Archive for June, 2012

June 30, 2012

Whyalla – Warning to Watch out for Snakes (including pythons, cobras and Noa-constrictors)

Actual headline from the Whyalla News Online

Warning to watch out for snakes

Whyalla, (currrently on Sky-Falling Watch), also needs to be on the look-out for Snakes – python-squeezes, cobra-strikes, noa-constrictors, but most of all Tony Abbott’s travelling Snake Oil Salesman Show – but not Adders, there aren’t too many Adders in the Liberal National Parties.

June 30, 2012

Message From Whyalla for Tony Abbott (image)

text digitally altered

June 29, 2012

Northern Territory – a crocodile story on every page of the newspaper even when talking about refugees (image)

During several days of speeches before House Of Representatives and the Senate, including personal stories that produced emotion-like qualities in several Coalition members and Greens senator Sarah Hanson Young to an emotional wreck… somehow the NT News (famous for its crocodile stories on the front page) could still find a crocodile angle.

June 29, 2012

OMG! OMG! Tony Abbott was right, the sky IS falling (video)

1 minute Scene from Doctor Who – The Fires of Pompeii (David Tennant, Catherine Tate)

June 29, 2012

Futurama’s Fry tries to understand Tony Abbott’s refugee policy

not sure which part of Tony Abbott’s refugee policy is humane
the “tow the boats back” part or the “let them drown” part

June 29, 2012

Asylum Seekers Debate – Doug Cameron’s statement

Yesterday, in the Senate, Asylum Seekers took centre stage.

Doug Cameron (NSW) pointed out what should be clear to anyone who listened to the speeches in the HOR and Senate “The opposition hypocrisy is huge. Many of the speakers who are listed to speak here today or who have already spoken were silent on the cruelty of the Pacific solution—absolutely silent”.

Here is part of what was said, edited for clarity:

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (12:05):
I rise in support of the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. I indicate that I have changed my mind on this issue. I have done what Senator Brandis has asked me to do, which is to have a look at these issues dispassionately. I certainly have looked at it and in my view this is the best way forward in the short term.

I want to try to put my change of mind into some context. The UNHCR 2011 report on refugees shows that there were 4.3 million people newly displaced around the world. Worldwide there are 42.5 million people who are either refugees or are internally displaced. There are almost a million in the process of actively seeking asylum. Afghanistan is the biggest producer of refugees, with 2.7 million—and surely we have a responsibility in terms of the situation in Afghanistan—Iraq has 1.4 million, Somalia has 1.1 million, Sudan has half a million and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has 491,000. The countries hosting the largest number of refugees were Pakistan, with 1.7 million, the Republic of Iran, with 886,500 and the Syrian Arab Republic, with 775,400. The situation in those countries is dire. You certainly would not want to be a refugee in any of those countries. In Australia, the number of refugees and asylum seekers has remained relatively stable and small by global standards, with 23,434 refugees and 5,242 asylum seekers hosted at the end of 2011. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Hazara population is still subject to genocide.

I take the view that, with 3.7 million refugees in the Asia-Pacific area, we need to deal with this both in the short and the long term. Some of these refugees are looking for economic betterment. Some of them are looking for family reunification. Some of them are fleeing war and conflict. Some of them are fleeing religious, racial or sexual persecution. Some of them are fleeing natural disasters, climate change and food insecurity. This is not a situation that will change quickly. This is a situation that government, regardless of their political background, will face in this region for years to come.

I abhor the loss of life at sea. Children are losing their fathers and mothers. Parents are losing their children. People are losing siblings. These are human and personal tragedies of the highest order. I am troubled by the Nauru approach. I am troubled by the Malaysian approach. I have argued continually over many years my opposition to the Pacific solution. I have done that publicly and I have done that within the Labor Party. I do not see, regardless of the arguments that the coalition senators have put forward here, how Nauru could ever be contemplated as some kind of success. But as Keynes and the Nobel Prize winning economist Samuelson said, when the circumstances change we change our minds. And they asked this question: what would you do? I have changed my mind.

I met with 41 backbenchers yesterday. It was clear that those 41 backbenchers had no silver bullet to the problem that we are facing. But they all had one view and that was that we had to put in place a humanitarian approach. What we are doing today is dealing with hard choices. There are no easy solutions. The advice to the government has been that Nauru will not work and that it would not be a disincentive. You have to remember that when the Nauru processing centre was in place, on 19 October 2001 we had SIEVX, a ship that went down causing 353 people to lose their lives. This was under the Pacific Solution.

We are now being told that the boats should be turned around and we have been asked by the Leader of the Opposition to examine our consciences. I have examined my conscience and my conscience says that we should do whatever we can to stop deaths at sea. There are two issues that are coming through in the contributions being made here today. One is the hypocrisy of the coalition on the issue of humanity. The other issue that is coming through loud and clear is the policy purity of the Greens. Gough Whitlam said only the impotent are pure. The Greens are standing flatfooted but pure. You should think about the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and friends who are dying on the oceans to the north of Australia. These are human beings. They are not statistics; they are not simply refugees; they are not simply asylum seekers. These are human beings who, for one reason or another, want to make a better life for themselves within this great country.

