Tag Archives: asylum seekers

Labor is the despicable winner in the Triggs affair.

27 Feb

 

The Abbott government’s attacks on President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, have served the ALP’s interests more than any other.

They certainly have done nothing to ease the ongoing plight of the 1,129 children successive Australian governments have kept in mandatory detention in appalling circumstances. Many of the children suffer long-term damage from the experience of being treated as criminals for no reason other than that they exist. The conditions under which the children have and continue to be incarcerated would likely make Charles Dickens flinch and look away, yet since the release of the AHRC report, nobody in the major parties has bothered so much as to mention their suffering.

Abbott’s attacks on Triggs have done nothing for the

233 assaults involving children
33 reported sexual assaults
128 incidences of self-harm
34% who require psychiatric support

documented in the recent AHRC report.

However, what the government’s latest lunacy has done is to hand the ALP on a silver platter access to a high moral ground which they do not for one moment deserve, having been as despicably callous towards asylum seekers for their own political gain as has the LNP. There is not a bee’s dick of difference between the two major parties in terms of their ill-treatment of those they consider less worthy than the rest of us, and therefore infinitely exploitable in their mutual pursuit of power.

The ALP is now bellowing self-righteously about the government’s treatment of Professor Triggs, but not, of course, about the contents of Professor Triggs’ report. About that they cannot bellow, as the report condemns equally ALP asylum seeker policies implemented under the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd incumbencies.

Labor has now referred Attoney-General George Brandis to the AFP for allegedly inducing Triggs to leave her position at the HRC for something less disturbing to him. Carefully worded denials have ensued, reminding us that language can be used for ill, and in politics, invariably will be. In case we forget what was said about the Triggs “inducement” at the estimates hearing:

 

If this disgraceful fracas surrounding Professor Triggs tells us anything, it’s that the majority of our elected members on both sides of the house care nothing for the lives and fates of asylum seekers, and logically, it is only a matter of time before they care nothing for the lives and fates of many of their own citizens. Once a government makes scapegoats of one group for political expediency,  they’ll have no qualms scapegoating any other for the same motive. Indeed, there are those who could put up a good argument that this is already the case.

We do not, in this country, have a good record for the treatment of children by authorities. The history of child abuse unfolding before us in the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, for example, demonstrates as nothing else ever has the prevalence and consistency of the savage mistreatment of children across all demographics, from institutions that house the most underprivileged child, to institutions that house the children of the wealthiest and most influential citizens in the country. It is inevitable that our cruelty seamlessly extends itself to children of asylum seekers.

We are in dire need of politicians of calibre, who are capable of and willing to refuse the lure of political gamesmanship and instead do what they are elected to do, and represent the interests of those who gave them their trust. The ALP has no high moral ground on which to pitch its tents on the matter of the Triggs report and the ensuing unseemly brawls. Given its own foul record, the ALP has no choice but to either admit its failures and undertake reform, or make whatever miserable and poisoned political capital it can from the government’s sickening attacks on Gillian Triggs.

All in all, we are one of the most fortunate nations in the world, cast adrift in a tumultuous sea aboard a ship commanded by fools.

 

PiersonShipOfFoolsLE27x32WS

 

 

 

Australia: a country of vengeful malcontents

24 Jan

 

wall-of-hate

In this piece titled “Manus Island: what will it take to shock us?” Julian Burnside, barrister and refugee advocate, gives a powerful synopsis of the cruelty the Australian public is prepared to tolerate its governments inflicting on asylum seekers, in the crazed collective desire to “stop the boats” and protect the country’s “sovereign borders.”

The answer to Mr Burnside’s question is, of course, that the only thing that will shock anyone at this point is a government that is prepared to cease and desist from using asylum seekers as human fodder in election campaigns. We have reached the stage in this matter where the only possibility for provoking shock is decent behaviour.

