t be neat; but we can hope that it will have the virtue of being at least partly right."


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Asylum seekers - the Coalition warms up the dog whistle

Anyone who watches question time in the House of Representatives will be simply amazed at how low the bar has been set by the Opposition. Between Tony shit eating Abbott and the slop Jockey it is hard to recall a less impressive display of intellectual jousting. The depths to which this lot sink on a daily basis would be amusing ( in a theatre of the absurd kind of way) if it was'nt so tragic for the body politic.

Now the dog whistle is out again. Gutter Trash has the good oil on the latest scraping of the barrel by Sharmain Stone, Scullion et al. Where does all this hatred of different people under extreme duress come from? Is it part of their DNA? Do they learn it as part of their potty training, or suckling at the breast?

The standard line of the hate merchants is that everyone who supports the entry of asylum seekers is soft in the head - credulous buffoons who put human rights ahead of national interest considerations. It seems, in their small minds, that boat people are all economic refugees prepared to leave their cultural moorings, families and friends and everything familiar for the good life in our Islam demonizing, minorities marginalizing utopia. Today Scullion has come out with the enlightened view that our bio-security is under threat by boat people. [In good Southern US accent] Nigel, that doggy don't hunt, & keep taking the pills.

At least Howard brought this interesting bunch out into the open, away from the dark corners of the body politic. We can now expose their invariably simple minded postures to the bright light of day and subject their thinking to rational analysis. Good luck with that!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another boat arrival - another day in loonsville

With my series on notable boat arrivals through history (see archives) the looney nature of fear and loathing of boat people is revealed. In our past, the arrival of the first fleet stands out, if you are able to take the point of view of the original custodians. The ruling elite then went to great trouble to establish these custodians were a figment of the collective imagination.

The trickle of boat arrivals in recent times has the loons out in force again. First, you get the fear mongers in the form of Liberal party stalwarts who are still hanging on to the hope that another fear campaign is all that stands between them and the Treasury benches.

And then you get the media cheer squad, who love a good lynching....

I can't be bothered going down that path again because these people are mainly 'bottom feeders' who do not deserve any attention, although the ABC Insiders provides a few of them with a regular forum to spruik their nasty wares. However, the Loon Pond has a worthwhile take on the phenomenon.

I suppose we should be grateful that the loons are not quite as dangerous as this mob in the US identified by Possum Pollytics, but then again......

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Both sides of Australian politics shoot the UN messenger on NT intervention

This blog labeled the NT intervention as racist from the outset. This was not to diminish the alarming facts of child abuse and social dysfunction but to question whether human rights were violated through the response. I won't repeat my earlier critique, but I'm sure it stands the test of time.

Kristen Gelineau, writing for Assoc Press, examines the current Govt's reaction to James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, who said Thursday that his 12-day fact-finding tour of Australia revealed that Aborigines still suffer from "entrenched racism." He expressed particular concern about the intervention.

I refuse to believe that programs developed in close consultation with the key interest groups, which empower their capacity to help themselves, could not be implemented effectively without violating people's human rights. For Brough and Abott to climb on their high horses over UN interventions on human rights is despicable, as these politicians were members of a government that routinely trashed human rights in pursuance of their narrow reactionary agenda. They did little to address the human rights of women & children in remote communities for the lion's share of their period in office. What hypocrites! It took an alarm beacon to be set off in their faces for them to respond, and they did it with all the subtlety of an invading force, resplendent with military might! I can't get the abiding suspicion out of my mind that Howard sought to play low politics with the intervention - it must be something to do with 'children overboard' and the Pacific Solution that leaves me a little incredulous.

Woolly Days has a take on the defensive posture of Australian pollies and the media club.

And yet another take can be found at Public Opinion.

Surprise, surprise, Howard has again come out against a Charter or Bill of Human Rights. Howard et al don't like the idea that politician's laws are subject to universal notions of human rights. The preeminence of the parliament over the rights of its citizens seems to be at the heart of the argument. In other words, executive government should always be able to legislate at will, without consideration of whether or not laws passed undermine human rights. It is an interesting notion, somewhat reminiscent of past authoritarian regimes of the extreme left and right, who would not brook interference with their law making on the grounds of human rights.

Hmmm, what do you think about a group of politicians and their cheer squads that resist the notion that human rights should govern the laws that bind us all?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Human rights in Australia - Oz scores poorly on OECD wage & social equity indicators - why?

I have'nt been posting lately due to a bout of ill health. However, there is no diminution of interest in human rights matters on my part.

I heard a news report this morning on findings that reveal Australia scores very poorly amongst developed economies on most measures of socio-economic equality, just ahead of Portugal, UK and USA. This does not surprise me at all. The academic being interviewed suggested the main cause is income inequality, with high income earners streaking away from the rest. In response to a question whether low indigenous incomes skewed the findings, the interviewee rebuffed this as the numbers are too low to affect the baseline outcome.

This got me thinking and I recalled an essay I read recently by Benjamin Friedman on a book by the son of John Kenneth Galbraith, entitled The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. James Galbraith argues that true conservatism is bankrupt as a source of usable policy ideas, leaving conservative rhetoric, disconnected from any actual policy implications. Rather than lament this reality, Galbraith suggests 'liberal' policy makers (in Australia this term aligns with social democrats like Labor politicians) need to reject market fundamentalism.

Galbraith observes 'conservatives' no longer follow their own orthodoxy, including free trade, balanced federal budgets and keeping inflation in check by limiting the increase in the supply of money. He argues 'neo-conservatives' have turned government policy into an instrument of private financial gain, on a grand scale, for themselves and their allies in the business and political lobbying world; hence the "predator state" of the book's title.

The "cult of the free market" has seen western political culture

"divided into two groups. There are those who praise the free market because to do so gives cover to themselves and their friends in raiding the public trough. These people call themselves "conservatives", and one of the truly galling things for real conservatives is that they have both usurped the label and spoiled the reputation of the real thing."

By contrast, so called 'liberals' "praise the "free market" simply because they fear that, otherwise, they will be exposed as heretics accused of being socialists, perhaps even driven from public life."

Sound familiar? Galbraith argues 'liberals' (or perhaps social progressives is a better term) need to acknowledge and critique the failure of markets to deliver what's promised on their behalf as a basis for the formulation of a coherent construct to challenge free market orthodoxy.