The opposition hypocrisy is huge. Many of the speakers who are listed to speak here today or who have already spoken were silent on the cruelty of the Pacific solution—absolutely silent. Where were Senator Abetz and Senator Brandis when genuine refugees, including 12-year-old, 14-year-old and 15-year-old kids, were sewing their lips together as a desperate cry for help under the Pacific solution? Where were the coalition voices in support of humanitarianism? They were nowhere to be heard. Where was the action from the coalition on humanitarian issues? It was nowhere to be seen. The hypocrisy of the coalition is huge. Where was the member for North Sydney, Joe Hockey, during the child overboard fiasco? He was nowhere to be seen. Where were the coalition voices on that issue? They were nowhere to be heard. Where was the Leader of the Opposition when refugees were being vilified and ostracised in the Australian press day in and day out? He was nowhere to be seen? Base politics were driving the Pacific solution and the coalition’s position on refugees. So I just find it a bit tough, a bit hard to take, when the coalition stand up in here and talk about humanitarian approaches to refugees, when for almost a decade their approach was the antithesis of a humanitarian approach to refugees.

I say to Senator Abetz, in response to his statement that there was a great, compassionate position adopted by Mr Ruddock, the then minister: in 2001 Mr Ruddock was calling for children to be removed from their parents in these concentration camps that the coalition had set up at Baxter and elsewhere in Australia. Take the children from their parents—that was the refrain from the coalition. What is humane about that? Absolutely nothing. Then there was a young boy in Villawood. When Mr Ruddock was asked about that young boy and his plight in Villawood, Mr Ruddock could not bring himself to describe this child as a boy, or a human being; he described the child as ‘it’. That was the humanitarian approach from the coalition. So I will not be lectured by the coalition on humanitarian policies or successful policies. What is successful about describing a young child as ‘it’? What is successful about taking children from parents? What is successful about putting families behind barbed wire for year after year, until they are psychologically destroyed? The hypocrisy from the coalition knows no bounds. And the impotence from the Greens almost rivals that. I say you should not have been silent on the cruelty of the Pacific solution.

I want to come to this Malaysian arrangement. As I have said, I don’t like it. I have probably fought longer on these issues than many in this parliament. It has been an issue that I, as a union delegate, as a union official and as a senior union official in this country have argued on for years. But I just do not want to see any more innocent people being killed on the high seas. I do not want people losing their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their children. It is just not acceptable. The 41 backbenchers yesterday were crying out for a compromise on this issue. We were crying out for something to be done. This is not a perfect proposition that is before the parliament—in fact, it is far from perfect. But I think, for a 12-month period, as is outlined in this bill, we should give it a go—because the Malaysian approach is an approach that the UNHCR have had a look at, that the UNHCR were involved in, that the UNHCR see as a step forward to what the real solution in this region is: a proper regional approach to dealing with refugees and displaced persons.

That is the situation the UNHCR see. They and others argue that Malaysia do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of refugees. They do far more heavy lifting than us—there are about 1.2 million displaced people, I think, in Malaysia. But what the UNHCR say is that the implementation of the Malaysian guidelines contain important protections and safeguards. Those include respect for the principle of non-refoulement. Non-refoulement is simply not sending people back to where they could be tried and killed or subjected to the death penalty. They say the principle of family unity and the best interests of the child are in this agreement; that humane reception conditions, including protections against arbitrary detention are there; that the lawful status to remain in Malaysia until a durable solution is found is there; and the ability to receive education, access to health care and a right to employment are there. There will be no employment on Nauru. They will be there, with all that that barren rock provides. What is it about Nauru that is better than Malaysia? Absolutely nothing. So the UNHCR see some hope that this could lead to a more lasting solution.

I want to go back to the coalition and their hypocrisy, and quote what the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, said in 2002. She said this about the coalition policy that they are arguing was so successful. She said:

It is obvious that the prolonged periods of detention, characterised by frustration and insecurity, are doing further damage to individuals who have fled grave human rights abuses. The detention policy has failed as a deterrent and succeeded only as a punishment. How much longer will children and their families be punished for seeking safety from persecution?

That was the Pacific solution. That is what the coalition is arguing we should adopt again. I will not support that, and the government will not support that. It is not what we should be doing. We should be looking at a longer-term proposition, and there are two areas that we should be looking at. One is the UNHCR’s 10-point plan of action on refugee protection and mixed migration, which can guide countries in relation to refugees. The other is the core principles adopted by the fourth Bali regional ministerial conference in Indonesia. The UNHCR’s plan of action boiled down to this: that the people who need protection receive it, that those who do not are assisted to return home and that all people are treated with dignity while appropriate solutions are found. That is something the Pacific solution never, ever contemplated.

The statement from the fourth Bali regional conference said that irregular movements facilitated by people smugglers should be eliminated. That is what this bill is seeking to do. It said that asylum seekers should have access to consistent assessment processes. That is what this bill is seeking to do. It said that persons found to be refugees under those assessments should be provided with a durable solution. This is the first step to a durable solution for refugees and asylum seekers. The statement also said that people found not to be in need of protection should be returned and that people-smuggling enterprises should be targeted through border security arrangements, law enforcement activities and disincentives to human trafficking and smuggling.

