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.