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.

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