Thursday, November 03, 2011

Sheridan in trouble over use of the term 'illegals' - what are the odds this pamphleteer would be whipping up fear & loathing?

Crikey reports today that "Sheridan flouts Press Council directive on ‘illegal’ asylum seekers". I put my two bob's worth into the fray, repeating sentiments oft articulated on this site:

"Sheridan is amongst a group of commentators on international affairs who dress narrow polemics up as reasoned analysis. This guy is a propagandist from way back.

The asylum seeker issue is fuelled by hysteria and incendiary demonising by his ilk and finds a largely credulous audience with their ready prejudices (like this twit above), ready to disbelieve the legitimate claims of asylum seekers who didn’t stand in a non-existent queue of orderly people waiting for whichever repressive regime they are escaping to allow them to migrate, or a third world stopover suffused with social and economic disadvantage. The silliness of this position overwhelms me at times.

The history of propaganda reveals you can package lies very successfully if they play to irrational fears and prejudices – it is especially difficult to counter when cloaked in the garb of ‘border security’. So the term ‘illegals’ is tailor made for the job!

The Coalition’s constant vilification of Labor for being weak on border protection has now morphed into a hypocritical concern for the rights of refugees. These of course - yes, you guessed it - will be protected on Nauru.

But how can anyone forget the Libs’ response to Tampa and kids overboard? 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! Sadly, the Labor government fell in behind this construct too easily! It now has an opportunity to put things right.

Is it possible that our general decency might be something Australians can be proud of again? A sensible, humane and orderly approach to offshore processing, which involves regional partners to their benefit, could be a crucial element to stymie the smuggling trade, whilst enabling on-shore processing within the community after mandatory health checks are completed in short-term detention.

Arrangements with key community groups to manage welfare, work-for-allowance strategies and language training could be developed to integrate asylum seekers in the larger society soon after their arrival. Regional areas with labour shortfalls could be targeted for short-term settlement in this respect.

The UNHCR & IOM could be brought in as partners in the process to lend their mandated legitimacy to the exercise. Isn’t it time to stop playing the narcissistic school-yard drop-kick with the bullying posture and derogatory language and start behaving like responsible grown-ups?"

What are the odds?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Media nasties getting warmed up on carbon tax and asylum seekers

Occasionally I wander off the reservation into hostile territory to see how the restless are behaving. Today’s sojourn was Ackerman’s blog on the Daily Telegraph, with the catchy title, “Carbon tax is like a stink bomb in a very small car”, a nasty little polemic which can be read at:

http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/piersakerman/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/carbon_tax_is_like_a_stink_bomb_in_a_very_small_car/

The comments section were like a tea party picnic convention, with the only thing missing being confederate flags, pit bulls and attack rifles. I left the following comment & withdrew to higher ground:

“Wow, what a grizzle fest.! This should be called Ackerman and his acolytes. Hey, you all trying to out do each other in the ‘who can be the most gratuitously vacuous and obnoxious’ stakes, you are no doubt frothing with excitement at the prospect of a political shock-jock like Abbott break dancing his way into office. Be careful what you wish for.

We get a daily diet of reactionary, simple minded drivel on issues such as immigration & asylum seekers and important areas of public policy are ‘spun’ through the lens of media pamphleteers like this author, who knows how to pitch to a well-worn prejudice and who survives on a dumbed-down strategy of sound-bites, ‘gotcha’ moments and limpid sensationalism. This is political analysis reduced to talk-show patter and infotainment for a presumed audience with a knowledge base and the concentration span of a distracted gnat. Oh, that’s right, I forgot, its a conspiracy of latte-sipping left wingers in inner city suburbs – spare me!! If you believe that drivel you and this author are made for each other.

Under the ‘great con’ Abbott has replaced the biking lycra with reflective lime industrial tops & roams bloke dominated small businesses and mining enterprises, filleting fish, carrying cartons of stuff, digging up stuff, butchering meat, rolling in oats and wheat, etc etc etc, pretending to care about working people and announcing the end of civilization as we know it. A true ‘man of the people’ with an eye to the big end of town (nudge, wink) …Howard battlers should be checking their back pockets because they’re being shafted again.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - can Australia 'grow up' and confront its past failings in this area of human rights?

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 Abbott and his conga line of wing nut mates, and the 'xenophobe' crowd have responded with alacrity. Within their simple-minded construct it's all the Gillard government's fault! Labor instigated a more humane approach to refugees, although it would have been improved by taking the Christmas Island stopover out of the equation and emphasising community processing. Rudd abolished the egregious TPV regime, which was a violation of refugee rights and a nasty scar on our human rights landscape. Having explored regional offshore processing options to negate the people smuggling trade, Gillard is now flagging a shift toward a more reasoned approach, having failed to get bi-partisanship on offshore processing!

The Coalition's constant vilification of Labor for being weak on border protection has now morphed into a hypocritical concern for the rights of refugees. These of course - yes, you guessed it - will be protected on Nauru.

But how can anyone forget the Libs' response to Tampa and kids overboard? 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! Sadly, the Labor government fell in behind this construct too easily!

The cruel stupidity of processing asylum seekers in excised areas (unable to access the same legal rights as those who reach our migration zone by air) or in countries unwilling to treat people humanely, must end. Either by default or Machiavellian manoeuvring, Labor can now align our Migration Act with international law and refugee conventions and kick the Howard construct to the 'shit house' of history.

Asylum seekers in Australia - New approaches to onshore processing



Cabinet ministers have begun discussing whether to send asylum seekers to regional areas in need of workers.

Anyone who reads this blog (at least 5 people) will know I put a number of points to the PM recently on ways and means of managing onshore processing. Trawling through Poll Bludger this morning I stumbled across a comment that quotes Misha Schubert's piece in The Age, entitled 'Off the boat, into the bush'.

It seems these ideas are percolating around policy makers in the immigration area!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - PM moves to treat asylum seekers more humanely


Writing in The Age, Michael Gordon, reports on the sharp shift in the Gillard Government's approach to asylum seekers:

"PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has conceded defeat on her asylum seeker policy, forcing her to signal a shift to more community-based processing of people who arrive in Australia by boat.

In a humiliating admission of failure, Ms Gillard finally conceded last night her asylum seeker legislation had collapsed - but insisted she remained committed to the Malaysia people-swap plan that the bill aimed to legalise.

In the meantime, the government says it will process more asylum seekers arriving by boat in the community to stop an expected increase in numbers overloading the immigration detention system."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - Open letter to the Prime Minister

Prime Minister, I'm one of those rusted on Labor supporters who let my membership lapse prior to the last election because of disillusionment with the drift away from core Labor values in the 'business' of politics.

Under the Howard government mandatory detention of asylum seekers evolved into a tragic farce. Australians were alarmingly sanguine about the travesty. Its worst manifestation was the Pacific Solution, which I became embroiled in as AusAID Director of the Nauru aid program. Of particular concern to me were the tawdry misuses of official aid under the Pacific Solution and the downstream implications of the strategy, which was made up on the run by bureaucrats doing their level best to engineer good outcomes from bad political motives. The perfunctory official approaches adopted toward self-harming detainees were another disturbing aspect.

As the Party responsible for the legislative framework (in particular 'mandatory detention') within which Howard evolved his refugee 'house of horrors', it is appropriate that a Labor Govt put Australia's human rights compliance at the top of the international agenda and put our domestic laws ‘house’ back in order."

Tragically, the failure to shine a light on the true mentality behind the prosecution of these earlier policies saw the ghost of the Pacific Solution and the shop of horrors that was the Howard Govt's refugee program continue to linger in the corridors of power.

As an erstwhile member of the Howard Government's task force on 'illegal' migration I am completely cognisant of the issues surrounding the Bali framework process. I am supportive of a regional approach that stops boats but does'nt breach the UN convention on treatment of refugees. Your current brinkmanship is no doubt good politics, but it fails to satisfy the requirements of a progressive charter in this area.

The mandatory detention regime opened a Pandora's box of opportunities for low rent political agendas, which politicians like Howard and Abbott have exploited ruthlessly. Labor is continually playing catch up, rather than biting the bullet by re-examining the rationale for long-term mandatory detention and changing the tenor of the whole debate.

The unedifying sight of Labor politicians jumping on the xenophobia bandwagon was one of the key reasons I left the party, as I saw defenceless people used as betting chips in a nasty bidding war.

Labor could re-capture the high ground by reviewing mandatory detention and off-shore processing policy and wring the necessary changes? A public information program to explain the reasoning behind the changes, including Australia's obligations under international refugee and human rights instruments, could usher a new awareness of our collective standing and responsibility as a defender of human rights.

This would be attractive to the progressive side of the Labor support base and small 'L' Liberals. Maybe its time to make our general decency something Australians can be proud of again! A sensible, humane and orderly approach to offshore processing, which involves regional partners to their benefit, could be a crucial element to stymie the smuggling trade, whilst enabling on-shore processing within the community after mandatory health checks are completed in short-term detention.

Arrangements with key community groups to manage welfare, work-for-allowance strategies and language training could be developed to integrate asylum seekers in the larger society soon after their arrival. Regional areas with labour shortfalls could be targeted for short-term settlement in this respect.