My view—and my view has changed—is that this is the best approach we can adopt. It is a compromise position that I think the Australian public is crying out for. It is a short-term position to allow some of the longer-term Bali and UNHCR processes to be put in place—something I would be far more comfortable about. As a union official I had to accept many short-term decisions and accommodations for my membership so that they could get better conditions in the longer term. This is a similar situation. Negotiators find themselves in this position constantly. We should not go back to a position where we try to turn boats around and put our Navy and asylum seekers in jeopardy. We should not go back to the Pacific solution, where young kids are sewing their lips up and hypocrisy abounds in the coalition. I call on the Greens to reconsider their position and to not be impotent, to actually make a contribution to this solution and help refugees.

Source: Hansard
BILLS Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 Second Reading

June 29, 2012

Asylum Seekers Debate – Penny Wong’s statement

Yesterday, in the Senate, Asylum Seekers took centre stage.

Penny Wong acknowledged “One of the consequences of the politicisation of this policy area has been that it has become nearly impossible to have a sensible policy debate”.

Here is part of what was said, edited for clarity:

Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:51):
I want to start by discussing the historical context of this debate, not so much because I want to apportion blame but because I think we need to understand why it is this has become in this country such a difficult debate, why it is that positions have become so entrenched and why it is that this parliament has become so diminished by the inability of its members to shift from entrenched positions.

This is a debate which takes place in the shadow of past events, past conflicts, past elections. I was elected during the election which has come to be known as the Tampa election. That was the election I was elected in—something which I have always thought was somewhat sadly ironic. It was an election which, despite the protestations, the verbiage and the verbal sidestepping, was firmly about the politics of immigration, asylum seekers and race. It was an election in which those issues were far more than dog whistle; they became foghorn issues. And no-one who campaigned in that election and saw what was happening in our community as a result of the decisions of the then government and the public statements of the then government would have any doubt about that fact. It was an election which I think was a regrettable milestone in Australian politics.

In my first speech to this place I spoke about the fact that, over our history since white arrival, race had been an uncomfortable topic for us. We were of course a country that, for example, had a bipartisan commitment to a White Australia policy for many years. But after the dismantling of that policy—and I pay tribute to both parties of government for that; both sides of politics had people who worked on that issue—you would have to say when it came to the issues of migration, the issues that tapped into some of that unfortunate undercurrent, there was a sensible centre in Australian politics that sought to moderate the debate and that was made up by people of goodwill in the Labor Party and in the Liberal Party.

Let us not forget, the moderates in the Liberal Party were very important over many decades on issues of immigration and race in this country to ensure that what could have been an incendiary issue at times was not made so. The sensible centre, the voice of moderation: that is what was needed in the past and that is what is needed today. As I said, I think that sensible centre enabled difficult issues to be managed and to be handled in the national interest. It recognised that care needs to be taken by elected representatives, by leaders, to ensure that such issues do not become incendiary in the electorate in the way that we have seen at times in Australia’s history.

Of course, there were notable exceptions to that, and I count probably first amongst those the former Prime Minister Mr Howard, who is known for his comments in 1988 in which he argued for a reduction in Asian immigration, something that those of us who understand discrimination firsthand will never forget. I will never forget that debate and what it meant for me, my family and my community. Mr Howard was the Prime Minister who, when Pauline Hanson said we were in danger of being overrun by Asians, defended her right to speak, not the rights of people whom she was attacking—a failure of leadership that will never be forgotten.

This same Prime Minister and ministers in his government engaged in some of the most brutal politicking in recent times on issues of asylum seekers in the lead-up to the election in 2001. We all know what occurred in relation to the Tampa vessel, which has been discussed at length and is now part of the history books and of course was also taken through the courts. A refusal by the government to accept asylum seekers was played out, if I may say so, for maximum political effect. We also know that that was the government responsible for the events which led to what is known as ‘kids overboard’—the ‘certain maritime incident’—in which ministers asserted that children of asylum seekers had been thrown overboard, a fact that was not correct, a fact that was untrue. Ministers in that government described asylum seekers as queue jumpers. Ministers in that government linked the issue of asylum seeker policy to a pipeline of terrorists. We had a Liberal government who refused to let children out of detention because that would mean the end of mandatory detention, notwithstanding the pleas from the medical community and others to do so.

It is difficult to reconcile those facts and so many others with the newfound compassion for asylum seekers that some in the Liberal Party purport to have. Forgive us for finding that difficult to reconcile. It is difficult to reconcile their newfound desire to ensure that the refugee convention is sacrosanct, when it was never the case when they were in government that this was such an important point of policy and point of principle. It is difficult to reconcile that with their position whereby they say, ‘We will tow boats back to a country that is not a signatory of the refugee convention, but we will not allow you, through an arrangement where both governments are engaged and the UNHCR is engaged, to send people back to Malaysia.’ Those two positions are not consistent. It is not for me to justify that; it is for those opposite. But I think most people—responsible listeners, reasonable listeners, reasonable observers of this debate—would say: how is it possible that you can go from a position where you say ‘we don’t like queue jumpers’, where you draw a link to a pipeline of terrorists, where you do not care about the refugee convention, to a position where you would vote against this legislation on the basis that Malaysia is not a signatory? It really beggars belief.