The contempt in which the Australian public holds asylum seekers who arrive here by boat is sickening. As has been noted on other occasions, we treat people who are far more threatening to us individually and collectively much better than we treat unarmed people seeking sanctuary who travel here by boat. The unexamined hatred, prejudice, loathing and contempt directed towards asylum seekers, chillingly orchestrated by political leaders of both major parties, is mind numbing, and it has numbed the minds of the Australian public in general to the degree that many believe we aren’t harsh enough. 60% of Australians, according to a poll conducted in September 2014, (see link) believe we are not treating waterborne asylum seekers badly enough.

From a psychological perspective, this leads me to believe that we are a nation of desperately unhappy, dissatisfied people who for many reasons, some of them undeniably sound, live with a sense of profound grievance that has to negatively express itself towards somebody and something. I draw this conclusion because people who are living lives in which they find satisfaction and enjoyment at least some of the time, are not inclined to desire the persecution of others, let alone bay for blood like rabid wolves because a few thousand stateless persons have turned up looking for sanctuary.

Regrettably, it would seem that these miserably vengeful Australians are in the majority, and one has to ask, why is this so? What has gone so awry in this lucky country that so many of us need to take out our apparently endemic discontent on the helpless and the vulnerable? Because it is not only asylum seekers towards whom this loathing is directed, although they are the extreme example of its concrete manifestation at this moment in time. In reality, any individual and group that can be defined as less than what the miserable majority  consider the “norm” are targeted for persecution in some way, and our politicians lead the ranting, bloodthirsty, vengeful pack.

“Fair go” is a principle inherent in the Australian “character?” My arse it is. My arse it ever has been. If it was, we would not have politicians who seek election and re-election on the backs of the most vulnerable in the first place, because it wouldn’t win them votes.

What will it take for us to be shocked? Common sense and decency in our political leaders. That’s what it will take to shock us. Don’t hold your breath. Neither of those things is coming to a marketplace near you anytime soon.

This blog on The Monthly on conditions on Manus as reported by workers there is well worth a read. Thanks to Robyn here for the link.

 

 

Cruelty is the worst policy

20 Jan

 

Amnesty Poster

 

In general, it’s always seemed to me that when governments or individuals take an increasingly hard, harsh and inhumane stand on an issue it’s a clear signal that they’ve actually lost the battle, and are on their way to losing the war.

In a political sense, I’m thinking of the current situation in detention facilities on Manus Island. New Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is promising to maintain Scott Morrison’s “hard-line” against asylum seekers who have resorted to self-harm and protest, methods which are, in reality, their only means of expression, as the Australian government has virtually denied them access to legal process and natural justice.

This hard-line against asylum seekers protesting their fate began in Woomera and Baxter detention centres in 1999, at the instigation of the Howard LNP government. It was maintained by the ALP governments led by Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Sixteen years of both major parties taking a hard-line against waterborne asylum seekers has achieved absolutely nothing any of us can be proud of, and it won’t.

Similarly, the hard-line threatened by the Abbott government against the young unemployed that will see them starving and homeless as they are denied benefits for six months will achieve nothing any of us can be proud of, and will ruin lives for a very long time and likely permanently.

Taking a hard-line is very rarely necessary, and very rarely useful. A hard-line shouldn’t be the default position. Instead negotiation, mediation, conversation, and communication are civilised and humane methods of approaching difficulties. When all else fails, by all means try the hard-line, but to do this first is cruel and inhumane, and shows a lack of intelligence, imagination and skill.

Human beings have a tremendous capacity for good will and understanding. It’s a great shame our leaders don’t value this capacity, and instead believe our strength lies in brutality. It doesn’t. It never has and it never will. All cruelty springs from weakness, as the philosopher Seneca noted.

If governments and individuals are too weak and cowardly to sit across a table from other human beings in an effort to resolve difference and difficulty, they will inevitably resort to cruelty of one kind or another. Ignoring another human being in need is just as cruel as taking direct and punitive action against him or her. There are countless stories of asylum seekers achieving success and making considerable contributions to Australian society when they are given the opportunity. Instead we destroy them because our governments believe the destruction of human lives and human potential demonstrates political strength and determination.