A moneyed class has emerged under the guise of conservatism that

"set out to take over the state and run it - not for any ideological project but simply in the way that would bring to them, individually and as a group, the most money, the least disturbed power, and the greatest chance of rescue should something go wrong".

Thus we get a body politic based on "predation" - "the systematic abuse of public institutions for private profit or, equivalently, the systematic undermining of public protections for the benefit of private clients".

It is no accident that income inequality is widening in polities where pay for CEOs and other top executives has exploded, where a large proportion of tax cuts goes to families at the top of the income scale, where governments rush to bail out big firms, and to protect their creditors (and their executives' pensions), but declines to help ordinary citizens shafted by dodgy lending practices. Galbraith identifies many such inequities, most of which have echoes in the Australian landscape.

Financiers have replaced inventors and entrepreneurs as the captains of industry. Rich people who have largely made their money from exploiting other people's money were cast as 'heroes' until very recently. I always new we were in trouble as they pontificated this new reality as being in the 'national interest'. Beware of snake oil operators who claim patriotism as a key motivation for their predatory behaviour. Galbraith observes "the explosion of CEO pay, and other failures of corporate governance, are natural consequences of the lack of oversight by the financial powers. From there the step to looting is not large and the constitution of top corporate officers into a predatory class follows too. At each step of the way toward the emergence of the predator state, the influence and hegemony of the financial markets lay at the very root of the problem.

"None of these enterprises has an interest in diminishing the size of the state...For without the state and its economic interventions, they would not themselves exist...Their reason for being rather is to make money off the state- so long as they control it."

It all very worrying really, particularly as the 'conservative' forces in this country want to foist a leader on to us who has been honed in the world of investment banking, arguably the greatest looter class of all. There are a number of policy areas that produce rich pickings for the public sector looters. Tax is a core area of predation. When Turnbull launched his tax missive back in 2005 I broke into commentary, thus:

"A test that seems to be applied now is whether 'the policy is enabling public money to be transferred into private hands'. That certainly seems to be one of the driving motivations of this government, and the pace will quicken as the front bench and their mates start to sniff a defeat in the wind. It is time to nail down every public service or asset that isn't already finessed into the control of those who already have too much. Thus you get the Medicare safety net for the well-off; endless tax concessions that only smart lawyers and accountants know how to exploit; tertiary education for those that can afford it; grants to resource-rich schools; and so much more that it is tedious to recount. What we need desperately is a government that genuinely governs for all and not just the mortgage belt wannabees and the legions of tax avoiders in Wentworth."

As I always say, keep your eye on the money trail, if you want to know what is really happening in the world of corrupt power politics. Galbraith concludes his book with a story of a visit to his dad in hospital:

"...I visited my father in his room...for what would prove to be the last time. I told him a little bit of what I'd been working on, and he said, "You should write a short book on corporate predation..."Then he paused and added, with his usual modesty, If I could do it, I would put you in the shade."

Maybe, but I think the old bloke would have been proud of his boy's efforts.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Australians want asylum seekers treated fairly: Amnesty

ABC reports:

"A recent poll shows 69 per cent of Australians want asylum seekers to have the same legal rights regardless of how they arrive.

The Nielsen poll of more that 1,000 people was conducted for the human rights group Amnesty International.

Amnesty International's Dr Graham Thom says the poll is significant because detainees on Christmas Island do not have the same rights as those on the mainland.

Dr Thom says the poll sends a strong message to policymakers.

"While only a fraction of those who seek asylum in Australia each year come by boat, the majority of people think it's up to 60 per cent and a third of people think it's even 80 per cent, but even with that perception Australians believe they should be treated equally," Dr Thom said.

Dr Thom says in actual fact only 3.4 per cent of asylum seekers came by boat last year.

"Clearly there is a focus on boat arrivals that is just not justifiable and this has been picked up by the population, they are being misinformed and I think those responsible need to have a good look at why they're doing and hopefully stop doing it."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Open letter to members of Australia's Parliament from Iranian human rights activist, Ardeshir Gholipour

Dear Member of the Parliament of Australia ,

You will have heard of the flagrant human rights abuses occurring on the streets of Iran. The government of coup d'etat sees in arbitrary detention, torture, beating and killing of defenseless people its sole means of survival. It is clear its baneful existence will not last. Among the detained are many journalists, intellectuals, union leaders, student activists, and elderly politicians, some with serious medical conditions. Also, hundreds of people have been arrested, some severely beaten. Students were thrown out of the windows of their dorms. They were forced to crawl in broken glass. Buttons were pressed into their eyeballs. Can such atrocities be borne in silence? Should we not make it clear that the civilized world will not tolerate such barbaric violation of the most basic rights of a human person? Should not the voice of Neda Agha Soltani, the beautiful student of philosophy whose chest was pierced with the bullets of evildoers, resound in every ear? Her 'Neda', her voice cries: Freedom!

I therefore write to you to ask for your support for the innocent people of Iran. The Iran expert, Jason Rezaian, who has just returned from Iran says what really weighs heavily on people’s hearts is that they think they are alone in their truly heroic struggle. He says that when he told a number of the protesters he met in the street that the whole world was standing with them against tyranny, they broke down crying.

The government of Ahmadinejad is illegitimate. Australia must expel its ambassador from Canberra. In our opinion, this is the most appropriate course of action. It signals to the Iranian people that Australia is with them in their legitimate demand that their choice and vote be respected. A democratic country cannot be indifferent to the flagrant violation of the most fundamental institution of democracy. The expulsion will also be welcomed by the future government of Iran. There are already clear signs that the erstwhile fellow travellers of Ahmadinejad are abandoning him. Thus, the expulsion makes good political and moral sense.

Ardeshir Gholipour
PO Box 573
Civic Square
ACT 2608
Ph: (0427) 339 761

Please address all email to:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Human Rights in Australia - Asylum seeker procedures changed but mandatory detention retained

While 'utegate' spectacularly morphed into 'fakegate', leaving 'truffles' looking like a conniving spiv prepared to enter into any kind of 'faustian' deal with anyone who could bring him closer to the glittering prize, important changes to asylum seeker procedures went through the lower house today.