But I did not want to come in here just to talk about who was right and who was wrong, because I think what is more important now is to say: what do we do? One of the consequences of the politicisation of this policy area has been that it has become nearly impossible to have a sensible policy debate. People have become entrenched in their positions and that has led, as I have said, to gridlock—and this is to the diminution of this parliament. We need a sensible centre to find a practical response. Instead, it is a debate where we see extreme views dominating, preventing the answer being found. It is a highly politicised debate, a highly charged debate, a highly emotional debate, a debate in which it is easy to take a position that is counter to any practical response.

In this context I make reference to my own policy journey on this issue. Others in the Labor Party have spoken about their own journey as well—including my friends Senator Crossin and before her Senator Cameron, Mr Steve Jones in the other place, and others. Many of us in the Labor Party expressed concerns prior to coming to government about offshore processing. For us it was very much linked to the history that I have just described of the Howard government’s response and the way politics was so brutally played out then. In the Labor Party in the past many people have expressed their great concern regarding offshore processing, but I would say this: I do not believe it is tenable any longer to argue that push factors alone are responsible, and I do not think it is tenable for us to say that we do not have a responsibility to try and find factors which deter people from getting on boats. That is my position. The loss of life that we are witnessing demands a response.

I want to say something briefly about the position of the Australian Greens. My difficulty with the position of the Australian Greens is that there really is no practical response. The hard, inescapable truth is that words will not prevent anyone getting on a boat. I understand the view of the Greens party on offshore processing and the refugee convention. However, I again say it is easy to come in here and speak about words, speak about a convention, but what we are charged with today is working out what legislative response we can put in place to prevent people getting on boats. Many fine words have been spoken in the last two days in this and the other place. There have been many tears shed. Speaking fine words and showing genuine emotion have their place but as political representatives we are called today to do far more than that—we are called to try and find an answer. The answer, particularly in this debate, can be found only if people are prepared to compromise. This is a debate where the extremes mean there is no common ground and there is no answer.

Let us review briefly why the legislation before the chamber reflects a compromise from the Labor government’s position. I commend Mr Oakeshott for bringing this bill forward, because the bill is a genuine attempt to find that common ground and compromise. There have really been three matters at issue between the government and the coalition. They are the Malaysia arrangement, the opening of a detention centre on Nauru and temporary protection visas. The government’s position has previously been that we did not wish to proceed with the opening of a detention centre on Nauru because we accepted the advice given that that would not be an effective deterrent. What has the Prime Minister said we would do? She has said that if this legislation is passed we will proceed to do that—we will proceed to open a detention centre on Nauru.

The Labor Party has also had longstanding opposition to temporary protection visas. Senator Crossin went through what the government is proposing in respect of that system—a process to examine it, run by agreed reviewers, independent of government and agreed with the opposition. Terms of reference, as I recall, will also be agreed with the opposition, and the report will go to both the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister concurrently. As someone who was in opposition for many years prior to becoming a minister in a government, I know that is an offer that would never have been contemplated by the Liberal government. We also wish to proceed with the arrangement with Malaysia because the advice we have is that that will provide a deterrent. So there has been substantial compromise by the government.

In light of that I find it extraordinary that we see coalition senators come into this place saying again and again why it is that they cannot support this compromise. Effectively what they are saying to the chamber, and to the Australian people, is that their way is the only way: ‘We are not prepared to do anything other than what we want to do; we are not prepared to work with the government or the crossbenchers in the lower house to support legislation that will deal with this issue; the only legislation we will accept is legislation that reflects our policy.’ Had the government taken that position, this bill would not be before the chamber—it would not have passed the lower house. But the government has been prepared to compromise. As I said, regrettably this is a debate that has been dominated by too many extreme views. It has a particularly sad history. When you have a debate dominated by the extremes, where you have people unwilling to compromise, answers fall through the cracks. In this area that has some tragic consequences.

I do not stand in this chamber, and nor do I think any government senator stands in this chamber, saying that this bill is the complete answer. What we collectively face as a nation and as a parliament is an enormously complex policy challenge, an enormously complex policy problem, which is not cured by sound bites or three-word grabs, a policy problem the world is grappling with and that involves millions of people seeking a better life in a different country. I do not stand in this chamber saying that I believe this bill is necessarily the complete answer, but I do know this: it is the only answer before us. It is the only answer that can become law today. It is the only chance for this chamber to put in place a legislative response today which has the capacity to prevent more tragedy. I say to those opposite and to the Australian Greens, we should do all we can to prevent more tragedy.

Source: Hansard
BILLS Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 Second Reading

June 29, 2012

Asylum Seekers Debate – Bob Carr’s statement

Yesterday, in the Senate, Asylum Seekers took centre stage.