Peter Dutton may well congratulate himself for emulating Scott Morrison’s abhorrent tactics against those legally seeking asylum in Australia. But emulating a bully is no great achievement. Australian governments have for sixteen years now proved themselves to be capable only of bullying behaviour towards human beings in the greatest distress and need, be they asylum seekers or their own citizens. Cruelty is not a strength. It is the most appalling, base and destructive weakness.

Morrison now seeks sole authority over citizenship decisions.

10 Dec

Diagram_of_citizenshipThe Department of Immigration and Border Protection, under the authority of Minister Scott Morrison, is in the process of seeking amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 that will give the minister draconian powers over not only asylum seekers, but  anyone who has become or wishes to become an Australian citizen.

The Australian Citizenship and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014, will give Morrison the power to set aside decisions made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on the character and identity of those applying for citizenship or who have already received it, in a public interest test determined solely by the Minister.

The DIBA submission to a Senate committee argues that an elected member of parliament and minister of the Crown has gained a particular insight into the community’s standards and values. This particular insight therefore qualifies Morrison to overrule AAT decisions. It is the bill’s intention to grant a minister, in this case Morrison, the power to determine an individual’s “good character” or otherwise, regardless of any ruling made by the AAT. Morrison’s decision will be unchallengeable.

The bill also aims to give Morrison the right to determine “fraud” or “misrepresentation” in applications for citizenship. In such instances Morrison can revoke papers regardless of whether or not the individual concerned has been convicted of either offence. 

That is, Morrison or the minister concerned has the power to determine “guilt” outside of any criminal proceedings, denying individuals the presumption of innocence.

The notion that anyone has particular insight or is entitled to absolute power because he or she is an MP and minister of the Crown is extremely dangerous. It is confusing the office with the human being who holds it. High office does not automatically endow its holder with integrity or insight. We are all too familiar with “killers in high places who say their prayers out loud” as Leonard Cohen puts it.

Morrison’s ongoing lunges for absolute power must be challenged. This is a liberal democracy. We do not have ministers who overrule the expert opinions of experienced tribunals. We do not have ministers who are above the rule of law and entitled to deprive any human being of the presumption of innocence. We do not have ministers who are answerable to nobody, whose decisions are unchallengeable, and who are allowed to carry out their department’s business in absolute secrecy. No, we do not.

Morrison’s powers: nobody will know who he’s sent back to be killed

7 Dec

scott morrisonMinister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, is the only minister who is not answerable to anyone for his decisions, with the exception of the decision to take us into war, which can be made by the Prime Minister alone.

New legislation passed this week gives Morrison unprecedented, unchallengeable and secret powers to determine the futures of those who come to Australia seeking sanctuary from homelands that are no longer hospitable to them. This includes the practice of refoulement, the ability to return asylum seekers to situations that are hostile and in some instances deadly without first determining if they are at risk, a practice that is inconsistent with international refugee law: Section 197 gives the government express permission to engage in refoulement irrespective of whether there has been an assessment of Australian obligations to that person. 

Morrison is not required to determine in advance what risks an asylum seeker will face in being returned to the country they’ve fled, therefore, he has the power to send human beings to endure torture and death, and nobody will ever know he’s done it.

Within his area of responsibilities, Morrison is now a dictator. In the midst of a government determined to be as small a government as possible there is a department with a dictator at its head, whose control over some human beings is absolute.

In principle giving any politician, or any human being for that matter absolute power over anything, cannot be good. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Why is it necessary?

Of course, it isn’t necessary in any way other than the political. It serves the government’s purposes to cloak the fates of asylum seekers and refugees in secrecy. It doe not make our borders any more secure, it does not prevent us from being attacked by terrorists. What Morrison’s new dictatorship does do is fly in the face of the tenets of our liberal democracy, specifically its opposition to: suspicion of concentrated forms of power, whether by individuals, groups or governments.