The Canberra Times reports, "The cracks in Coalition unity have spread, with Liberal backbenchers Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan both arguing for a Government Bill that will abolish charges levied on asylum-seekers held in detention.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull and Coalition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone both argued against the Bill in Tuesday's joint party room meeting.

But Mr Georgiou and Ms Moylan, who have both criticised the party in the past for their approach to asylum-seekers, have supported the Bill, while fellow moderate Russell Broadbent could also support it."

The Government has been quietly getting on with reform to several key areas that impact on human rights, not least, of course, putting in the hard yards to keep Australia the best performing economy in the developed world. This has reduced the harm to vulnerable groups that would have ensued from a major economic meltdown.

They have been attacked relentlessly over deficit financing of human capital investment and essential infrastructure by one of the least impressive Oppositions. The Coalition has hurried to the status of champion bottom feeders and have lowered the tone of our political culture substantially. After Howard's lost decade I would have thought the Opposition needed to claw back some of the middle ground of the body politic, but it seems the radical reactionary agenda continues unabated.

It is interesting that the Coalition faces a similar problem to the GOP in the US - their appeal to a narrow demographic base through extreme right-wing agendas has left them largely irrelevant to the new paradigm emerging in the wake of the GFC.

The Coalition's response to asylum seekers is a case in point. The dishonest dissembling and nasty posturing of the Howard years does'nt wash any more, and as we discover the extent of lost reform and productivity opportunities in a time of a revenue bonanza, Australians with compassion and wit will look back in anger and regret at the human rights malaise we endured.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

OBITUARY - REG THOMSON (2 June 2009, Aged 89)

Reg was born in the Victorian goldfields in 1919. He left school at thirteen to work in a series of jobs in rural Victoria; joined the YMCA and enlisted in the Australian Army in 1941. He served in several theatres of war, including on the Bulldog Road in New Guinea and at Balikpapan in Borneo.

Following his demobilization Reg gained admission to the University of Adelaide under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Scheme. On completion of a Diploma in Social Science he joined the colonial administration in PNG as a junior education officer. In preparation for his colonial service in early 1949 he was admitted to the ASOPA in Sydney. His association with the school lasted for 24 years, both as a student and later as a sometime lecturer.

From the late 1950s until 1973, Reg was chief of the Division of Social Development and Director of Child Welfare within the Papua New Guinea government. This was a time of rapid social and political change, and his responsibilities were many and varied. Specialized offices in his division included child welfare, urban resettlement, training, youth work and women’s activities. His community development officers were based in all districts. Their duties included community development projects and community education including health promotion and political education. Referrals under child welfare and adoption legislation brought them into close contact with courts and legal aid agencies. They worked with government and non government agencies in many activities including case work and counseling, migration referrals, grants in aid, pensions and sports development and the licensing and inspection of child care centres.

Prior to Reg’s arrival there were few written guidelines in many of the areas mentioned above. Child welfare and adoption legislation were relatively new. Reg and his staff produced a wide range of publications which provided a “road map” through unfamiliar territory.

Through the activities and programs and in many other ways, Reg helped build up a number of agencies which became part of a modern social welfare system for PNG. His staff remembers him with respect and affection. And he has been honored by the PNG government for his outstanding contribution.

At the age of 89, Reg recently published his memoir, Looking for a Good Book. Early in his life Reg became an avid book collector. His book is a ‘tale of a gentle madness’, the story of a book collector thrown hither and thither by tumultuous events beyond his control.

Reg is survived by his son Mark, and daughter Julie.

Mark Thomson/Graeme Parry

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Human rights in Australia - commercial media and the fear narrative

Anyone trawling through our major commercial media outlets in recent times will be struck by the constant attempt to whip up fear in the community.

Of course, there is nothing new in this. News editors have pandered to the predilections of various interest groups from time immemorial.

It has got nasty again in the wash up over the Federal budget. Take the case of Sky News. Their editorial line over the last week went a little like this:
Debt, fear, deficit, more fear, loss of business confidence, more fear, swine flu, lots more fear. I wonder whether they ever wonder, in their dark nights of the soul, whether they are a major contributor to fear levels?

They have selectively reported on debt and deficit to whip up the Coalition's fear line on the budget. In the process it seems they have done the country a great disservice.

They have selectively reported on recent polling to underpin their fear story. In fact, the polls suggest people are fairly sanguine about the debt and the budget. The Govt's two party position improved in this week's polls published by Essential Research and Newspoll.

Their regular line on failing business confidence distorts the actual position and does not take account of investment decision trends, the flow through effect of recent budget decisions and other signs of improvement emanating from the various stimulus packages.

And then, of course, we can always rely on swine flu to garner a bit more fear...

Human rights in Australia - 'punish the victim' still alive & well in Coalition's refugee lexicon

Last night's Insight on SBS again showed up the nastiness inherent to the Coalition's approach to asylum seekers. Stone and Andrews were harking back to the good ole times when TPVs kept refugees in their place. They have a tenuous grasp at best of the humanitarian underpinnings of the Refugee Convention.

The token troglodyte in the audience represented the cheer squad for the 'punish them all' brigade that come out of the woodwork whenever this issue is raised in public fora. Throw in dollops of 'Islam-phobia' and we get a heady concoction of half-truths, sloganeering and open racism over the plight of some of the most desperate people on the planet. Forget the fact that we have contributed militarily to the mess in many of these countries, and have been an active player in conflicts that have led to displacement throughout the region. If you read through some of the comments on the SBS website you'll get the picture!

The walled city shone in the glow of dusk,
and the people closed the gates as visitors arrived,
"This is ours", they said, "you can't have what is ours".
Beyond the city, beyond the refuse dumps, and the hovels of the poor,
Where the roads are dirt tracks and the common tongue is not heard,
Some people sit, around a fire,
wondering whether they should have had walls......

Monday, May 18, 2009

Human rights in Australia - New film "Samson & Delilah" an anguished cry from the wounded soul of Australia's original custodians

All Australians should see this film! Of course that won't happen but growing numbers will have the experience. It is a visual tone poem that opens eyes, sores, nerves, and ultimately, hearts. I doubt anyone can sit through this film without going through some form of catharsis.

Every so often a film comes along that changes the way things are seen. The dispossessed souls that move through this passion play challenge us to respond with powerful emotions. Self-destructive and self-actualizing forces are competing in the players' outer and inner landscapes, subject to random moments outside their control.