The UNHCR, IOM could be brought in as partners in the process to lend their mandated legitimacy to the exercise. Isn't it time to stop playing to the reactionary's game book? I for one would rejoin the ALP if this approach was followed.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - mandatory detention & offshore processing are failed policies!

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

After Rudd's election Australia continued to disregard human rights in the treatment of asylum seekers. The government detained new arrivals on Christmas Island, which was commissioned by the Howard Govt when it became abundantly clear Nauru was a failed option.

Throughout the decade since 2001 the usual suspects have branded irregular boat arrivals as 'queue jumpers' to justify their treatment as criminals or 'illegals'. With the latest High Court decision it has become painfully clear that the government must be required to treat new arrivals humanely and to counter attempts by politicians, media and other commentators to demonize them for political and other purposes.

When Rudd came to power I wrote to the then Immigration Minister, Sen Evans, as follows:

"Under the previous government mandatory detention of asylum seekers evolved into a tragic farce played out under the gaze of key UN watchdog bodies. In Australia, apart from refugee advocate groups, the general population was alarmingly sanguine about the travesty. Its worst manifestation was the Pacific Solution, which I became embroiled in as AusAID Director of the Nauru aid program. Thankfully, one of the earliest actions of the Rudd Govt was to abolish the Pacific Solution. However, I think the Govt has to go further...

The Howard Govt thumbed its nose at the 'UN Committee against Torture' in 2005, standing by its asylum seeker policies as ‘just & fair’. In fact Howard et al thumbed their noses at international human rights instruments throughout their tenure and actively sought to undermine the credibility of the UN committee process.

Thankfully this dark chapter is over. To signal that the change wrought by the Rudd Govt represents more than window dressing, and to keep faith with UN and other international processes, I suggest a thorough judicial review is needed of the asylum seeker policies and programs of the previous Govt. The review Terms of Reference should include, but not be limited to, an investigation of:

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

2. Wrongful detention of refugees and permanent residents of Australia (taking account of the previous reviews and the report of the Commonwealth Ombudsman)

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

4. Wrongful repatriation of asylum seekers (a particular concern of the UN Committee against Torture)

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

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

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

Of particular concern to me were the tawdry misuses of official aid under the Pacific Solution and the downstream implications of the strategy, which was made up on the run by bureaucrats doing their level best to engineer good outcomes from bad political motives. The perfunctory official approaches adopted toward self-harming detainees were another disturbing aspect.

As the Party that put in place the legislative framework (in particular 'mandatory detention') within which Howard evolved his refugee 'house of horrors', it is appropriate that a Labor Govt put Australia's human rights compliance at the top of the international agenda and put our domestic laws ‘house’ back in order."

Tragically, the failure to shine a light on the true mentality behind the prosecution of these policies saw the ghost of the Pacific Solution and the shop of horrors that was the Howard Govt's refugee program continue to linger in the corridors of power.

Will Labor now bite the bullet and review its mandatory detention policy and wring the necessary changes? A public information program to explain the reasoning behind the changes, including Australia's obligations under international refugee and human rights instruments, could usher a new awareness of our collective standing and responsibility as a defender of human rights.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Abbott watch - what motivates the hate rallies?

Crikey has a piece today by Bernard Keane, pondering the question, "What motivates the Parl house rallies?"

I've proffered my two bob's worth:

"Abbott and his conga line of media cronies are continuing the thinly camouflaged campaign to win government by trashing the Government’s record and its attempt to put a price on carbon. The science on climate change is routinely questioned and vilified by skilled dog whistlers and commentators compromised by their links to vested interests opposed to carbon pricing. A largely ill-informed electorate swallow the sound bites and media grabs of this shoddy bunch and are conned into believing their life-styles are under threat.

Abbott pretends to care about the little people while doing the bidding of the mining and power companies. He is a fear monger-er of the worst sort. We have seen his type of politician down through the ages. They set up straw men to knock down and claim the credit for ‘saving’ the people from some imaginary onslaught. He pitches a different message to different audiences, depending on their relative levels of literacy - in the case of the recent rally outside Parliament three word slogans were more than enough. Demagogues always operate like this - it is in their DNA to tailor the message to suit the crowd and they are gifted at pressing the right fear buttons with confected outrage and anger.

Another plank of the strategy is to demonize the Labor leadership, much in the way the Tea Party is demonizing Obama’s leadership in America. They paint a picture of disunity, betrayal of the body politic, a ‘stab in the back’ for decent citizens by a government beholden to ‘special interests’ and unspecified ‘elites’. More coded dog whistling to convince the electorate that their government is weak and incapable of protecting the country from outside threats and the export of jobs. Our PM is branded a liar, wooden, childless and weak. A nasty legend has been woven by misogynistic spin meisters who want their boy in power, and they will do anything (within the law presumably) to achieve it.

The Coalition has gained rich pickings from fear-mongering, as evidenced by the Queensland vote at the last general election. The ‘tea party’ rump of the One Nation party has drifted back to the LNP, in thrall to simple minded messages on debt & deficit, the carbon & mining taxes and good ole migrant & refugee bashing.

In much of the media and shock-jock land narrow sectional interests get a helpful leg up in most areas of debate on public policy. We get a diet of reactionary, simple minded drivel on issues such as immigration & asylum seekers and important areas of public policy are ‘spun’ through the lens of media celebrities who survive on a dumbed-down strategy of sound-bites, ‘gotcha’ moments and limpid sensationalism. Political analysis has been reduced to talk-show patter and infotainment for a presumed audience with the concentration span of a distracted gnat.

Misinformation and outright disinformation have become the currency of many mainstream commentators. The template for this was set up with the formation of a minority government. Many in the print, radio and television media did not like this result. They did not anticipate it, they have no control over it, and they want it gone. A political shock-jock like Abbott thrives in this landscape.

He has replaced the biking lycra with reflective lime industrial tops & roams bloke dominated small businesses and mining enterprises, filleting fish, carrying cartons of stuff, digging up stuff, butchering meat, rolling in oats and wheat, etc etc etc, pretending to care about working people and announcing the end of civilization as we know it. A true ‘man of the people’ with an eye to the big end of town (nudge, wink) …Howard battlers should be checking their back pockets because they’re being conned again."

I've said it all before but nothing has changed so I'll say it again....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Our ABC - apparently obtuse, rude interviews are someone's notion of playing 'devil's advocate'

I recently made the following complaint to ABC concerning a RN interview between Sabra Lane and Treasurer Swan:

"As with an earlier interview on RN Lane has conducted a rude, simple-minded interview completely lacking in balance and cogent reasoning. It came across as a Coalition inspired attack on the most important structural change to our economy in well over a decade.

An excellent deconstruction of Lane's earlier interview with Swan can be found at http://www.thepoliticalsword.com/

Every step of the way ABC reporters are out digging for negative reactions to the package, whipping up more fear in place of reasoned analysis of the package as a whole. Why isn't the focus on the reactions of people who actually know a thing or two about the implications of the package. I did'nt hear any question from Lane on today's survey of the reaction of economists to climate change policies.

This type of journalism is execrable and doing our country a great disservice. Many people are sick of the editorialising virus that is sweeping the ABC, seeking to shift opinion on the major issues of the day. In your quest for so-called 'balance' some dreadful 'pamphleteers' get a regular airing, such as those from thoroughly compromised think tanks such as the IPA.

No wonder the PM's polling is going south on matters of national importance such as carbon pricing. Our ABC is out there doing the reactionary's job for them. Journalists like Lane need to go back to journalism school. Poor fella my country..."

I received the following reply from Kieran Doyle of ABC's Audience and Consumer Affairs Dept:

"Thank you for your email regarding the interview with the federal Treasurer on The World Today.

Your concerns have been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC. We have reviewed the broadcast, assessed it against the ABC’s editorial standards and sought and considered material provided by ABC News.

The adversarial or ‘devil’s advocate’ style of interviewing, employed at times by Sabra Lane, can generate a strong and mixed reaction from the public. Part of the technique of the ‘devil’s advocate’ approach is to take major points of criticism from various sources, including opposing politicians, and put them to the interviewee. This can sometimes give the audience the impression that these are the personal views of the interviewer. This is not the case.

When she is doing a one-on-one interview she has a duty to conduct a testing interview that does not allow the interviewee to use the occasion as a political platform. It is her duty to put other points of view to the interviewee and her responsibility to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the questions are answered.

Having reviewed the interview with the Treasurer against the impartiality provisions of the ABC Editorial Policies, Audience and Consumer Affairs is satisfied that the interview is in keeping with those standards. The questions posed to Mr Swan were relevant and based strictly on their news value. He was afforded ample opportunity to clearly state his views in response. We are satisfied that the interview was suitably respectful and courteous. Audience and Consumer Affairs has concluded that the interview is in keeping with sections 4.1, 4.2, 4.4 and 4.5 of the ABC Editorial Policies.

Sabra Lane conducted an equally rigorous interview with the Leader of the Opposition on AM that same week. ABC Radio current affairs programs AM, The World Today and PM have provided a vast and diverse range of principal relevant perspectives on the government’s carbon package and related issues, and no one perspective has been unduly favoured over another."