There is no reason why the people of this country should be kept in the dark about our government’s decisions as to the fate of asylum seekers and refugees, or any other decision our government takes, unless it is a matter of security. No matter how hard the Abbott government has worked to frame waterborne asylums seekers  as a threat to our sovereign borders against which we are waging a war, they are not a threat and this is not a war.

The passing of the latest legislation finalises the relentless campaign conducted by both major parties to “stop the boats.” It has taken the matter of asylum seekers arriving by boat out of the public conversation. While this will come as relief to many politicians, the rest of us should be very afraid that in our treasured liberal democracy we have a minister who answers to nobody, and will conduct his nefarious business in absolute secrecy. This cannot be good for anyone.

Casualties of “Border Protection”

3 Dec

 

Operation Soverereign BordersIt ought not to surprise anyone that naval personnel are vulnerable to post traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of implementing the ALP and LNP governments’ asylum seeker policies.

This investigative report by the ABC describes in detail what sailors are required to do in so-called “border protection” actions.

Over a decade ago I interviewed staff at the Woomera and Baxter Detention Centres. Many of them described the same symptoms of PTSD as do the naval personnel interviewed by the ABC. Those staff were, like the navy, caught up in a culture of deliberate dehumanisation of asylum seekers that first requires a dehumanisation of the self, in order to be implemented to the satisfaction of political masters in Canberra.

Both major parties have long known that the best way to calm an outcry about waterborne asylum seekers  is to hide them away from the public gaze, criminalise their perfectly legal right to come to this country by boat, and if possible never allow them to be seen as human. One sailor explained that the only way he could continue his work was to think of the asylum seekers as numbers, evidence that these dehumanising tactics work. Their consequences, however, manifest in both victim and perpetrator as post traumatic stress that can cripple a life and destroy a spirit.

Political masters are protected from the front-line traumas that are a direct consequence of their self-serving decisions, but in reality the blood both real and metaphorical of asylum seekers and the men and women who are directly involved with them, is on politicians’ hands and they cannot clean it off. The sight of MPs visiting workplaces is a common one, perhaps PM Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison might spend a day or two attempting to haul bodies from the sea and experiencing the horror of finding their hands full of drowned human flesh that has separated from drowned human bones.

One of the sailors interviewed expressed the opinion that current secrecy surrounding “Operation Sovereign Borders” exacerbates the difficulties and traumas experienced by those charged with its front-line implementation. The potential danger of secrecy is well-known to anyone who’s worked in mental health. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that the combination of the work they are called upon to do combined with the strict secrecy surrounding it, is likely to result in traumatic stress.

It’s outrageous that any government should demand its employees endure such extreme working conditions outside of war (despite what Morrison has claimed we are not at war with people smugglers, though many of us are at war with budgie smugglers) and purely to win that government votes. I can’t forget that the trauma endured by asylum seekers remains largely unacknowledged, is exacerbated by the continuation of dehumanisation after they’ve been despatched to off-shore detention centres, and ongoing uncertainty about their futures.

While a culture of dehumanisation adversely effects everyone involved, at least naval personnel and other staff have some hope of escape from their situations, and treatment.

Obviously the answer is for politicians to cease their barbaric practices and treat both their employees and the asylum seekers with at least a modicum of concern. Politicians are destroying people, literally, in their pursuit of power. Is it any wonder so many of us despise them?

Asylum Seekers: what it costs Australian governments to persecute stateless persons

12 Nov

 Asylum Seeker Three

 

The foreigner is the political precondition of the nation state… Costas Douzinas.

Australia, while remaining a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees, long since gave up any pretence of observance of international human rights in favour of a nationalistic observance of state sovereign rights. State sovereignty permits governments the right to exclude persons the state deems unworthy of inclusion.

The power of the state to exclude is perhaps the fundamental state power.

Ideological, racial, economic and political factors are the criteria for deciding who is and is not included in the nation-state. As Hannah Arendt noted, statelessness is not a problem of geographical space, but of political space.