Loss of identity and cultural moorings has left these youngsters on the margins of everything, vulnerable to physical and psychological decay and destruction.

It is an indictment of colonization, cultural misappropriation and systemic failures to engage a dispossessed people with compassion and understanding.

The film has a website.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Budget heralds more reform of refugee regime but full inquiry into Howard Govt practices still necessary

Changes to the rules for asylum seekers under the Budget is welcome, especially those related to increased working rights.

The Rudd Government has improved the situation for refugees through a series of incremental changes. It has been accused of going soft on border protection by the 'fear perpetual' brigade but slowly but surely Australia is bringing its refugee regime into line with international law and refugee conventions.

However, there remains a need to review previous practices under the Immigration Act to avoid the worst violations of the past. This week it has been revealed that Immigratiuon misled an asylum seeker to facilitate her repatriation to the family's country of origin!

The Immigration Department has admitted that the case of a detainee whose daughter was deported to Iran without his knowledge was clearly unacceptable.

Departmental officials lied to the man and misled the child in an operation to get the girl out of Australia.

He also found that the department had acted against its own legal advice.

The Ombudsman's report on the case has found that they might have breached the Public Service Code of Conduct by doing so.

I expect this is the case and that there are many other examples lurking in the annals of Immigration's management of refugees.

Having been involved in the administration of aspects of the Pacific Solution, and having been shocked by the callous disregard of human rights that characterized the management of refugees during the Howard years, I have lobbied the current Minister to initiate a full inquiry into the asylum seeker policies and practices of the previous government. As you would expect, I have been fobbed off! However, until we have a transparent review of this period we run the risk of violations happening in the future.

An interesting discussion of the previous TPV regime can be read here. Some of the comments reveal the extent of ignorance on refugee matters. I would have thought refugees from an arena of war where we are an active combatant would have a strong case to be accepted by Australia, even for those who can't stomach the universal right of refugees to seek asylum in a country that is a signatory to the Refugee Conventions.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Australia - still xenophobic and easily influenced by refugee fear campaign

The sudden fall in Labor's primary vote is not due to concerns over the GFC but is solely due to fears whipped up by the Coalition and media outlets.

It is a sad commentary on our insular body politic that small numbers of vulnerable asylum seekers can have such an impact on public opinion. For those of us who have tracked the politics of division and fear associated with border protection postures this will come as no surprise. The primary vote numbers identified by Newspoll are probably a little inaccurate, but they still tell a story of xenophobic knee jerk reactions to fear mongering by Turnbull et al.

I don't believe Coalition apologists who claim the fall is a response to Labor's deficit budgeting. That is patently wishful thinking by the permanently credulous crowd who don't seem to understand that there has to be a shift away from the notion that surplus budgeting is always clever. In an economic climate that will see the ranks of the disadvantaged rise, it is essential that governments invest in human capital and essential infrastructure.

Beware of the propaganda machine that paints a more humane approach to asylum seekers as weak and soft on border protection. This is a lie and is motivated by political opportunists prepared to play to xenophobic and racist tendencies in the Australian electorate.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I have received the following update from Susan Ryan, AO, Chair HRAAC inc:

"Dear Human Rights Act Supporter,

I have been greatly encouraged by the community response to the Brennan Panel.

Over 10000 submissions have already been received by the Panel and I am sure they are in no doubt that most Australians, from all backgrounds, care greatly about human rights and want significantly better protection.

We are presently reviewing our Model Bill and plan to make this the core of the HRAAC submission to the Brennan Panel, illustrating how Australia can enjoy the protection of effective laws while still leaving parliamentary lawmaking powers intact.

The HRAAC continues its advocacy work, started back in 2005, by addressing forums, collecting and publishing relevant material and making the parliament aware of our shared views. I have remained actively engaged in this public debate, in person and over the the media.

We have joined with over 70 other organisations to form a national network, the Australian Human Rights Group, (AHRG) thus greatly multiplying the numbers of supporting individuals and bodies, and growing our information base.

The HRAAC’s web-site facilitates access and links to a broad range of human rights information from Australia and overseas. It highlights important developments and lists key human rights events being organized around Australia. There are also links to our youth portal, humanrightsact-TV and to the AHRG page.

I do urge all of you who may have not yet done so, to make your submissions to the Brennan panel and to encourage your friends and acquaintances to do the same. Please check the Get Involved section of the our web-site if you need help on how to do this.

I also encourage you to write letters to the newspapers and to call talk back radio. Our opponents, few as they are, are becoming increasingly vocal and have unlimited access to the media to repeat their wrong headed and misleading claims.

Progress has been good but we cannot slow down at this crucial time. Thank you for your support thus far and please let me know what more we can do to achieve our objective, a Human Rights Act for Australia."

If you are interested in human rights please get involved with this campaign.

The Forum - 'Desperate Measures' by Susan Metcalfe

On Line Opinion has published this article on asylum seekers.

I have posted the following comment:

"The Howard govt turned itself inside out to excise huge slices of the migration zone as part of its manic determination to repel 'boat people'. The Pacific Solution fiasco underpinned the 'illegal boat people' wedge Howard launched in 2001. I was part of the PM's task force that worked on these issues.

Sadly, the 'dog whistle' has been sounded loud and clear by Turnbull et al, and the 'xenophobe' crowd have responded with alacrity. Within their simple-minded construct it's all the Rudd government's fault! Labor instigated a more humane approach to refugees, although it could be improved by taking the Christmas Island stopover out of the equation. Rudd abolished the egregious TPV regime, which was a violation of refugee rights and a nasty scar on our human rights landscape.

Some of the comments here explain why the Coalition politicizes refugees. The posture is so effective - and is'nt it great to hear back from that bastion of 'multilateralism', erstwhile FM Downer on how his mates would have handled this situation? How can anyone forget the Libs' response to Tampa and kids overboard?

Yes, blame the victims for their own plight, extract as much sensationalism out of the role of people smugglers, put words in the mouth of ADF personnel who cannot answer for themselves, and then whip up public sentiment against refugees. Throw in dollops of confected outrage over your political opponents complete lack of preparedness to face down the 'threat' and you have your stock in trade 'dog whistle' response to the terrible plight of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Oh, I forgot - then you can set about making weak neighbouring countries complicit in policies that violate human rights!