Bob Carr, Foreign minister, actually used the word “disastrous” to describe the invasion of Iraq, perhaps without that illegal war, championed by George Bush, John hoWARd, and Tony Blair, there might be less refugees in the world.

Here is part of what was said, edited for clarity:

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (11:27):

As the Senate debates this bill, there are 43 million displaced people around the world, including more than 10 million refugees. There are nearly two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and one million more in Iraq. There are 1.5 million refugees who have fled Iraq, although I suspect that figure is higher—I remember estimates of four million refugees being forced out of Iraq, or displaced within Iraq, by the disastrous American invasion of March 2003. Some 140,000 people have fled Sri Lanka. To date, as we watch the civil war in Syria, 80,000 refugees have fled that conflict. They have gone to Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, all ill-equipped to check this refugee flow. They have gone to Turkey as well.

I have long held the view that Australia made a bad decision in the 1930s not to issue visas left, right and centre to the Jews of central and eastern Europe who wanted to flee, especially after Kristallnacht in October 1938. The energy that larger numbers of Jewish refugees would have brought to these shores and to our nation would have been extraordinary. Nonetheless, I am proud that Australia is so generous. After the United States and Canada, Australia has the largest humanitarian intake with around 14,000 this year and almost 70,000 in the last five years. We spend $405 million to support humanitarian emergency and refugee programs globally. We are acknowledged as a generous nation.

The truth is, you cannot have safer borders and you cannot have humane treatment of what we call in bureaucratic language ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ without having an effective disincentive to those who ply the evil people-smuggling trade. The arrangement made between the government and Malaysia is such a disincentive.

Having spent a scholarly life, over half a century, studying Malaysian society, culture and politics, I know those shortcomings far better than most. Even so, there is a good case to be made for the ‘Malaysian solution’.

It provides the most workable, humane, long-term sustainable approach now on offer. It is a policy that stands somewhere between saying no to everybody and yes to everybody who shows up here.

The Malaysian plan would effectively recognise the international nature of a problem—of a cynical exercise in which Australia stands at the end of the line of a game of pass the ‘hot potato’—and would regionalise the practicalities of its handling and management.

At the core of the amendments before us today is a simple but powerful proposition: we can break the business model of the people smugglers and we have a duty to do so. Offshore processing is an essential element to stopping the people-smuggling trade and this amendment is essential to achieve that objective. This problem is not static. If rejected by the Senate, the solution will be returned to by a future Australian government. The behaviour of people smugglers is constantly adapting. The problems that send people onto the high seas will continue to appear in the regions to our north. After the High Court decision—one of the most questionable and curious High Court decisions in memory—arrivals tripled—

After the High Court’s decision, arrivals tripled from 314 in October to 895 in November. The inescapable fact that the coalition and the Greens continue to ignore is that the Malaysian solution is the only proposal we have which has any hope of cracking the people smugglers’ business model. All the available information from asylum seeker communities in source countries and those who arrive in Australia confirms conclusively that the absence of a clear deterrent is seen as an open door to Australia.

We saw that when we announced the Malaysian arrangement last year: the number of arrivals dropped because people smugglers waited to see if the arrangement would be implemented. It was not; and, when the government’s legislative amendments were blocked, the people smugglers returned to their business with renewed vigour. And why wouldn’t they? That is a clear demonstration of how effective the arrangement would be if the government has the opportunity to implement it. The arrangement would ensure one thing—that none of those transferred would be eligible for resettlement in Australia. When transferred to Malaysia, they would be processed by UNHCR and be subject to UNHCR’s normal resettlement program, with no special treatment and with no guarantees about the eventual country of resettlement. That contrasts sharply with the Nauru experience, where processing for resettlement is by Australian Immigration. Where? Primarily in Australia. With Malaysia, none of those transferred would be eligible for special treatment on resettlement. With Nauru, just about all of those processed there end up in Australia. How’s that as an effective policy!

I hear critics say that towing vessels back to Indonesia would work. Do they not understand that such a policy would drive people smugglers to sabotage their vessels at the time of interception to avoid being towed back? Threats to tow back endanger not only those on the vessel but also the brave Australian officials whose job it is to protect our borders. What a policy that is, to tow the boats back! It would produce a crisis in our relations with our most important near neighbour, Indonesia. It would reduce Australian-Indonesian relations to an ongoing squabble about returning boats to crowded Indonesian ports, to a single transactional issue. In a post-2014 Indonesia—that is, a post-President Yudhoyono Indonesia—it is likely to have even more of an inflammatory effect then it is likely to have now. But that is the opposition policy. The opposition policy is to tow the boats back. It is primitive. It is unworkable. It is inhumane. It is no alternative.

I hear people say that, under the arrangement, Malaysia cannot provide those transferred with appropriate protection. They should read the text of the arrangement and its associated operational guidelines, which are freely available in the public domain. They should read the article by Professor Kessler, an academic expert on Malaysia, that I quoted from earlier. He said:

These arrangements are not perfect … But they are workable. So why resist implementing them?