I replied:

"Oh sure, the trouble is the questions are obtuse, poorly researched and delivered with all the charm of a rampaging buffalo..."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Seeking asylum in Australia - Public policy struggles to match public opinion

The looming spectre of the Manus Island detention facility re-opening signals a monumental failure of public policy. I was prepared to give the Gillard Govt the benefit of the doubt on the Malaysia swap arrangement but re-visiting the Pacific Solution is a disaster.

Yesterday's poll in the Age suggests public opinion remains wedded to mandatory detention but a clear majority want asylum seekers processed in Australia. Poll Bludger has a good post on the poll this morning as follows:

"Nielsen struck a blow for transparency yesterday by releasing comprehensive data for their polling on asylum seekers, featuring detail on the questions and how they were asked, breakdowns by state, location, gender, age and voting intention, and no fewer than eight tables cross-tabulating various results for the eight questions asked. They even went so far as to include the raw numbers they reached after weighting the responses for age, gender and location, not that this particularly tells us much.

The poll also deserves credit for posing thoughtfully crafted questions on a complex and contentious subject. No doubt taking inspiration from Murray Goot and Ian Watson’s recent paper on public opinion and asylum seekers, which noted that results had been heavily influenced by “the way questions are framed, the kinds of questions that precede these questions (and) the range of possible responses the questions allow”, the Nielsen report offered the following:

It is important to note that the results of opinion polls on this issue are more sensitive to the wording of the questions asked than for many other topics. This is because the issues are often emotional for some and complicated for all. Respondent knowledge on this subject is never complete. The task of adequately condensing complex options into fair but meaningful questions is also a difficult one.

The questions in this poll were stripped of their political context as much as possible. For example the ‘sent to another country to be assessed’ option was not offered in the context of deterrence, nor was any human or financial cost alluded to. It was not offered as Labor or Coalition policy (e.g. by calling it the ‘Malaysian solution’ or the ‘Pacific solution’).

The Fairfax papers asserted that the poll showed voters “at odds with both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott and the perception that attitudes have hardened against asylum seekers”, and certainly the figures point to a more liberal attitude than the tenor of political debate would suggest. However, The Age gilded the lily a little with a graphic showing 60 per cent believed those assessed as genuine refugees should be allowed to stay in Australia permanently. It takes a bit of digging to appreciate that this excludes the 15 per cent who didn’t believe the asylum seekers should be assessed at all, having preferred that they be “sent out to sea”. The number supporting settlement in Australia was nonetheless a very solid 49 per cent, although there remained a combined 44 per cent in favour of the less liberal options of temporary protection visas (29 per cent support) and sending boats back out to sea (15 per cent). The same issue occurs with The Age’s figures for whether boat arrivals should be held in detention (64 per cent) or allowed into the community (32 per cent): putting the aforementioned 15 per cent back in (together with the 4 per cent “other/don’t know“), the results come down to 52 per cent and 26 per cent.

Regarding the treatment of asylum seekers on arrival, the results can be broken down thus:

22% – Allowed to live in the Australian community
12% – Detained in Australia, excluding children
17% – Detained in Australia, including children
4% – Sent to another country, allowed to live in community there
23% – Sent to another country and detained there
4% – Assessed for refugee status, no opinion on detention
15% – No assessment for refugee status: sent back out to sea
4% – Other/don’t know

And on their treatment after being assessed for refugee status:

49% – Settled in Australia
29% – Granted temporary protection visas
2% – Returned to country of origin
15% – No assessment for refugee status: sent back out to sea
5% – Other/don’t know

To those who are ready to junk the orthodox view on this subject, I would offer a few notes of caution. Certainly there was no majority in favour of assessing refugee status in Australia at the time of the Tampa episode, when Nielsen and Morgan polls had between 68 per cent and 77 per cent in favour of turning boats away. It is hardly plausible that so many of these respondents have had changes of heart that only 15 per cent now remain. What it likely shows is how the finer point of public opinion on this issue are shaped by the terms of the debate at the time. The symbolism in August/September 2001 involved boats being either allowed to land or held at bay by the military – only as the Howard government scrambled to effect its “Pacific solution” was the public alerted to the fact that the latter course only constituted half a policy. This may have led to a change in questions posed and answers given in opinion polls, but it doesn’t follow that there was a shift in underlying attitudes.

This leads to a point that occurs to me about the wording of Nielsen’s “sent to another country to be assessed” option: for many respondents, Nauru might not register as “another country” in the sense that Malaysia does, as it is perceived either as a dependency of Australia or too insigificant to qualify as a “country”. This option may accordingly have been interpreted by some as an invitation to sign on for the Malaysia solution. If Nielsen had at least added enough political context to allow for the restoration of the Pacific solution as a response option, the poll may have told a somewhat different story."

In June I wrote:

"Labor is scurrying to find a regional approach that stops boats but does'nt breach the UN convention on treatment of refugees. It will not adopt the full Pacific Solution, but in the eyes of human rights advocates it is failing to meet its progressive charter in this area. The mandatory detention regime opened a Pandora's box of opportunities for low rent political agendas, which politicians like Howard and Abbott have exploited ruthlessly. Labor is continually playing catch up, rather than biting the bullet by re-examining the rationale for long-term mandatory detention and changing the tenor of the whole debate. Leadership requires courage to take the steps to change opinion through education and cogent debate...The unedifying sight of Labor politicians jumping on the xenophobia bandwagon has human rights advocates aghast as they see defenceless people used as betting chips in a nasty bidding war. Unmitigated acts of bastardry continue unabated, leaving desperate people with little choice but to self-harm or cry out through extreme acts."

Earlier I wrote:

"I was involved in the aid component of the Pacific Solution and it was the most corrosive experience of my career. I recently commented on an article by Robert Manne, who has advocated Manus Island be revisited as an offshore detention facility, as follows:

" I was involved in the first wave of the Pacific Solution, which offered aid 'incentives' to GoPNG to re-activate the military base at Manus as a detention centre.

I visited said centre and was tasked to explore Manus Island for community based activities in health & education that AusAID could support as a way of oiling the wheels of the Provincial Govt. Aid to these areas had not been considered until the centre opened. The whole approach was under the table and pretty tacky. I was far from comfortable with the strategy.

There were other sleights of hand in terms of expenditures kept off the books of costs that were facility-related. The aging facility is by the water, with a respectable mess for support staff and visitors, with conditions for the asylum seekers marginal at best in an extremely hot & humid place.

Manus is a relatively poor province of PNG, with high levels of youth unemployment. Doubtless the centre will be refurbished and substantial resources will be applied to its operation. This in itself can cause problems with surrounding peoples who are somewhat disadvantaged."

The Manus component of the Pacific Solution was marginally better than Nauru because the PNG Government is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, but the same issues that saw East Timor reject the concept of housing a regional detention facility also apply to Manus. The detainees will be housed in tiny 'dongas' and fed in open mess facilities. The place is hot, humid and malaria prone. It is a debilitating situation behind wire - why do we insist on treating people with claims to refugee status like prisoners of war?"

The more things change the more they stay the same. The lack of bi-partisanship on asylum seeker policy will ensure a bleak landscape for those of us concerned over Australia's failure to meet her human rights obligations.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

The cult of 'balance' discernible in US media also infecting our politics

I was struck by an article by Paul Krugman writing in the NY Times. He writes:

"The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation."

It does not stretch credulity too far by suggesting the same is happening here over the carbon tax imbroglio. The difference is that Abbott has not been able to take Australia hostage yet, but it is not through a want of trying. Krugman goes on,

"Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault."

Now that resonates with our experience. Our media has caught the same virus that sees extremist wing-nuts being trotted out on mainstream media platforms to sprout their propaganda, all in the name of 'balance'. On the ABC we get reactionary commentators and think tank apparatchiks spruiking extremism on a daily basis, lambasting the PM and vilifying the science on carbon warming. Cogent debate is sidelined by gross misrepresentation of facts, and shock jocks are given more credence than serious investigative journalists. Krugman again, with inserts by moi:

The problem with American/Australian politics right now is Republican/Coalition extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Our ABC - 7.30 plumbs new depths with Nixon interview

I had the misfortune to catch the Sales interview with Nixon tonight. What an awful interrogation. Thought I'd drop them a line, as follows:

"I have been underwhelmed by the quality of interviews on the re-vamped 7.30 but was prepared to give it another go as it can take time for front people to find their footing. I don't think there is much chance for Uhlmann as he just projects his own narrow take on most items. However, I had thought Sales had more substance.

After tonight's interview with Christine Nixon I have concluded it is a lost cause. We were treated to an aggressive, simple-minded interrogation that would have done Fox News proud. I am thoroughly sick of the ABC presenting as a 'soft' arm of News Ltd.

Nixon rattled corrupt male cages within Vicpol and was targeted as a result. It is a great shame that honest cops are subject to this type of demonization but welcome to modern leadership - Australia style! If you happen to be a woman the white-anting will be relentless and largely unquestioned by our fearless media."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Any lessons for Australia from Norway atrocity?