The cruel stupidity of the Howard Govt saw asylum seekers ending up in an excised area, unable to access the same legal rights as those who reach our migration zone. The recent case of 29 asylum seekers deposited on an offshore rig brought the small-mindedness of the previous regime back into sharp focus. Labor must align our Migration Act with international law and refugee conventions."

The more things change, the more they remain the same!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Food and human rights

SBS aired a doco on the growing anger in developing countries over the rising price of food and the increasing marginalization of small land holders.

Over the last three decades the failed strategies of the Bretton Woods agencies (IMF & World Bank) and the relentless push of globalization has seen the food security of poor countries threatened. As an Australian aid official I was alarmed by the alacrity with which developed countries pedaled a development template fashioned to benefit Western trade interests.

To get beyond the simplistic lexicon of a political economy shaped exclusively by global market forces, we need to explore more humanist solutions to the provision of basic human needs and acknowledge that failure to do so will condemn all of us to an insecure future. The onus on developed world leaders to end charity and imposed, culturally skewed economic prescriptions is urgent. New partnerships with the developing world to share resources equitably and strengthen human capability in areas of most need should be viewed as essential investments in global security.

During my career, amongst a litany of inappropriate technology transfers, culturally biased structural adjustment dogmas, misplaced charity and other myriad distortions, the occasional gem emerged. Such successes sustained me over the years. I felt we got the development cooperation process right every so often. Genuine cross-cultural bridges and mutually beneficial arrangements were reinforced in the process. I rationalized misgivings and convinced myself that it was vital that people with an eye for the paradox of manipulative aid strategies mitigate the worst excesses of this form of imperialism.

Food security and the provision of other basic human needs is at the core of the Millennial Development Goals. However, the economic prescriptions of the last three decades have not focused on third world self-sufficiency and local empowerment. Economic elites have benefited from opening trade channels, import-export of food commodities has expanded, multinational food corporations have acquired a greater share of the trade in food (including capturing patents on staple varieties and dominating the trade in certain commodities), small land holders have been squeezed and impoverished, aid-dependent developing countries have been manipulated by donor powers into accepting economic prescriptions that have increased rural poverty.

The GFC has sparked a review of the resource distribution template governing North-South relations. The IMF coffers have been replenished to assist the financial security of revenue-challenged developing countries. The concern is whether there has been a shift in the globalization construct, whereby unequal playing fields underpin the food trade and poor countries are dependent on cheap imports. The distortion of local food markets that has flowed from WB/IMF economic prescriptions and international food aid programs has to stop.

Globalization can only deliver just outcomes if accompanied by trade and development cooperation policies that empower and foster human dignity and freedom. Think of a world where the constructs of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ no longer apply. A fourth world would celebrate cultural difference; the dignity and worth of all labour and the universality of human rights. We all have a stake in peace and security. The moribund ‘polarities’ and parallel development paths of the last century, blind us to the potential of shared horizons.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

ABC 'Insiders' - You have heard of the 'shining'; now we have the 'dumbing'!

I keep persevering with this show as occasionally it produces some gems, but today was woeful. I've penned the following comment:

"The pro-Iraq war chorus has morphed into the 'we hate deficits' chorus. The Murdoch press has stormed the barricades and Barry must be thinking about a change of career to something with substance - may be a sports journalist! Listening to Andrew Robb was like the drone of a commune apparatchik in a Brecht play. The man is a walking self-parody!

Today's effort took me back to some of the confused musings on the run up to the 2007 poll. I'm afraid this bunch of 'Insiders', with the possible exception of LT, operate in a parallel reality. Perhaps they spend too much time talking to themselves, and crafting think pieces that are accessible to people with a relatively low reading age!

Poor Lenore must be wondering what it would be like to exchange views with people of talent and integrity. At least she made an effort to humanize refugees and dispense with the 'demonizing' propaganda of the likes of Bolt. This confused latter chappie thinks he is a 'conservative' font of knowledge. No, he is just a reactionary (sorry, 'naughty') boy, and not a misunderstood messiah!

It seems I'm not the only one who thinks Bolt is a bit of a dill.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Australia continues to model bad practice on treatment of asylum seekers

The Howard govt turned itself inside out to excise huge slices of the Australian migration zone as part of its manic determination to repel 'boat people'. I was part of the high-level task force for a period that worked on these issues for government.

Back in June 2006 the Howard govt went truly feral on the issue of the migration zone. Readers might recall the issue of West Papuan asylum seekers and our migration zone. I wrote at the time:

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, the bill excising the whole of Australia from the migration zone was ultimately defeated in the Senate, but large slices of offshore Australia remain excised from the zone.

As a consequence of this cruel stupidity, asylum seekers ending up in an excised area are not entitled to the same legal rights as those who reach our migration zone. The case of 29 asylum seekers who have been deposited on an offshore rig now brings the small-mindedness of the Howard regime back into sharp focus.

The Labor Government must amend the Migration Act as it applies to the migration zone, in accordance with the requirements of international law and refugee conventions.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sky News and the art of the 'dog whistle'

Yesterday I blogged on Amnesty International's attempts to hose down the dog whistling of the media on refugees. It is being whipped up again in the most irresponsible of ways by commercial media outlets and, of course. the Liberal Party.

Sky news is running a poll today on whose border protection policies are more effective?

O Howard government (currently running at 87%)
O Rudd government (currently running at 13%)

Does anyone else agree that this is dog whistling, encouraging voters to get anxious about refugees to achieve a political outcome?

I have sent a comment to Sky News, suggesting they desist from trying to run dog whistle agendas, doing the bidding of the Coalition, and report the news with integrity and responsibility. Sky frequently utilizes these nasty little polls, that have no credibility in terms of voter opinion, to whip up anxiety and fear for political purposes. I understand the motivation behind their editorial posture on many of these issues - it inflames a political debate and feeds to the prejudices of a political demographic that are attuned to these issues. Fox News has adopted a tabloid pampleteering strategy in the US to feed and reinforce right wing prejudices/opinion and thereby guaranteeing a captive share of a cashed up demographic for marketing purposes.

It is always wise to follow the money trail I find!