He also says in that article, by the way:

Abbott’s reasons and strategy are clear. On immigration, as on all other matters, he wants, by a chosen strategy of finely targeted obstructionism to all government initiatives … to make the country ungovernable. That is half of his strategy. The other half is then to spend the rest of his time jeering that the government is demonstrably hopeless, that it simply cannot govern. Whose doing is that? Abbott is on a sure winner.

The commitments in the text of the arrangement are not hidden away from scrutiny; they are there for all to see and to hold the Australian and Malaysian governments to account. The arrangement makes clear that those transferred will be treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with human rights standards. They will be accommodated in the community, be allowed an opportunity to work and be provided with minimum standards of care if they cannot. Those are serious commitments entered into by a government serious about stopping this trade, and they are supported by the UNHCR. That answers the arguments of anyone who wants to question the humanity of the Malaysian arrangement: they are supported by the UNHCR, whose integrity and commitment to refugee health and wellbeing cannot be doubted or challenged. They are serious commitments.

I hear critics say that processing people offshore in Nauru is better and proven policy. But creating a new Christmas Island in a foreign country is not enough—not when the people smugglers know that anyone sent to Nauru for processing will almost certainly end up in Australia, exactly where people smugglers promised to deliver their valuable customers. What sort of disincentive is that? The amendments before the Senate today provide the only effective disincentive available to Australia. It is essential that a clear message of deterrence is sent to people smugglers, and this amendment would do it.

The Australian people want humane treatment of people fleeing their homelands on the high seas. They want humane treatment, but at the same time they want an effective border policy. They want an effective border policy, but they do not want to see any loss of life. In a world of less than entirely satisfactory answers and solutions, this is the best option. No option will work without it containing, at its core, a powerful disincentive to the businesses that are driving this flow of sad and threatened humanity.

Source: Hansard
BILLS Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 Second Reading

June 29, 2012

Asylum Seekers Debate – Eric Abetz’s statement

Yesterday, in the Senate, Asylum Seekers took centre stage.

Eric Abetz main concern was not with people dying, but having to see images of people dying on our televisions. And yes, he did use the phrase “our black African refugee brothers and sisters”, probably for the first time ever in his life.

Here is part of what was said, edited for clarity:

Senator ABETZ (Tasmania—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (09:56):
The tragic loss of life at sea occasioned by the behaviour of corrupt, unprincipled people smugglers has been broadcast into our living rooms in what can only be described as very confronting TV footage. It is clear that these tragedies have led to this flurry of legislative activity which has seen the coalition cooperate with the government to bring the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 on for immediate debate.

But first some history: when the coalition was confronted with an influx of illegal arrivals, we took decisive action, action that worked. Why did we take that action? Because, as a coalition, we fully support refugee intake into Australia. The figure of 13,700, as the Leader of the Government in the Senate indicated, is, by world standards, per capita a very generous figure. What is more, it is not only in the raw numbers of the intake where Australia has been generous; it has also been exceptionally generous in the services provided to assist those people to resettle.

The issue that confronted the Howard government was: to whom should we as a nation give priority? Should we give priority to those that deliberately bypass safe haven after safe haven after safe haven to get a resettlement opportunity that they want, having destroyed their papers on the way and having engaged criminals to assist them, or should we give priority to those who have languished in refugee camps for year after year, for well over a decade? You can talk especially to our black African refugee brothers and sisters who have had that experience. They have waited sometimes for 15 years or more for resettlement. The question therefore is: to whom should we give priority? Should we give priority to those who do not have the financial wherewithal, those who went to the immediate first safe haven available, or should we give priority to those who have the financial capacity to buy their way into Australia, courtesy of the assistance of criminals?

Source: Hansard
BILLS Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 Second Reading

June 29, 2012

Asylum Seekers Debate – Christine Milne’s statement

Yesterday, in the Senate, Asylum Seekers took centre stage.

Christine Milne, leader of the Greens, and target of so much vitriol from Left and Right spoke. (Although PM Gillard in a press conference yesterday afternoon clearly positioned any possible blame where it belonged “I think you’ve misunderstood the Senate numbers, the biggest single block is was Mr Abbott’s team” Ms Gillard said.)

Here is part of what was said, edited for clarity:

Senator MILNE (Tasmania—Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:25):

I rise today to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. This is a political solution; it is not a solution for asylum seekers and refugees.

Everything has become part of the 30-second grab. Everything has been along the lines of, ‘Let’s just say the legislation will save lives, and not test it against any evidence base, and then say that if you don’t support that legislation then in some way you don’t support saving lives.’

Let me tell you what this legislation has actually done. The government tried to establish a Malaysia solution. That Malaysia solution was that they would take people from boats and send them offshore to a country that has not signed the refugee convention and where they were not going to be protected. These are vulnerable people who have done nothing wrong. They had tried to come to Australia to exercise their right to asylum. That is a perfectly legal thing to do around the world.