We have learned over the last couple of days that the Oslo mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, was a reactionary Islamophobe with a messianic bent. Progressive politics was conceived by him as the arch enemy of his crusade to reprise a 'christian', white Norway under a Templar banner. Overtones of Third Reich mythologizing and racial theory are discernible in his largely plagiarized manifesto. He appears to be a self-obsessed sociopath with little or no empathy with his fellow citizens. No doubt the full extent of his pathology will emerge over the next days, weeks and months, and to what extent he had links with internal and external players. It is of passing note that he appears to have been drawn to the ideas of John Howard, Cardinal Pell and Keith Windschuttle. I'm sure all of these men would be horrified by this connection but why are they in the picture at all?

A shameful xenophobia has been whipped up in this country by politicians and their apologists, particularly targeting Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers, whenever they need to shore up electoral support. They pander to a dark underbelly, where sub-cultures lurk that frequently find voice through an 'easy racism'. One Nation tapped into this phenomenon and a key legacy of the Howard years sees Coalition politicians exploiting this tendency ruthlessly. Misrepresentation of facts and ethnic stereotyping are the calling cards (or ‘dog whistles’) of ‘culture warriors’ within politics and the media, pandering to the ignorant and misinformed.

The Coalition has gained rich pickings from fear-mongering, as evidenced by the Queensland vote at the last general election. The 'tea party' rump of the One Nation party has drifted back to the LNP, in thrall to simple minded messages on debt & deficit, the carbon & mining taxes and good ole migrant & refugee bashing. The relentless banging of the fear drum on immigration and asylum seekers has enabled large swathes of the reactionary commentariat to shape public opinion in an unhealthy way. Commercial TV has been a disgrace for a long time in reporting immigration & asylum seekers issues.

The trend in recent times has been for serious current affairs programs to use Fox News style approaches to covering political issues. We get the constant crosses to so-called 'expert' commentators, many of whom are so politically biased as to verge on the farcical. There is also the tendency to use the lumpen media stalwarts as guest commentators. ABC News 24 constantly relies on so-called 'expert' commentary to 'fill' the analysis pieces - whose regular currency in trade is indictment of progressive policies and glad handling of reactionary approaches.

The skewed opinion settings of the mainstream media have galled me for a long time. Narrow sectional interests get a helpful leg up in most areas of debate on public policy. We also get a diet of reactionary, simple minded drivel on issues such as immigration & asylum seekers; a plethora of important areas of public policy are 'spun' through the lens of media celebrities who survive on a dumbed-down strategy of sound-bites, 'gotcha' moments and limpid sensationalism. Political analysis has been reduced to talk-show patter and infotainment for a presumed audience with the concentration span of a distracted gnat.

As a result of our simple-minded and largely mean-spirited approach to asylum seekers:

. We still see children behind bars because their parents or guardians had the courage & temerity to arrive on our shores unannounced

. Many accepted refugees struggle to find public housing and to get a toe hold on the economic ladder

. Asylum seekers in the twilight limbo of our detention centres are self-harming again out of desperation with a system that grinds painfully slowly and which treats them like criminals

. Trash language such as 'illegals', 'boat people', 'queue jumpers' and the rest of the nasty lexicon continues to pepper our air waves and be bandied about by politicians, shock jocks and right wing pamphleteers so as to press the buttons of the permanently credulous and the pygmy intellects of the lumpen mob

. A promise to reprise the Pacific Solution and to punish refugees with reinstatement of the draconian TPV regime remains a centerpiece of the Coalition's policy platform - twin violations of international human rights and refugee instruments

. The Government has been forced into harsh arrangements with neighbouring countries to counter the political wedge shaped around fear of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

. Migrants of Islamic faith continue to feel marginalized and demonized by the 'hate' media and fear-mongering demagogues whose dog-whistling clearly influenced a disturbed mind in Norway.

On another front we find the 32-year-old Norwegian Christian fundamentalist also accepted the conspiratorial thinking of some climate sceptics. Crikey has the story.



Thanks to Larvatus Prodeo

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bombs in Oslo - appalling coverage on our ABC

I sent the following feedback to ABC24 this morning:

"What a woeful coverage. Constant speculation whether it was a mad man, a terrorist or an alien. Constant simple-minded analysis as to Norway's international engagement, which is substantial and complex. Constant nonsense over whether Norway is prone to extremist politics which, like every country in the region, it clearly is through just a cursory analysis of the last few decades. There is a growing extreme right wing fundamentalism that has international links and there are home grown jihadi groups with possible aspirations to take domestic action in protest over Norway's involvement in Afghanistan.

Perhaps if you spent less time worrying about the nonsense on social media sites and more time employing people with some knowledge of international affairs you might do better. Our ABC has caught the dumbing down bug which inhabits commercial media. At least some of your interlocutors have tried to make some sense of the situation, warning against jumping to conclusions.

The immediate protocol for an event like this is locking down the crime scene, forensic analysis of the explosion area and an ever widening net of investigation based on evidence. This can take quite a while. Idle speculation on behalf of dim-witted journalists trying to get ahead of the facts is extremely counter-productive."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Abbott's 3m vision - misogyny, mediocrity and mendacity

The current Abbott stratagem is working a treat. He is tapping into tendencies in the Oz body politic that have endured over many generations. There are many that distrust and dislike well educated forceful women. I continually hear opprobrium bandied about on Gillard's marital status, her childlessness, her atheism, her industrial advocacy background (she must be a socialist). A nasty legend has been woven by misogynistic spin meisters who want their boy in power, and they will do anything (within the law presumably) to achieve it.

And then there's mediocrity. What has passed for journalism over the last months has been truly sad. Misinformation and outright disinformation have been the currency of many mainstream commentators. The template for this was set up with the formation of a minority government. Many in the print, radio and television media did not like this result. They did not anticipate it, they have no control over it, and they want it gone. As Keating said the other day in describing Abbott's response, 'if you are not going to give me the job I'll wreck the place'. Well yes, and he has friends to help him.

However, to get away with such a strategy you have to presume a highly credulous audience. Why do people fall for demagoguery in the first place? It taps into predilections & prejudices and panders to fear and ignorance. The anti-carbon tax campaign does all these things. Informed analysis is ignored by many in favour of dissemblers and hate-mongers. This is how the tea party operates in the US. As the esteemed intellectual Harold Bloom summed it up in a RN interview recently, the tea party signifies the growth of oligarchy in America and a creeping fascism.

Oh, and of course the whole stratagem is underpinned by mendacity. To make this work you have to paint your opponent as the 'liar'. I haven't heard an ounce of truth from any of Abbott's apologists, and certainly not from the man himself. He lies for a living and as good as admitted it in a notorious 7.30 report interview. Yet, he has the gall to fashion a political scare campaign around the central motif of the PM having lied about a carbon tax. Why does this work? The answer comes back to misogyny and mediocrity. We are mired in a reactionary mindset that enables this type of low-rent politics to succeed. Howard did it and now Abbott is doing it, and we are having it done to us.

The only way to counter this approach is to keep stating the simple truth. Opinion is malleable but the facts don't lie. The nay-sayers on climate change action can find comfort in Abbott's magic pudding, but it is illusory and will end in tears for generations to come. Putting a price on carbon is essential to achieving structural change in our economy; structural change is necessary to achieve the investment in clean energy solutions; clean energy solutions are essential for a sustainable future. It ain't rocket science, but a difficult pill to swallow in challenging economic times. Is this country to become a model for positive change or a sniveling, whingeing echo of the tea party phenomenon? Australians must be very careful what they wish for.....and keep the faith folks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The editorializing virus sweeping the ABC strikes the World Today

The Political Sword deconstructed an interview by Sabra Lane on RN the other day.

Lane was at again today on the World Today with a typically one-sided interview with Swan.

I sent the following feedback to the World Today website:

"As with an earlier interview on RN Lane has conducted a rude, simple-minded interview completely lacking in balance and cogent reasoning. It came across as a Coalition inspired attack on the most important structural change to our economy in well over a decade.

An excellent deconstruction of Lane's earlier interview with Swan can be found at
http://www.thepoliticalsword.com/

Every step of the way ABC reporters are out digging for negative reactions to the package, whipping up more fear in place of reasoned analysis of the package as a whole.

Why isn't the focus on the reactions of people who actually know a thing or two about the implications of the package. I did'nt hear any question from Lane on today's survey of the reaction of economists to climate change policies. This type of journalism is execrable and doing our country a great disservice.

Many people are sick of the editorializing virus that is sweeping the ABC, seeking to shift opinion on the major issues of the day. In your quest for so-called 'balance' some dreadful 'pamphleteers' get a regular airing, such as those from thoroughly compromised think tanks such as the IPA.

No wonder the PM's polling is going south on matters of national importance such as carbon pricing. Our ABC is out there doing the reactionary's job for them. Journalists like Lane need to go back to journalism school. Poor fella my country...."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our ABC losing the plot again on carbon pricing - Q & A becomes a parody of itself

And so it goes. Labor continues to receive the worst polling in living memory and the national broadcaster continues to operate as it if it was a promotional arm of the Coalition's media machine.