I am happy to be dissuaded that Sky News are not doing this, but as President Obama famously said, 'you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig!'.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Amnesty deplores dog whistle media banging the old erroneous 'boat people' drum

Amnesty International released the following on 16 April in an attempt to hose down some of the worst of the media reporting on the asylum seeker boat sinking - and to slow down the bandwagon Turnbull and his pygmy warrior brigade jumped on with great alacrity:

"Amnesty International rejects the notion that the Rudd government's attempts to make immigration policy in Australia more humane - including easing the policy of mandatory detention, ending Temporary Protection Visas and moving away from the Pacific Solution - have been responsible for any increase in asylum-seekers arriving by sea.

Amnesty International also deplores the sensationalist and erroneous reporting on the broader asylum-seeker issue in certain media outlets. This detracts attention from the human dimension of the asylum-seeker issue and the severe risks that people take when they embark on boats in order to escape persecution and human rights abuses in their home countries.

The tragic deaths of a number of asylum-seekers on a boat off the coast of Western Australia this morning highlights the heavy price that asylum-seekers sometimes pay in trying to rebuild their lives in a foreign country.

While the exact details remain unclear, the incident is a reminder of the need for policy makers and commentators to always bear in mind the fact that human lives are at stake in the asylum-seeker story.

"It must be remembered that asylum-seekers are human beings who have been forced to take real risks in their search for safety and security," said Dr Graham Thom, Refugee Campaign Coordinator for Amnesty International Australia. "Asylum-seekers do not take lightly the decision to undertake perilous journeys to Australia. Today's tragic incident underscores the very real dangers they face."

Amnesty International believes that any increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Australia is part of wider global trend, and not a result of changed government policy.

"A recent report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees shows that there has been a significant increase worldwide in asylum applications over the past year," said Graham Thom.

"Increased instability and conflict have forced more people to flee their homelands and it is those countries in serious crisis, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, which account for the large part of this increase."

It is often argued that Australia's small population size means that this country is harder hit by increases in asylum seekers. However, the UNHCR report's analysis of levels of asylum applications on both a per-capita and GDP basis indicates that Australia still does not make it into the top 10 affected countries.

"Australia, as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, has made a commitment to protect people fleeing persecution. Seeking asylum is a fundamental right that should be available to all human beings," said Graham Thom."

Sadly, the 'hate refugees' crowd don't want to hear this. They wait for the high pitched whistle to sound from Liberal boroughs around the country and then stream on to the main stage to celebrate their fear and loathing. Their little eyes get a glow about them as they answer the call and break out the bludgeons yet again. If you doubt what I say just take a look at some of the commentary on blogs like this one.

Oh, they say, its great to be one of the mob again!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Human rights in Australia - the fear & smear Liberals are at it again over asylum seekers!

The largest dog whistle we have seen for a while has been produced by Turnbull et al over the asylum seeker boat explosion. The whistle has been getting a work out over 'China' fears, and has found full throat over the tragedy off our shores yesterday.

Of course, it is all the Rudd government's fault! They instigated a more humane approach to refugees, although its humanity could be markedly improved by taking the Christmas Island stopover out of the equation. Rudd abolished the egregious TPV regime, which was a violation of refugee rights and a nasty scar on our human rights landscape.

Turnbull and his pygmy warriors jump at the opportunity of politicizing refugee fears. It is a permanent default emanating from the political DNA of the Libs and their partners in fear, the Nats. And is'nt it great to hear back from that bastion of 'multilateralism', erstwhile FM Downer on how his mates would have handled this situation. How can anyone forget the Libs' response to Tampa and kids overboard. This blogger has'nt fogotten.

Yes, we remember! Blame the victims for their own plight, extract as much sensationalism out of the role of people smugglers, put words in the mouth of ADF personnel who cannot answer for themselves, and then whip up public sentiment against refugees. Throw in dollops of confected outrage over your political opponents complete lack of preparedness to face down the 'threat' and you have the typical Lib's stock in trade response to the terrible plight of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Oh, I forgot - then you set about making weak neighbouring countries complicit in policies that violate human rights!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Australian media whips up China fear

Not unlike the Tampa period, the national media is positively salivating over the Opposition's take on the influence of China in Australia. Sky News is running a poll today on whether or not people are concerned about the degree of China's influence on Australia. Crikey has a piece worth reading on the Liberal Party's long history of playing the race card.

This is 'dog whistle' stuff. We have seen it all before, particularly on the part of the commercial media outlets when they sniff a populist fear campaign is getting traction.

At this time of acute economic insecurity we see media playing to the hand of the Coalition, trying desperately to whip up a storm that will benefit it politically. It is very transparent and right up there on the 'ugly meter' of political postures.

My word to Sky News is:

"Your current focus on the influence of China in Australia is quite disgusting. You are whipping up unnecessary fear in the community. I am the first to criticize China's human rights record and its terrible repression of Tibet. I felt the same way about the Bush administration's human rights violations under the aegis of the war on terror.

However, it is not in our national interest to disengage from either China or the US. Both are key trading partners and key players in our geo-political sphere of influence and operation. Your current poll is the type of dog-whistling Howard used to great effect during his tenure. It is shameful and reflects poorly on your claim to be a serious news service.

Your 'spin' on this issue over the last week or so suggests you are glad-handling the Opposition's disgraceful default toward fear and smear as it nose-dives politically.

A word to the wise. Act responsibly, as the media has a poor track record on such issues in recent years, appearing to be 'players' rather than seeking detachment from the political cut and thrust. Your current affairs presenters appear to be salivating over this 'China influence' issue, to the detriment of our national interest! "

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Message from Archbishop Desmond Tutu regarding the Dalai Lama

In response to the recent campaign of protest over South Africa's decision to deny the Dalai Lama a visa to attend the Nobel Peace Laureate's Conference, Archbishop Tutu has replied:

"Keep it up. You are the people who make freedom happen."

"It warms my heart to see so many of my fellow Nobel Laureates, stars, leaders, and people from around the world put their signature on paper, so to speak, to stand behind our friend the Dalai Lama.

"We have just seen a shameful example of South African leaders becoming timid in the face of Chinese "might" and their own economic interests, and refusing this incredible, peaceful being entry to our county --for a peace conference!