Australia was going to do that, and as a result it went to the High Court. The High Court struck down that legislation as being against our own law—against our own Migration Act 1958. The court said that you cannot validly declare a country to which asylum seekers are taken for processing unless that country is legally bound by international law or its own domestic law to (1) provide access for asylum seekers to effective procedures for assessing their need of protection, (2) provide protection for asylum seekers pending determination of their refugee status, (3) provide protection for persons given refugee status pending their voluntary return to their country or their resettlement in another country and (4) meet certain human rights standards in providing that protection. The court held that Malaysia is not legally bound to provide the access and protections that the Migration Act requires for a valid declaration, that Malaysia is not a party to the refugee convention or its protocol. The arrangements that the minister signed expressly said that it was not legally binding—that Malaysia was not legally bound to and does not recognise the status of refugees in domestic law. And that is why it was struck down.

So the government then tried to remove those provisions from the Migration Act so that it could proceed. That is precisely what Mr Oakeshott has done in this bill. He has removed from asylum seekers any protections. Even worse, the bill does not even specify Malaysia. People out there are thinking, ‘This bill must specify Malaysia.’ It does not. What it does is say that the minister here can send people to any country which is a signatory of the Bali process, and the countries that are signatories to the Bali process include Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria. When people go around with this 30-second grab of ‘This legislation saves lives,’ what they are saying is: ‘This legislation takes away all of those protections of their human rights and says that an Australian minister can send those people to countries outside the refugee convention in which there is no legal protection.’ Any one of those countries will and could do. That is what this legislation is doing. Anyone who deludes themselves into thinking that it provides any kind of safety for an asylum seeker is wrong.

Let’s separate out the issues. Everybody is devastated by the tragedy of people losing their lives at sea. This is something which has worried me for many, many years and it goes back especially to the SIEVX. I would remind this chamber that the SIEVX, where 353 people drowned, sank after the Pacific solution was introduced by the former Prime Minister John Howard. It sank after the mean-spirited temporary protection visas were introduced. Why were there so many women and children on board the SIEVX? Because they were told that they could never get family reunion in Australia because of the TPVs and, as a result, the only way they could come here was on those boats. That is why the women and children were on the SIEVX—after temporary protection visas, after the Pacific solution, after billions of dollars was wasted in punitive action against some of the world’s most vulnerable people. If those billions that were wasted on the Pacific solution had been put into supporting the implementation of United Nations refugee convention in the region, we would have had a regional solution a very long time ago.

I pushed for a royal commission into the SIEVX and, when Labor came into government, I asked for a royal commission. Where is it, because it was Labor policy? I found that in 2007 it disappeared from the Labor platform, and that was the end of any royal commission into the SIEVX. I asked why. ‘Well, it just did; it was removed from the Labor platform.’ The reason it is relevant here today is this. I have been to the memorial services and talked to some of the survivors. They have said that they were in the water and boats came and there were lights on them in the water. They started swimming towards those boats and they thought they were safe. Then the lights went off and the boats left and people drowned. I have always wanted to know, from that day to this, whether Australia’s intelligence services—and we have many of those in Northern Australia—were tracking that boat and knew where it was. Why were people in the water and not being rescued if we knew where they were? What was going on there? No-one has ever answered those questions. That is why to me codifying the provisions of the safety of life at sea convention is absolutely critical.

In the Senate’s A certain maritime incident report it was recognised that we needed to codify that, because there is a tension between a policy of deterrence—we want to send these boats back; we do not want these people; therefore we will not be rescuing them until the very last minute—and our obligations under the safety of life at sea convention. We need to codify those obligations, because all the waters around Christmas Island are international waters, but they are in Indonesia’s search and rescue zone. But Indonesia has said, ‘We don’t have the capacity to rescue people in these waters.’ They said this week that they have one boat which cannot go to sea in a swell of four metres. They cannot rescue people. But we are saying: ‘We know that boat is in the water. Today is Tuesday. We have contacted the Indonesians and told them the boat is there and it has said it’s in distress.’ On Thursday, when people were in the water, we had aircraft overhead and we knew what was going on. It was on Thursday that we informed the Indonesians that we were taking over that rescue operation. That is when we went in and started pulling people out of the water. Why is it that, when we know a boat is in trouble, we do not proactively go and save people and not wait for them to be in the water? Why? That is why I have said very clearly that we need to codify. We need to make sure we are on track with this.

Equally, we have in Indonesia, right now, about 8,000 people in camps and many thousands more in Malaysia. We in Australia take 60 people—60 people combined between Indonesia and Malaysia. So, if you turn up now at a camp in Indonesia or Malaysia, you will have a 76-year wait to come to Australia or to be resettled. On that basis, if you are there, are you not going to be vulnerable to people who come up and say to you, ‘Well, you’re going to be waiting a lifetime, if ever, so what about my boat?’ The way to deal with it is to increase our funding to the UNHCR in Indonesia, so that not only can it work on assessing the refugee claims faster but secondly it can start educating people in the camps about how the convention works—what the processes are, what the safe pathway is—so people have a much better understanding. That is why we need to increase our refugee intake and do that immediately. If we start taking people out of those camps into Australia right now, people are going to see that there is a safe pathway to Australia and they will see that they do not need to be so desperately taking these highly risky journeys at sea. But you would only be doing that if you actually genuinely wanted to support asylum seekers. That is why we say that that is the action to take if there is a genuine commitment across the parliament to support asylum seekers in the region.