I think the msm have never forgiven JG for stitching up a deal for minority govt. Few, if any, of the gallery predicted the minority govt result and they gave Gillard a snow ball's chance of negotiating with the rural independents and then expected the deal would go to hell in a hand-basket under the relentless fear campaign of Abbott. In fact the legislative record of this govt is pretty impressive.

ABC 24 is littered with one liners and headlines slamming the carbon price package. It is relentless. Every step of the way ABC reporters are out digging for negative reactions to the package, whipping up more fear in place of reasoned analysis of the package as a whole.

An excellent deconstruction of a Radio National interview with Swan can be found at the Political Sword blog.

What will be a truly important structural change for this economy was excoriated by a relentless patter of negativity and spleen from those who are either the authors of, or who have swallowed, the fear and misinformation campaign of vested interests and the Abbott Coalition.

At one of the meetings attended by Hockey, an idiot suggested it was time guns were used to convey their opposition to the carbon tax. This is what comes of a fear and loathing campaign. I can't help but think a big whack of misogynistic bigotry underpins a lot of the mindless opprobrium hurled at the PM. It truly reeks.

Yesterday we had Q & A served up to us. I gave up watching the show some time back as I thought it had become a vehicle for Jones to interpolate his oh so clever interrogations of Labor politicians in a captive state. All pretty poor form & tedious, redolent with gotcha and simple-minded "oh I know what you knew when someone else thought you knew" moments (argghhh).

I followed a ball by ball account of the show on one of our national political blogs and sent the following bouquet:

"I didn't watch your show as I foresaw Jones grandstanding as usual, being gratuitously rude to the PM with his oh so clever interruptions (there's something about strong women that gets your Tone), and the usual ill-informed, half-baked questions that suggest a critical acuity of minus 3.

I have been following reporting of tonight's show on several political websites and the overall verdict is the PM was excellent under fire and the audience was completely negative.

Tone should take the time to read Lyndsay Tanner's Sideshow and think a little about the profession of journalism, and then take a hard look at what passes for 'analysis' under the guise of political commentary on our ABC. Then he should ask himself, 'did I make a difference'?

As it stood, prior to his joining the 'let's destroy Julia' crowd (group/hive think courtesy of that bastion of balanced journalism, Uncle Rupe) I would have said he was holding his own.

With performances like tonight's and so many in recent times on Q & A he has become part of the problem with today's msm - all gotcha moments and simple-minded wind. Keep up the great work.......Poor fella my country."

Meanwhile Abbott has replaced the biking lycra with reflective lime industrial tops & roams bloke dominated small businesses and mining enterprises, filleting fish, carrying cartons of stuff, digging up stuff, butchering meat, rolling in oats and wheat, etc etc etc, pretending to care about working people and announcing the end of civilization as we know it. A true 'man of the people' with an eye to the big end of town (nudge, wink)...Howard battlers should be checking their back pockets because they're being conned again.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia: Memories of Tampa, a leaky boat and a dodgy government

ABC Online is reporting this morning that "former Defence Force personnel have spoken out about the Tampa and children overboard affair, accusing the Howard government of manipulating events for political purposes".

I was in harness in PNG when the Tampa situation arose. My heart sank and my stomach churned as I knew Howard was the type of politician to twist these circumstances to his political benefit. Little did I know to what extent I would be dragged into the disgusting quagmire that became known as the Pacific Solution.

I have mused on the experience as follows:

"In August 2001 news reports began filtering through that the Australian Government led by John Howard as Prime Minister had detained a boatload of mainly Afghani refugees on the high seas. The cargo vessel was the Tampa, a word that has become etched indelibly into my consciousness. The ‘boat people’ saga had begun. Ten weeks later the Australian people returned the Howard Government to office in a general election and the ignominious strategy to label offshore asylum seekers ‘illegals’ and detain them in third countries had been labelled the Pacific Solution.

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

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

At the time I was well into the second year of a diplomatic posting to Papua New Guinea (PNG). I worked for Australia’s overseas aid agency, AusAID. My career had involved me in human rights and refugee activities in several countries, including Southern African states on the front line against apartheid, Nepal, India and PNG. During my working life Australia had held out a helping hand to refugees from various conflicts, including Tibet, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Now we were turning our back on Afghanis fleeing the most repressive and murderous regime to emerge out of the ruins of the Soviet invasion, the Taliban.

I traveled to Afghanistan in the early 1970s as part of a wave of adventurous backpackers criss-crossing the Middle East and South Asia during those halcyon years. A Russian military presence was evident in Kabul but the hell of military invasion was yet to unfold. Young Afghani students in western dress gathered in coffee shops, tourists mixed with locals in cheap eating houses and live music could be heard in the evenings, emanating from a myriad small guest houses and hotels.

Kabul was a welcoming, relaxed haven for travelers en route to exotic destinations in this ancient tribal fiefdom, and Iran or Pakistan. Later as a doctoral student in India I had the great fortune to form deep friendships with both Afghanis and Iranians. Some were escaping the strictures of the Khomeini regime in Iran and the terrors of war in Afghanistan. India provided a safe sanctuary and a place to study.

The brutalization of Afghanis and others under Australia’s refugee policies was not only an affront to ideals that drew me into the arena of overseas aid, but hurt at a more subtle emotional level as I projected what it would mean for my erstwhile friends.

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

I had been involved on the margins of the Pacific Solution in PNG but the crunch came in an ironic twist. On return from PNG I was thrust into the midst of a whole-of-government stratagem to punish refugees. As part of what I perceived to be an orchestrated marginalization process by senior managers, I was put in charge of aid to Nauru. This ill-begotten program was a bribe to a failed state to accept complicity in our politically motivated violation of the rights of the people dumped on Nauru. It ran contrary to the various manifestos of sustainable development and good governance we belaboured in our dealings with other Pacific states dependent on Australian aid.

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

The most extreme construct involved excision of the total Australian landmass from the migration zone. It would be ‘pythonesque’ if the consequences were not so tragic for the victims. I became a member of the Immigration Department’s coordination committee on the Nauru detention facilities, which regularly and perfunctorily discussed how to manage detainees who had self-harmed or adopted other forms of protest. It was a dehumanizing, soul-destroying experience."

This is a short excerpt from a memoir I have tried to pen on these unsavoury events.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ABC spruiks reactionary politics in the cause of 'balance'

Sent the following comment to their ABC this morning:

"ABC24 Breakfast is at it again. Trioli was drooling over the prospect of Abbott becoming PM on the back of fear campaigns and some dunderhead Tea Party pollie entering the Presidential fray. Where in your charter does it say you should shape opinion on how people think about politics? You have players like Trioli and Clarke clearly spruiking for right wing reactionaries. I would be equally offended if they were spruiking for left wing ideologues.

There are too many opinionated flakes involved with shows on ABC24 under the guise of journalism. Breakfast and the Drum are inhabited by people trying to model themselves on commercial talk show participants, with a shallowness that is breathtakingly disappointing and it is seeping into your serious journalism.

Over time you will loose audience share because the 'concentration span of distracted gnats' crowd are'nt interested in politics and those with a brain will get their 'news' on-line. Many people are sick of the editorializing virus that is sweeping the ABC, seeking to shift opinion on the major issues of the day.

In your quest for so-called 'balance' some dreadful 'pamphleteers' get a regular airing, such as those from thoroughly compromised think tanks such as the IPA. No wonder the PM's polling is going south on matters of national importance such as carbon pricing. Their ABC is out there doing the reactionary's job for them!"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Poll Bludger comment a telling report card on Abbott's opposition!

The following comment appeared this morning on the Poll Bludger blog. The author's pseudonym is Bushfire Bill. This deserves a wide readership:

"So I suppose today’s The Day, one year on.

We were supposed to have a plebiscite rolling the Coalition into government. According to the script, the government was sure to lose it and Tony Abbott would shame Gillard into resigning and calling an election.

A carefully crafted series of polls, internet stunts like The Cloud, articles on how Rudd was all but selecting wallpaper for the Lodge and K House and and endless, buzzing barrage of shock-jock insults and mockery were supposed to soften her up, ready for the kill.

Gee, it all looked so good on paper, didn’t it?

The fairy story, concocted through a manic News Ltd and an outright insane Coalition leadership, that Gillard was gone, fell apart under the weight of its own ridiculousness.

As proof of just how ridiculous it was, I offer you one compelling piece of logic: even Steve Fielding wouldn’t buy into it. When Fielding runs a mile, you know whatever it is he’s running from is truly frightening.

When Fonzie jumped the shark on a pair of water skis all those years ago it popped the bubble of suspended disbelief that so many fans would blow around them when they sat down to watch Happy Days. Suddenly they saw their favourite show for what it was… an over-egged fantasy world where everyone was nice, even the nasties. And it was getting tired.

This week I have the hope that the same has happened to the Coalition. They had their chance, nearly a year of relentless negativism designed to destabilize the hung parliament, and indeed the nation itself.

The only way they could get the punters on side with their wet dream of a guerrilla usurpation of the government was to convince the gullible out there that the country was so fu*ked that even Tony Abbott couldn’t bugger it up further. They set the bar so low that even the intellectually lame and the logically halt could jump it.