"It's an embarrassment that this could happen in a country that has known how dark life can be when your human rights are being smashed. And we, of all people, know what it means when someone in another part of the world stands up for your rights and freedom.

"So it's a joyful thing, to turn around and see you -- people from all countries, from all walks of life, who are willing to step forward, put their name down, and say "wait a minute, I object to this mistreatment!"

"It lets me know, once again, that good will ultimately prevail in this world.

"Keep it up. You are the people who make freedom happen."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

You may also be interested in this article on Huffington Post, in which the Archbishop talks further about recent events in South Africa. have advised that in the last 24 hours many people have asked about a Facebook page for Archbishop Tutu's letter.

They have now created this -- at

If you are a Facebook member please sign up for the cause, post it to your page, distribute it to your friends, etc.

They have also added some icons at the bottom of the sign up page that make it easier for you to post the page to your facebook page, to diggit, to delicious, stumbleupon and others. Please feel free to revisit the page and help spread the news on the letter through these channels.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Desperate Liberals resort to 'yellow peril' fear & smear campaign

The tiny coterie of regular readers of this blog will know I'm no fan of the ruling regime in China. I am a strident critic of China's human rights record and its colonial repression of Tibet. However, the recent foray of senior Opposition politicians into the realms of fear and smear is an egregious throwback to 'White Australia' thinking, much like Howard demonized Muslims to build populist support for his border control regime.

The Howard govt routinely avoided raising human rights issues with China in any meaningful way on its watch, treading the well-worn diplomatic path of annual bilateral dialogue on human rights that did not advance any of the key areas of concern one iota.

So, concerns over human rights have nothing to do with this attack on the Rudd government's links with China. Rudd has been labeled the 'Manchurian Candidate' and representing China's interests in the context of the G20. This is pretty low stuff; in fact, it is plumbing a barrel well scraped by Howard et al.

The psephology blog, Pollytics, had a piece on this yesterday.

Our engagement with China on the economic front provides opportunities to progress a human rights agenda. It is beholden on the Rudd Government to utilize its access to good affect and to not let China off the hook on human rights. However, the Opposition must be condemned for tapping into race politics in a tacky attempt to restore its political fortunes. Ugggh!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alert & Alarmed - Home of Nelson Mandela bans Dalai Lama

The Age reports South Africa has been accused of kow-towing to China after banning the Dalai Lama from a Nobel laureates peace conference in Johannesburg.

Again, another example of China bullying client states to accept its world view and conform to its distorted take on Tibet.

Addressing local media, Bishop Tutu said: "We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed."

Surprise, surprise, it appears all is not well in the bird's nest. An article in the Epoch Times reports: "Communism is breaking down from the inside. The CCP will send out soldiers to stabilize its frontiers, while its core crumbles. The world saw the Soviet Union and Eastern Block collapse overnight. For China, it’s not a matter of if, but when. The sands in the hour glass wait for no one."

Increasingly desperate actions within and without are indicators of a body politic with a terminal canker. History has shown that economic achievements tend to be Pyrrhic if not accompanied by civil rights and individual freedoms.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Human rights in Australia - An open letter to Senator Fielding on 'alcopops' and subversion of majority mandate

Dear Senator

Your wrong-headedness on this issue is staggering. On the basis of not getting your way on ‘cultural change’, you are prepared to block what appears to be a win/win for families battling the dangers of binge drinking. Tax on ‘alcopops’ is one important component of a suite of instruments to reduce alcohol abuse by young people. Increased tax on cigarettes has been an exemplary case in point. Improved government revenue resulting from this tax is beneficial at a time of reduced tax receipts, enabling government to pursue social wage improvements across the board.

The people of Victoria must be sorely tired of your grand-standing on such issues and will doubtless remove you from Parliament at the next opportunity. In the meantime, you may wish to consider your political legacy. You did the right thing in passing the stimulus package. I would like you to consider what a frivolous subversion of majority mandate on the basis of a pathetic ‘look at me’ stance can mean for our body politic at this time of economic insecurity. At the minute you look like standing up for big distillers under the smoke screen of confected outrage on specious grounds!

Watch this intellectual giant at work!

Human Rights in China: Tibet update and plea to join Desmond Tutu in taking action!

The past week has been extraordinary for Tibetans, and we should all be humbled and inspired by the courage and resilience of the movement inside Tibet. Despite the oppressive Chinese security presence across the Tibetan plateau, Tibetans have made their voices heard. From the quiet and determined non-celebration of this year’s Losar to those who braved arrest and detention with peaceful protests, it is evident that this movement is strong and will continue to move forward.

Throughout the free world, Tibetans and their supporters made sure that the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising and the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet were appropriately observed. In the United States, President Obama expressed his hope to the visiting Chinese foreign minister that there would be progress in the dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

On March 11, President Obama also signed an omnibus appropriations bill that included a dozen provisions on Tibet, most notably one funding a Tibet Section in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing until the Chinese government allows a U.S. Consulate in Lhasa to be established.

Secretary Clinton also pressed Foreign Minister Yang on Tibet and for improvements in the human rights situation, and the State Department issued an official statement on the 50th anniversary urging China “to reconsider its policies in Tibet that have created tensions due to their harmful impact on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods.”

The Tibet Lobby Days organized by ICT on March 9 and 10 were a great success. Nearly 100 Tibetan-Americans and Tibet supporters from 25 states fanned out over Capitol Hill, visiting 96 offices with a message of gratitude and an appeal for continued support.

ICT Board Chairman Richard Gere joined the lobbying effort and hosted a reception where Speaker Pelosi and Representatives Lowey and Ros-Lehtinen addressed hundreds of friends of Tibet, including those from the Obama Administration and Congress. Their comments were carried live on CNN.

The next day, in spite of stern warning issued by the Chinese government to “stop pushing the bill on Tibet,” the U.S. House of Representatives voted 422 to 1 in support of a resolution that calls on the Chinese government to respond to His Holiness’ initiatives to find a solution for Tibet and recognizes the Indian government and people for their generosity.

In this update you can sign a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu in support of the Dalai Lama, read the latest Human Rights Watch report and find out how to raise funds for ATC through the Trek for Tibet. Click here to view the web version of this email.