The stateless person has as their only descriptor the fact that they are human. Ironically, this strips them of their right to human rights, rights which are only available to them if they are citizens of a state. It is not enough to be human. One must also belong to a state in order to claim human rights. Arendt suggest that the only fundamental human right is the right to have rights. Asylum seekers who have a legitimate right to arrive by boat in Australia are stripped of the right to have rights once their vessel is intercepted by Australian authorities.

 

Stateless Persons UNHCR

Persons seeking asylum from persecution who attempt to access Australia by boat are singled out for exclusion, and though their method of arrival is perfectly legitimate under the Convention, they are criminalised and detained in off-shore camps. Detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island are all that is offered to de facto stateless persons, that is, refugees unable to claim the human rights afforded by citizenship. Persons detained in these camps are exempted from “normal” laws. The methods of addressing their plight are containment and repatriation, or resettlement in another country, rather than granting asylum and legal integration into the Australian nation.

This action against asylum seekers is justified as being in the “national interest,” an abstract concept in which the mystical “nation”  is prioritised over the interests of singular human beings who are dispossessed non-nationals, and therefore considered rightless.  The state is committed to protecting only legitimate members of the nation, the rights of asylum being in conflict with the rights of the state. There is in Australia no concept of offering sanctuary and refuge to those fleeing persecution who arrive by sea. Their loss of place in the world, their loss of belonging, has the effect of reducing them to physical objects, bereft of human dignity, because without rights one is not a person, one is not an agent in the public realm.

In reaction to this deliberate and systematic dehumanisation, asylum seekers held in detention camps on Manus and Nauru behave as did those held in mainland camps such Woomera and Baxter. They sew up their lips in a symbolic protest against the silencing of their voices. They harm their own bodies. They suffer depression and anxiety, and hopelessness. Their suffer the abjection of those who have ceased to belong to any state.

Asylum Seekers Two SMH photo

 

Sovereignty, like religion, is a constructed knowledge imbued with faux mysticism. The Abbott government’s “Operation Sovereign Borders” appeals to this pseudo-mysticism, offering citizens the opportunity to come together in unity, led by a concerned, fatherly government to protect our nation against the breaching of its borders by the unwanted, stateless foreigner. As Douzinas points out, there can be no nation state without the foreigner; one must have someone to protect oneself from in order to maintain the perceived power of sovereignty.

The asylum seeker is equally imbued with mysticism, of the most negative kind as the assumption is peddled that merely due to the fact of her search for asylum she is morally corrupt and corrupting. Her crime is breaching sovereign borders. She is used as a scapegoat to unite citizens and strengthen boundaries, ultimately supporting the ideology of sovereignty.

What we are doing in this country is wrong. The idea that we must treat people horrifically in order to discourage others from attempting sea journeys is morally corrupt. Action the state is legitimised to take against one group can be and will be extrapolated to other groups, when the state deems it in the national interest. When the fate of human lives is secondary to the rights of the state, we are all at risk.

Is it really in the interests of the citizens of this country that so many billions of taxpayer dollars are eaten up in the pursuit and detention of a relatively few people who arrive here by boat, in the pursuit of the maintenance of our sovereign borders? No, it isn’t. It is, however, in the political interests of both major parties. The cost to the taxpayer of pursuing these political interests is obscene, and it is rising, as this graph from The Conversation shows:

 

The Conversation

 

The major parties continue to persecute stateless persons seeking asylum and refuge, solely because of their method of arrival. Australia moves further and further away from the undertakings we made when we signed and later ratified the Refugee Convention. Human beings suffer appallingly in concentration camps, out of sight and out of mind. The matter of the future of stateless persons is a massive global problem, and one that will continue to increase. Australian governments have long thought it is a problem that they can continue to outsource to countries far less capable than are we of providing the possibility of a decent life to those who by no fault of their own, are dispossessed of the lives they once had. This cannot go on. In all conscience, it cannot go on.

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