Some snippets…

Pensioners cowering in their homes, with only their AM radios and their telephones left to call 2GB for emergency assistance, in case the man came around to burn their house down with a free set-top-box.

A tinpot guano nation in the middle of the Pacific, smaller than the fullstop at the end of this sentence, held up as a stirring example of man’s humanity to man. It’s farcical government only functional enough to hold out its hand to take Australian aid dollars. Senior members of our “Alternative Government” went there to sit under the coconut tree and do a deal with this bastion of democracy, just as the Russian Mafia had done, in years past. Scott Morrison may find that the Malaysians are not as welcoming as our Micronesian welfare junkies in Nauru. Nauru may find that the Australian government is also not so welcoming to their next plea for a handout. I hope so.

The News Ltd publications running public campaigns to destroy the Greens, and then crying foul when Bob Brown ticked them off about it. They published poll after poll, one upon the other, designed to make polls themselves the story, vying with each other to show an even more dismal picture for Labor. When the matriarch of the Murdoch family finally cried “Enough!” on Climate Change, the bloated, malignant Akerman, fresh from providing ballast for an ocean-going yacht, sheepishly told a national TV audience and an incredulous Insiders panel that she was past it, too old and frail to make a rational decision. When there’s a new low to establish, you can always rely on Piers to step up to the plate.

Rational decisions weren’t out of bounds for only the aged. “Elites” were banned from participation too. If you had money, were an actress, or a scientist, perhaps even if you’d been to school sometime in your life, you were excised from society. If someone who knew someone you knew did a corrupt deal anywhere, you were disqualified from ever working for the government.

Mike Quigley’s distant connection with some of his employees’ antics in Costa Rica was enough to have him hauled before parliamentary committees and vilified in the Murdoch press for being – not quite a crook – but definitely a shady character. It never occurred to his inquisitors that if this was all you needed to do to be barred from senior office, they’d better start packing their own bags as well, especially the egregious Senator Abetz, friend and mentor to one Godwin Grech and not too distant descendant of a long line of obedient gauleiters.

There were so many more… a nation and employment-saving scheme that built much-needed school infrastructure turned into a debacle of almost biblical proportions. An insulation program that actually saved lives, turned into a murderous rort that was killing our youth. $900 cheques, the first measure of the emergency response to the GFC, vilified as recently as yesterday for putting money into the hands of the Bogans so they could buy a bigger plasma TV. Hello? I didn’t hear Gerry Harvey complaining when all this cash was splashed about, propping up his overpriced franchises. The re-emergence of Reith, the casually cold hearted warrior against working people, touted now as the new leader of the Liberal Party, back from Paris after sucking a million or two in salary off the government tit in an obscure sinecure. How appropriatement, Reithy. the concocted crisis of the Boat People, a drop in the ocean compared to the world refugee problem, in turn vilified and then succoured by an increasingly bizarre and smirking Morrison.

And finally we had the cherry on top, the culmination of it all: The Plebiscite. A scam that, whose decision, if ever taken, and if it went the wrong way, not even its originators and spruikers would abide by. Even Fielding, a sucker for every three card trick in the book, could see through that one. It took Steve six years minus 7 days to wake up, but there you go, miracles do happen. Maybe I’ll take up God.

The bubble has burst and the shark has been jumped. The urgers from the right leave in their wake a disaster: a nation divided, miserable, in a state of chronic ire over everything, and nothing. The ultra Right made the assessment that in order to save Australia they first had to destroy it. To have any chance of scrambling into government, they had to destroy faith in governance first. What they didn’t actually destroy they would write up as destroyed anyway. Same difference, really.

Constant negativity, the politicisation of two flies crawling up a wall, the turning of a once confident country into a national Reality TV show where petty jealousies, arrogant ungratefulness, constant barking from the sidelines and vacuous, unceasing harangues from overpaid shills telling us we should be miserable and angry… these all have consequences.

If I have a prayer, it’s that the next real calamity to hit us – be it GFC#2, or another season of mega-floods and Cat-5 cyclones – holds off for long enough to allow the nation to recover its lost spirit. We can’t take much more of this dumbing-down. We’re just about stunted-out.

Australia should turn off its TVs and its radios and simply open the window. They should look outside and see that the World hasn’t ended, that the nation isn’t in ruins, that a tumbleweed rolling down the street has more substance and meaning to it than a thousand Abbott brain-farts… that they’ve been conned, but that there’s still time to recover, if only they’ll open that window."

Amen to that...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Alert & alarmed: Trivia question: Where have we seen plebiscites used to circumvent parliamentary democracy?

The Coalition were strong on precedents in Parliament today. There are some interesting precedents on the use of plebiscites to circumvent the decisions of a duly elected parliament. One jumped out at me....

"On July 14, 1933, Hitler’s “Law against the Establishment of Parties” marked the factual end of the party system and parliamentary democracy. On that same day, he passed the “Law on Plebiscites,” which allowed the Nazi regime to use strategically organised plebiscites to create the appearance of democratic decision-making."

The words "to create the appearance of democratic decision-making" resonate here. In our Parliament, governed by a minority government, a type of systematic sabotage of the democratic process has taken hold, where the conventional processes of the House of Representatives are debased daily by an attempt to censure the government and/or suspend the standing orders to enable Abbott and his mob to rant & rave about 'lack of legitimacy' and 'dishonest government'. They basically want to engineer a vote of no-confidence in the Government.

Now we have the spectacle of an Opposition leader attempting to subvert the Parliamentary process through a 'non-binding' plebiscite on the introduction of a price on carbon. Make no mistake, this is a further iteration of a power grab, pure and simple. The ultimate objective is to make the Parliament unworkable, undermine the government and bring on an early poll, which Abbott sees will install him in the Lodge. We do not live in a one-party state and yes, our democratic institutions are intact and strong, but the predilections of the current Coalition leadership are a tad troubling, don't you think?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - time for Labor to change the tune, rather than play Abbott's whistle!

Again, the wedge is in. Labor finds itself wedged between the fear of the 'yellow peril' bogey that conservative parties have trotted out successfully throughout our short history and the progressive left's advocacy for the universality of human rights. A cursory glance at the numbers of people who arrive in this country by boat in irregular circumstances - ie, less than half a per cent of those who seek asylum - is proof enough that this divisive issue has nothing to do with a genuine concern.

It is base politics, pure and simple. Are people escaping repressive fundamentalist regimes and violent upheaval today not worthy of our compassion? In his review of Caroline Moorehead's Human Cargo Mike Philips wrote,

"Perhaps the element which makes Moorehead's story so urgent and terrifying is her description of a history in which governments' perception of refugees altered with the end of the cold war, when the "good" refugees fleeing communism, suddenly transformed into "bad" refugees threatening our civilisation. In fact, the vast bulk of refugees remain in their own region, or are accommodated in the world's poorest countries, which are least able to carry the burden.

Australia provides the most extreme example of a state's anxiety to barricade its borders by its policy of stopping boats on the high seas and dumping refugees on its poorer neighbours. Imprisoned behind razor wire, Australia's asylum-seekers protested by sewing their lips together, an act of self mutilation reflecting the desperation to which they had been driven by their treatment."

We are seeing this scenario play out again. Labor is scurrying to find a regional approach that stops boats but does'nt breach the UN convention on treatment of refugees. It will not adopt the full Pacific Solution, but in the eyes of human rights advocates it is failing to meet its progressive charter in this area. The mandatory detention regime opened a Pandora's box of opportunities for low rent political agendas, which politicians like Howard and Abbott have exploited ruthlessly. Labor is continually playing catch up, rather than biting the bullet by re-examining the rationale for long-term mandatory detention and changing the tenor of the whole debate. Leadership requires courage to take the steps to change opinion through education and cogent debate.

Where does the so-called media intelligentsia stand on the current state of play in the human rights battles? Wishy washy as usual methinks. The unedifying sight of Labor politicians jumping on the xenophobia bandwagon has human rights advocates aghast as they see defenceless people used as betting chips in a nasty bidding war. Unmitigated acts of bastardry continue unabated, leaving desperate people with little choice but to self-harm or cry out through extreme acts.

Abbott knows he is on a winner with large slices of the electorate, accustomed to his brand of political correctness - its ok to be afraid of refugees and to treat them like social pariahs, but 'don't worry about that while I'm around!'. This was the Howard credo, honed so well after Tampa. Get the troops out to bash Labor on every issue that panders to our darkest fears. Set up the straw dog to fear, find someone or some group to blame & punish and then put yourself forward as the saviour of the day. The security man who sells you razor wire to keep out pygmy possums, and if they still get in, rounds them up and trains them to do your every bidding. Its always easy when the group you are hounding are defenseless, vulnerable and scared of being kicked back over the fence.

Way to go Abbott. Something you and your following can be very proud of.

Message to Labor - time to change tack in tackling this wedge!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Open letter to Tony Abbott, Leader of the Coalition

You come from a party that has fostered some notable statesmen and public intellectuals.

You are doing this country a great disservice by framing the issues of comprehensive action on climate change, decency toward asylum seekers and a fair distribution of mining wealth as left wing political agendas. I know you are desperate to achieve power but be assured your tactics on these issues will damage the body politic of our country. You pander to tendencies in this country that stem from ignorance, fear and isolation.