TAKE ACTION: Add your name to Desmond Tutu's letter
Nobel Peace Prize winners, human rights activists and celebrities are urging China to "stop naming, blaming and verbally abusing" the Dalai Lama. They have signed a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu expressing concern at the deterioration of the human rights situation in Tibet, and the apparent breakdown of talks between the Chinese government and emissaries of the Dalai Lama.

Read more and add your name to Archbishop Tutu's letter.

Human rights in Africa - Pope continues absurd opposition to better health outcomes

Courtesy of Larvatus Prodeo

An analytical piece on this ongoing scandal can be read in the Guardian

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Alert & Alarmed - "Insiders" perseveres with right- wing pamphleteers!

Yet again, I have had cause to share a thought with the Insiders program, which can be enlightening from time to time:

"Gerard (nobody knows how clever I am) Henderson topped himself this morning. This man has taken the art of the permanently credulous to new heights. His self-righteous defence of unfair dismissal laws had me reaching for the oxygen. Right, so, in a climate when job security is increasingly tenuous, a Labor govt with a rolled gold mandate to secure the entitlements of workers, should be signing up to a regime that further atomizes workers and weakens their rights. This guy is such an unreconstructed ideologue he comes across as a goose. His naked contempt for the articulate and balanced female journos on today's show was obvious. It beggars belief that Fairfax continue with him as a columnist. However, when you take a glance at some of the other stellar performers at the SMH, it is little wonder sales are down. I pity his employees if they get on the wrong side of him."

Between GH and those bastions of inclusiveness and social justice, Andrew Bolt & Piers Ackermann, the intellectual tone of this show plummets from time to time under the weight of their tortuous twaddle.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Human Rights in Australia - a lot yet to be done for refugees

The ACT Refugee Action Committee has recently updated what is happening to asylum seekers since September 2008. Although the situation of refugees has improved immeasurably under the Rudd Govt, major areas of concern remain!

What is Happening to Asylum Seekers arriving by boat since September 2008 ?

1. Eight Boats of asylum seekers were intercepted off the coast of north and West Australia since September 2008. The 2008 total of unauthorised arrivals was 164 which was slightly up on the 2007 figures.

2. There were also other attempts by Afghani and Burmese refugees to leave Indonesian detention centres and come to Australia. Four are reported to have drowned. Refugee activists are urging the Australian government to pressure Indonesia for better treatment of refugees. Recent reports illustrate Indonesia’s poor record of human rights in regard to refugees.

3. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees regional head Rick Towle said that it was important to keep a sense of perspective about the numbers of boat people arriving in Australia, compared with countries such as Italy, where thousands had landed over the same period. He said that it was no accident that most of the asylum-seekers were coming from Iraq, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan -- countries battered by years of bloody warfare and insecurity

4. Recently the Australian government has prosecuted some of the people smugglers who have received prison sentences.

5. The first group of 28 Afghan and Iranian asylum-seekers to be processed at Christmas Island under the Rudd Government's new migration policies were granted permanent protection visas and were settled in South Australia in January. They were granted the visas after showing they had a well-founded fear of persecution or death if forced to return home. Ten children are among the group of 26 males and two females, which arrived in three boats, including one intercepted on September 29, the first boatload of asylum-seekers detected in Australian waters since the Rudd Government was elected. Later in January 10 more were granted visas while over 100 asylum seekers remain on Christmas Island.

6. All have been given legal support to prepare their appeals and from all reports staff and management attitudes and services provided are an improvement on what happened in the past in Baxter and other detention centres.

7. The isolation of Christmas Island is still a great concern. It also costs $32m to run each year.

8. The International Detention Coalition (IDC) is urging the Government to consider supervised release and bail requirements as alternatives to immigration detention. The IDC has appeared before Federal Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Migration to discuss its proposals.

9. Concern is mounting for the welfare of 20 children in immigration detention at Christmas Island without their parents, with human rights groups warning Australia is breaching international obligations. "You have a situation where the minister is both the guardian and the jailer," Professor Mary Crock, a specialist in immigration law, said. Children are still being held in immigration detention facilities for unacceptable periods, Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes says. Although no longer kept behind razor wire in high-security detention centres, they are still detained in low-security facilities where their movement is restricted and monitored.

10. The Australian Human Rights Commission says asylum seekers are still being treated like political footballs and enduring "miserable" conditions at some immigration detention centres. The commission's latest report on immigration detention again calls for the new Christmas Island centre to close and parts of the Villawood centre in Sydney to be demolished.

11. The ageing and cramped Villawood detention centre will be knocked down, with a new facility to be built on Commonwealth land either close to the existing site or the airport.

12. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has signed a 5 year health services contract with International Health and Medical Services (IHMS). This will ensure all persons detained in Australian immigration detention centres will receive physical, mental, and dental health services. The contract's specifications mean that those detained in Australian immigration detention centres will receive care comparable to that of the Australian community and will be to international standards.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tibet is a living hell - 50 years of suffering and endurance

Armed riot police confront Drepung monks on March 10, 2008, after monks began an orderly march to Lhasa to protest about restrictions on religious freedom. The protest began a wave of dissent that swept the plateau. The whereabouts of many monks from Drepung is not known.

Today, Tibetans around the world—in Tibet and in exile—mark 50 years of suffering and extraordinary endurance.

Today, we remember the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Lhasa Uprising when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and the spontaneous demonstrations that began last March across the Tibetan plateau.

Reports of peaceful protests and harsh response from Chinese authorities continue to reach us. Last Thursday, two young Tibetan women were detained in Kardze, following a protest. The two women, a nun and layperson, handed out leaflets and called for the return of the Dalai Lama, respect for Tibetans’ human rights, and religious freedom. The women were detained and their whereabouts remain unknown.

For the latest news and updates about the developing situation inside Tibet, please visit ICT’s website.

Imagine living in constant fear of the authorities finding out about your religious and political views—and possibly being detained and tortured because of them.

Now multiply that by the cold, harsh facts over the past 50 years:

Tens of thousands killed

Hundreds of thousands imprisoned

Over 6,000 monasteries, nunneries and temples, pillaged and destroyed
Last year alone, thousands more Tibetans disappeared or were imprisoned, and more destruction was directed against monasteries and precious religious objects.

The free Tibet movement needs your support now to help the people of Tibet, and to help protect their unique heritage and culture. Contact the Australia Tibet Council for more information.