In the last year there has been a 20 per cent increase globally in people seeking asylum—so it is not about whether Australia’s policy has failed or not failed; there has been a 20 per cent increase. And let’s look at the push factors. People are not leaving Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for no reason at all. They are leaving there because they are displaced, because they are being persecuted. I heard a report on the news just yesterday of people in Pakistan being pulled off buses and being shot there by the side of the road. They are the people who are trying to get away from that level of persecution. So there has been a 20 per cent increase in people seeking asylum worldwide but only a nine per cent increase in Australia. Our policies are already a deterrent, if you like, in the context of the global refugee intake. In fact, the Americans look at us and say: ‘What on earth are you talking about? We deal with that virtually every weekend.’

So the issue here for us is to say to ourselves, as one of the richest countries on earth: why can’t we use our leadership role in the region to genuinely lead, to uphold the refugee convention, to support the UNHCR in the region and to give leadership to those other countries to sign up to the convention, which will then enable us to work on a genuine regional solution? The situation is going to continue and will get worse this century because of climate change and extreme weather events. We are already seeing people displaced around the world because of that, and I have to say it is to my shame that Australia in the United Nations has been blocking a definition of an environmental refugee for this very reason—because we anticipate, we know, how many will be coming from the Pacific and Bangladesh and other places because of climate change into the future.

If we are serious, there are things we can do, and those things are outlined in the amendment that the Greens are going to move today. I would implore both the government and the coalition to support this amendment, because these are things that can be done today—not next week, not in three months but today. They are, firstly, to provide safe pathways for refugees to discourage people from taking life-threatening journeys; and, secondly, to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake from 13,750 to 20,000, including additional places to be immediately allocated to targeted resettlement of 1,000 people from Indonesia and 4,000 people from Malaysia. They are decisions that you could sign off today. The Prime Minister could do that without the parliament. She could actually go and sign off on that today.

Further, we could immediately increase funding to the UNHCR by $10 million to boost the capacity of refugee status determination assessments in Malaysia and Indonesia. We could then enter into urgent discussions between Australia and Indonesia to address the critical need for cooperation and effectiveness of intelligence sharing and resourcing between Australia and Indonesia in order to save lives at sea. I welcome the fact that the coalition have said today that they would be prepared to see more patrol boats go into the area so that we might anticipate some of the problems and be more prompt and able to rescue, but again it goes to this issue of whether we anticipate or whether we wait until people are in the water. We want to codify the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea obligations across all relevant government agencies.

In terms of a framework for a long-term regional solution, underpinned by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the related 1967 protocol, we should establish a multiparty committee at the highest level, convened by the Prime Minister in the context of the convention and with experts around the table in international law, in refugee matters, to make sure that we come up with something which will not be struck down by the courts, which will provide leadership in the region and which would give confidence to other countries in the region that we are genuine about our responsibilities and our willingness to play our fair-share role in this context. What we are saying at the moment is that we are a rich country and we will not take on our fair share. We expect everybody else to deal with it—out of sight, out of mind; send the people somewhere else away from us. It will turn down the political heat and it will look as if we have done something when, in fact, we have done nothing other than strip from vulnerable people arriving on boats the very basic protections of human rights. That is something that there is no way anybody who really thinks about this as a matter of conscience could ever support.

A lot of the things that I have listed in this set of actions today are things that Tony Abbott, the leader of the coalition, said yesterday that he would support. He said he would support an increase in the humanitarian intake. He said he would support additional funding going to the UNHCR. He said he would support a multiparty committee. Today, as I indicated, he said they would send more boats to the area. I have yet to have a discussion about codification, but that is another area. We want to negotiate with both the coalition and the government because that means we could leave this parliament today with a phone call to Indonesia already having taken place, with a phone call to the UNHCR already having taken place, with 1,000 people in Indonesia and 4,000 in Malaysia being told in the next 24 hours that they would be leaving the camps. They are the things that will deter people from risking their lives on boats trying to get to Australia, because they are doing that out of desperation.

If you think desperate people will not continue to take desperate actions, think again. When this Malaysia solution was on the table previously, a boat tried to bypass Australia and go to New Zealand—an even more hazardous journey. Unless you reduce the number of people in the camps and reduce the number of years they have to wait to think they are ever going to be given an opportunity for resettlement, you are not going to take the pressure off people feeling that they have to take this desperate action.

I have written to the Prime Minister and I am writing a letter to the leader of the coalition, Mr Abbott, as well, asking whether they would agree today to take these actions, and then we can sit down and work out something in the longer term. Let’s take the actions that we can all agree on that are immediate, that go to the issue of safety of life at sea. That is critical. There has been a heartfelt outpouring from across the country, with people saying, ‘Don’t let any more people drown,’ and I could not agree more. The best way of ensuring that is to get people to the place, to rescue them and take people out of the camps so that they do not feel the pressure to get on the boats in the first place

Source: Hansard
BILLS Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 Second Reading