It is the duty of elected officials to act as trustees of the nation; to be custodians of power bequeathed to make decisions in our national interest. Highly educated people have a similar duty in my view. And yet, you are determined to pitch everything you do and say at the lowest common denominator to garner electoral support.

Your conscience does not seem to trouble you one bit, as you hold this country back from becoming a beacon of reason and humanity in a global maelstrom. It is a shame that you cannot rise above your petty ambitions to do something noble, and offer bi-partisanship in areas that are vital for social justice and harmony

You met with the Dalai Lama. You would be wise to study his words carefully for therein lies wisdom and a way forward for humanity.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Abbott's very own Devil's Island - for the protection of asylum seekers!



My interest in asylum seeker issues gathered pace as Director of the aid program put in place to leverage Nauru’s part in the policy to keep boat people outside Australia’s immigration zone, otherwise known as the ‘pacific solution’.

From a paltry few scholarships per annum, post Tampa the Australian taxpayers footed a huge bill to keep Nauru on side. Nauru was lurching toward becoming a failed state prior to the AusAID and Immigration funding that formed the ongoing ‘bribe’ to keep the detention camps open on Nauru. The treatment of asylum seekers detained on this benighted speck of guano was done in our name, paid for by our taxes.

In his statement on behalf of the Human Rights Council of Australia to the 61st Session, UN Commission on Human Rights, April 2005, Howard Glenn, Executive Director, Rights Australia, had this to say


“On the Pacific Island of Nauru, a State which like Australia, has acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there are six children whose situation is instructive. With their parents, they left Afghanistan and tried to reach refuge in Australia by boat. They were picked up by the Australian Navy in late 2001 before reaching Australia, and have spent their lives since in detention. These children have been in detention now since 2001, as part of the Australian Government’s “Pacific Solution”, a program to deter others from seeking asylum in Australia.

The three girls are now aged 14, 8 and 7; the boys are 15 and 9, and a third boy was born in detention and is two years of age. The children are amongst the last 54 of 1200 people who were detained on Nauru, in the detention camp established following the interception of the Norwegian ship, Tampa. Remaining with the children are 4 women and 44 men.

According to reports from the camp, the children are all lonely and have found it difficult to watch all the other children leaving to begin new lives. They have no friends left to play with. They of course don't understand http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifwhy they have been left behind. The parents are traumatised and find it difficult to cope with parenting in that situation. They are in a camp full of depressed people…."

Welcome to Tony Abbott's very own Devil's Island.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - Lies, lies and more lies in Pacific Solution gambit

Susan Metcalfe nails the lie at the heart of Abbott's gambit to reintroduce the Pacific Solution and TPVs to the asylum seekers landscape in Australia. An excerpt from her article in today's Age follows:

"This week, the UNHCR made its position clear on the past Nauru policy, as it has many times before: ''The Pacific Solution, including the use of Nauru, was a deeply problematic policy, both as a matter of principle and for those refugees and asylum seekers affected by it.''

In spite of this, Liberal senator Simon Birmingham said on Sky News that the detention centre on Nauru had been ''overseen and approved'' by the UNHCR, and the Nauruan government continues to claim that the camps operated ''under the auspices of UNHCR''.

A UNHCR spokesman said: ''UNHCR was not involved and, indeed, distanced itself from any role in overseeing or managing the processing facilities on Nauru under the Pacific Solution. Recent media reports that the centre on Nauru was approved by and run under the auspices of the UN are factually incorrect.''

Nauru is a country with a record that doesn't match the governance expectations of most Australians."

This country was sold a dud by Howard when his government set up the Nauru facilities. I have posted many messages on the miscasting of aid to Nauru and elsewhere under the PS and the alarming 'somnambulism' of the Australian people as these events unfolded. I have been critical of Australia's fourth estate for largely failing to expose and condemn Howard's approach to refugee rights. The profound negative implications of the Howard experiment for the health of Australia's body politic will be the subject of much reflection in the coming years.

We see the profound negative implications continuing to play out in the Coalition's shoddy posturing on asylum seekers. Along the way Australian officialdom has bribed, bullied and coerced a desperate failing state in a cynical, mercenary gambit to host our offshore detention facilities, without the slightest interest in a regional solution or one that actually improved the plight of refugees. At least the Labor Govt is trying to operate within a regional framework that engages all the interested parties. The Coalition are not interested in a regional solution but only seek to wedge the Government politically.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

A further iteration of the ABC complaints saga - I have turned off but others may still have some arrows in the quiver!

I received a further reply to my complaint of political bias on 7.30 and ABCNews24. It went like this from Kieran Doyle of ABC's Audience and Consumer Affairs area:

"Thank you for your email.

Should you wish to substantiate your claims regarding the manner in which ALP and Greens members are interviewed on the program, or the contributions of what you refer to as “extreme right commentators”, we will be happy to investigate any specific examples you are able to identify and will provide you with a considered response. Please include the time and date of the specific broadcasts that concerned you.

Your comments are noted."

My reply follows:

"I appreciate it is difficult to respond to these complaints. However, the trend I identify is real and of great concern. I published my complaints and your reply on a couple of national political bogs. I got strong support from their readership. Uhlmann has been a disaster for the ratings of 7.30. Reasonable viewers are deserting in droves. It was once compulsory viewing for politics tragics like myself but now it is unwatchable. It would be difficult to provide specific examples in future as I have simply turned off.

The same can be said for News24, which is dominated by journalists such as Melissa Clarke, Virginia Trioli, et al, who wear their political predilections on their sleeve. Trioli rudely demands accountability from Ministers, as if they are some how answerable to her, and treats politicians she likes as if they were cousins. We get enough of that biased claptrap from shock jocks and the great majority of the Murdoch press. Poor fella my country....

However, I will put your reply on the political blogs as there may be others still watching."

Over to you bloggers and other miscreants.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The ABC rejects criticism of political bias and as usual purports to be purer than the driven snow, but some of us know better!

I recently complained to the ABC about an interview between Chris Uhlmann and Abbott on the 7.30 show. It had Uhlmann popping up in Alice Springs to hear Abbott sermonize on the failings of the Govt (quelle surprise). My complaint went like this:

"I have commented on this problem previously. Tonight you featured an interview between Chis Uhlmann and Abbott, who is busily constructing political wedges to further his power grabbing agenda. The PM has just completed a successful trip to North Asia, which achieved considerable advances in our relations with each of the countries visited. Rather than focus on this important visit, we were regaled with a glad handled interview with Abbott roaming around remote communities pushing his fear campaign on the carbon tax and pushing an agenda on Aboriginal welfare that is hypocritical in the extreme. It came across as a political infomercial. I'm heartily sick of this overt bias and will take my complaint to the relevant Minister if this program cannot return to a balanced approach under your charter. Uhlman has been a serial offender in this regard and Sales is lightweight. Her interview with Lindsay Tanner was an opportunity lost and merely confirmed his take on a dumbing down of our media culture and a news analysis cycle pandering to people with little grasp of public policy processes & short concentration spans. It is demeaning our democracy and treating your audience with scant respect."

I received the following reply from ABC Corporate Affairs:

"Your concerns have been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC. We have reviewed the broadcasts, assessed them against the ABC’s editorial standards and sought and considered material provided by ABC News.

7.30 reported on both the Prime Minister’s visit to Asia and Mr Abbott’s trip to the Northern Territory. Both are highly newsworthy and both were adequately covered by the program.

Having reviewed the interview with Mr Abbott, we have not been able to identify a single instance where he was “glad handled” or any sense at all that the interview amounted to an “infomercial”.

Audience and Consumer Affairs has concluded that the interview is in keeping with section 4.1 and 4.3 of the ABC Editorial Policies. The questions put to Mr Abbott were based on news value and are matters of public interest. We believe the interview was suitably rigorous and questioning and Mr Abbott was afforded ample opportunity to state his views in response."

I have replied as follows:

"As with my previous complaints this has been handled with typical bureaucratic dissembling. The fact that Uhlmann was shadowing Abbott on his outback venture was proof enough of glad handling. Last time I looked we were not in an election campaign, although it is difficult to believe with the constant fawning after this Opposition leader. It may be the fact of a minority Govt that has the media in a constant frenzy of expectation but it is demeaning our body politic.

A myth has emerged that Abbott 'cuts through' and the Govt is weak and poor at communication. I suggest this is a media construct fueled by journalists such as Uhlmann. He aggressively interrupts Labor and Green politicians but will let Abbott get away with his self-serving line of hyperbole on the carbon tax, asylum seekers and the welfare of our first citizens. Why was 7.30 trailing after one of the most mediocre intellects to strut the political stage in several decades on a trip to nowhere in public policy terms?

Believe me, I am not Robinson Crusoe when it comes to negative perceptions of the ABC's handling of the political cut and thrust. The constant airing on ABC 24 of nonsense from extreme right commentators from organizations like the IPA is evidence enough of a nod toward extremist positions on the economy and society. The IPA is a voice for powerful groups that wish to shape our body politic to serve their commercial interests and was misnamed. It should have been called the 'Institute of Private Affairs'. Why are its spokespersons treated as if they were objective journalists?

Your news boards invariably are headed by stories highlighting the Coalition's constant fear mongering on the carbon tax and asylum seekers and personal attacks on the PM and her frontbenchers. Some of your political journos on ABC24 (for example Melissa Clarke), positively drool when the Govt is attacked for some confected shortcoming. On the more enlightened political blogs the ABC is now oft referred to as 'their ABC' - this is a sad state of affairs and reflects poorly on your performance as the national broadcaster. A quick glance at the legislative record of this Parliament should dispel any notions of a poorly performing Govt. It is about time your political commentators reflected reality and not the leadership fantasies of the Opposition."

Nuff said.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Coalition calls for a parliamentary inquiry into asylum seeker detention, when what was needed was a Royal Commission into the Pacific Solution


Those with any compassion for the plight of asylum seekers will be choking on their breakfast cereals, listening to Morrison bang on about the need for a Parliamentary inquiry into asylum seekers detention.

The treatment of asylum seekers is made worse by a constant beating of a fear drum by the Coalition and a conga line of media supporters that are busy constructing another political wedge on this issue.

If Abbott is elected the Pacific Solution and TPVs will be reinstated and we will be back to square one. Christmas Island was commissioned by the Howard Govt in response to the unsustainable expense of the Pacific Solution.

Where was the media support for an inquiry into the abuses at the heart of the Pacific Solution? Where was the media (apart from some brave souls in the Fairfax media) when the appalling violations under the Pacific Solution were bringing the human rights record of this country into the gutter?

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

The tawdry misuse of official aid under the Pacific Solution and the downstream implications of the strategy, which was made up on the run by bureaucrats trying to engineer good outcomes from bad motives, have not been subjected to judicial inquiry. My published condemnation of aid to Nauru as "‘an unmitigated bribe’ to ensure the Pacific Solution continued" should have been subject to inquiry.

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

It was necessary for the Labor government to investigate this dark chapter. My oft repeated call for such an inquiry to shine a light into the dark recesses of the Pacific Solution pork barrel was ignored. Now the chickens are coming home to roost for Labor. They should have exposed the whole grubby affair to bright light to put to rest any credibility the Coalition would have on this subject for at least a decade, and to provide an opportunity for a sensible public debate on this sensitive area of public policy.

I proposed a Royal Commission with Terms of Reference to include, but not be limited to, an investigation of:

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

2. wrongful detention of refugees and permanent residents of Australia

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

4. wrongful repatriation of asylum seekers

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

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

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

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Abbott to outline broad vision for Australia - gulp!


Abbott's broad vision for Australia:

1. Punish asylum seekers by sending them to fly speck, Nauru, and putting genuine refugees on TPVs to punish them some more

2. Do not put a price on carbon

3. Send welfare recipients to latter day salt mines for character building

4. Do a lot of long bike rides to avoid family and work responsibilities

5. Punish some more asylum seekers

6. Give miners, polluters and media moguls tax free status

7. Divert huge amounts of govt revenue to people on $200,000 or more per annum as gesture of solidarity

8. Divert huge amounts of annual aid budget to Nauru to keep Nauruans sweet

9. Trash regional approaches to asylum seekers as we will decide who comes here and the manner in which they come (preferably by Qantas)

10. Punish some more asylum seekers, just to keep the dog whistle in tune

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - Ken Parish writing for Club Troppo - In Praise of Gillard’s Malaysia Solution

This article in Club Troppo caught my attention today. It is a well reasoned piece which strikes a chord with me:

"It’s hard to deny that the Gillard government’s emerging asylum seeker policy represents a thinly disguised reversion to Howard’s Pacific Solution, although both Gillard and Stephen Smith are giving denial a good shot. The thing is that I suspect most “punters” will neither know nor care as long as it looks tough and stops the boats (as I’m pretty sure it will after a lag as those already in the people smuggler pipeline arrive). With the noteworthy addition of the Malaysia element, Gillard’s solution looks (and is) sufficiently different from Howard’s recipe as to avoid an appearance of craven political capitulation.

The Malaysia element adds a critical dimension to the visaless asylum seeker issue that Howard’s policy conspicuously lacked. As I’ve observed previously, Howard ultimately had no choice but to grant visas to asylum seekers on Nauru who were assessed as genuine refugees, because other countries simply weren’t prepared to take them (apart from a one-off initial deal with New Zealand). Howard’s “we will decide who comes here …” statement was a hollow, meaningless threat. Indeed so desperate was Howard to disguise this fatal flaw in his policy towards the end of his term of office that he entered negotiations with the US to swap Australian refugees on Nauru for American ones interned at Guantanamo Bay. Had that deal been finalised it would have borne a close similarity with the deal Gillard has now done in principle with Malaysia, a point Tony Abbott has so far managed to avoid mentioning. However Gillard’s gambit is manifestly superior at least from a border security viewpoint. Giving US residency visas instead of Australian ones to asylum seekers found to be refugees would hardly have sent a powerful deterrent message to those contemplating signing up with the people smugglers whereas sending them to the back of the “queue” in Malaysia most certainly does. If Tony Abbott were to experience one of his increasingly infrequent moments of disarming honesty, he would admit that Gillard’s Malaysia gambit is a policy masterstroke which a Coalition government would have adopted like a shot and proudly claimed credit for had it been currently in office.

The Malaysia element is predictably being assailed from both Right and Left. Abbott is trying to gain mileage and negate any kudos for Gillard by painting the deal as a negotiating loss for Australia because we are to take 5 UNHCR-approved refugees from Malaysia for every unprocessed boat person we return to them. However the reality is that Australia will almost certainly gain a huge border security win by stopping the boats, which is what Abbott has until now professed was his aim, while taking in return just 1000 extra approved refugees from offshore each year in a total migration program of around 170,000 is just a drop in the ocean and hardly a concession at all, especially if it eventually allows Christmas Island and other onshore detention centres to be closed.

The Malaysia element is also being criticised as a desperate and expedient “one-off” solution. But that was equally true of the Pacific Solution when first propounded. By definition all such policies are expedient reactions to immediate border security crises. Moreover, one would suspect that it will prove possible in due course to negotiate an extension of the deal with Malaysia, as long as it doesn’t result in significant adverse domestic political blowback for its government or serve as an attractant for an increased flow of hopeful asylum seekers into Malaysia. No doubt those concerns account for the initial limited scope of the deal. It may even prove feasible to negotiate similar deals with countries like India and Indonesia.

Criticism from the Left has focused on the fact that Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and has a poor record of treatment of the 90,000 or so asylum seekers within its borders (note the contrast with the tiny numbers Australians are whinging about having to cope with). However UNHCR is cautiously welcoming of the deal and apparently regards the undertakings of “non-refouler” and humane treatment that Australia has extracted from Malaysia as appropriate. The Refugee Convention does not forbid return of asylum seekers to non-signatory nations, it forbids “refouler” of refugees to their homeland or another place where they may face persecution. What will be required here is a credible regime of oversight of Malaysia’s treatment of returnees by UNHCR and Australian authorities. As long as that occurs, objecting to returning people from whence they transited in Malaysia in favour of taking a greater number of assessed genuine refugees from there just doesn’t make much sense except perhaps to woolly-minded Greens voters. However much the asylum seeker lobby may shrilly assert to the contrary, there IS a queue in Malaysia and Indonesia, albeit a very long and uncertain one. Asylum seekers can be assessed for refugee status by UNHCR and are able to apply offshore for an Australian humanitarian visa. Why should we not choose to assist both ourselves and our poorer regional neighbours by taking more of those who choose to remain in that long, uncertain queue and less of those who take the law into their own hands to gain visa priority by subjecting their families to an extraordinarily dangerous boat voyage, and in the process place serious (if disproportionate) pressures of community resentment on Australia’s extraordinarily successful non-discriminatory migration program?

PS Incidentally, the Gillard government’s emerging policy, if successful, might even provide a plausible basis for a sustainable reshaped international burden-sharing approach to refugee policy advocated by leading refugee law experts like James Hathaway and others. In return for being relieved of the obligation to accept ad hoc visaless boat people who arrive on their shores, countries with a significant migration program like Australia would agree to accept a greater number of refugees objectively assessed to be in need of permanent protection outside their homeland, while a much wider range of wealthy nations would shoulder the financial burden of assisting poorer countries of “first asylum” to accommodate those needing only temporary protection until conditions in their homelands improved."


I have commented on this article as follows:

"Thank you for this article. It is a well balanced analysis of the realities confronting the Gillard Govt. I have lately quoted Susan Metcalfe’s article in The Age, which cites me as a source for a critique of the Pacific Solution into which I became embroiled as an AusAID official. It is by no means a solution but it is a significant advance on the scenario projected by Abbott, which will be a return to a policy that has rights violations as its centerpiece. It is vital that people smuggling is disrupted, and it is equally vital that countries within the Bali process cooperate to address smuggling and refugee processing within a regional framework. The Pacific Solution did not provide a basis for a regional approach, but was characterized by a series of fairly tacky bilateral deals."